Many years ago, I took my wife’s SUV back to the dealership for the 1 year service. While waiting, I decided to wander through the sales area and check out the new models. My wife had purchased that SUV a year prior, and just 5 months prior I had bought a 2 year old Sedan from this same dealership. As I reviewed the newest models, I caught the sales manager eyeballing me from across the floor.

His gaze fixed on me, and I could tell he was trying to place me. After a few minutes, he wandered over to me and greeted me by name. I was impressed. I can only imagine how many customers he deals with on a monthly basis. He impressed me further by remembering not one, but both car purchases we’d made in the last year. It’s possible he had looked them up while observing me earlier from across the room, but still impressive.

He asked me how I was, and asked me how my wife was. And then the impressive streak stopped, because he went right into trying to sell me a new car. He didn’t ask me one single real question.

He tried to sell me a pick up.

He tried to sell me another SUV.

He tried to sell me another sedan.

He even tried to sell me a crossover.

Then he said horrible things. Things that reeked of desperation. Things like, “I really need to sell a car today” and “What will it take to get you into a car today?”.

This situation represents the quintessential mistake of sales. Leading with our agenda, not the clients. Usually a mistake that manifests itself by a lack of questions. In this case, there are two obvious questions that the sales manager should have absolutely asked me.

  1. What brought you into the dealership today?
  2. How are you liking the sedan you bought from us?

He had likely looked me up in the system to remember my name and what both my wife and I bought, yet he never asked any questions about my intent. He started to sell me without having any idea about what my agenda was. Question 1 would have revealed that I didn’t walk in with the intent to buy a car. This would have dictated a different approach, one based on finding some sort of dissatisfaction with one of our current vehicles. Question 2 would have pinpointed an issue with the Sedan purchase (a likely scenario if I was shopping for a car within 5 months of my last car purchase).

My reasons for being in the dealership could have been that my life circumstances had changed my need for a sedan, or that I wanted a smaller payment, or that some new feature only available on new cars was very appealing to me.

Instead, he spent 90 minutes trying pitch after pitch, dropping price, and utterly wasting his time. I wasn’t a likely buyer that day. His baseline research likely told him that the odds of closing a car buyer go down over 70% if they walk off the lot. He was selling into that fear of losing a prospect. His lack of questioning me revealed his was only interested in making a commission, not on helping me as a customer. I wonder how many potential buyers he missed during that 90 minutes he wasted on a guy waiting for his car to be serviced.

If you attempt to sell a customer before you understand what is driving their behavior, what pains you can solve, then you are sending out a message to your customers that they are not important to you. They are just a number, and notch in your commission belt. The questions you do not ask are killing your sales.