The Three Cs of Phone Skills Mastery


While I tend to do a lot of phone training, it’s not my favorite skill to teach.

This is not because my phone skills training lacks substance or robustness or even uniqueness – it provides all three (and you can even get most of it for free online) – it’s because that no matter how much phone skills training your company pays for, it’s all worthless without two important extras: Management Reinforcement and Salesperson Mastery.

The former – Management Reinforcement – is something that (in automotive retail anyway) keeps the legions of phone trainers busy and rich. If sales managers would just reinforce the skills they and their teams have been taught again and again and again, they would bankrupt every phone trainer in the industry. (Hint: Talking on the phone to prospects is not some specialized skillset requiring a PhD. Therefore, if your managers did their job, you wouldn’t need to hire an expensive phone trainer.)

The latter – Salesperson Mastery – is something internal to each salesman, saleswoman and BDC Agent attending yet another phone skills training class. Salesperson Mastery is the difference between “learning some cool, new talk tracks” and becoming an expert on the phones.

I Like Your Talk Tracks…

Too many managers think my job is to give their team the right word tracks (scripts, verbiage, talking points) and then nature will take its course.

This works great for about 72 hours. After that, without Management Reinforcement or true Salesperson Mastery, everyone pretty much goes back to doing things the way they always have. Do you ever wonder why you have to keep hiring the same phone trainer again and again? Or, are you like some of the big groups who waste tens of thousands of dollars every month on phone training videos while their market share remains the same?

It’s because your managers aren’t reinforcing anything all the while your salespeople pick and choose the talk tracks they like rather than mastering the art of phone skills.

Salesperson Mastery is Easy…

What’s really tragic about all of this is that Salesperson Mastery is relatively easy – it’s almost as easy as Management Reinforcement, though because we know that will never happen at your store, let’s focus on getting the salespeople to actually master the materials…

Salesperson Mastery of the phones requires just three things – we call them the Three Cs of Phone Skills Mastery: Competence, Confidence and Control. Regardless of the actual word tracks you use, if you can attack the phone as a Competent speaker, with Confidence in your abilities and keep Control of the call, you will win over 95% of the phone “battles” you enter.


The first and most important of the Three Cs, Competence, describes how well you know the material. By the way, this is the most important, because without knowing the word tracks (by heart, as they say) you will struggle to build enough Confidence or even keep Control during your calls.

Whether your word tracks are provided by a phone skills trainer or just something you developed over time, can you repeat these verbatim at a moment’s notice? Can you, if put under the pressure of a rude prospect, find and regurgitate the right response every time? In other words: Do you know the material backwards and forwards?

This takes practice, and there are no short cuts.

The key to learning the material and gaining the necessary Competence is practice – lots and lots of practice. Like an actor learning his lines, you need to practice saying the words over and over again until they truly roll off your tongue (in your natural voice). The best way to practice any word tracks you plan to use with prospects is to role play; and to role play every single day.

Now, before you start complaining about how much you hate role playing please realize this: I’m not talking about the awkward, semi-formalized and most often worthless role playing that occurs during a training class or at a Saturday morning sales meeting. Those lessons might help you learn the material better, but they are often too embarrassing to do anything but sink your Confidence (another of the Three Cs).

I’m talking about role playing like an actor would: in an environment you can choose and control. For example, if you have kids at home that are old enough to read, why not write all of the possible objections you might hear on the phone on index cards and ask your children to try to stump you with these whenever they feel the desire.

This type of roll play turns learning the word tracks into a fun activity without any of the pressures or humiliation you might feel in front of a roomful of your peers. No kids at home? No problem; give these cards to your spouse, roommate or significant other.

Live alone or have a roommate you hate? Still no problem. Instead of creating index cards, simply write the objections on Post-it Notes, places these around the edges of the bathroom mirror you use every day, and each morning read and respond (out loud) to as many objections as you can. Once you feel you’ve mastered a particular objection, remove that Post-it Note (but don’t throw it away – you’ll want to repost these notes once you feel you’ve mastered all the word tracks and your mirror is empty).


An amazing thing happens when you get really good with the talk tracks – when you become Competent – you begin to gain Confidence.

However, Confidence goes beyond just knowing the material. It’s also the understanding that you provide a needed service; that you are an important part of the car-buying process; and that you’re selling a great brand for a great company. Moreover, Confidence comes from not caring how the customer will react when you properly use the word tracks and especially not caring when you occasionally make a mistake.

In so many ways, Confidence is really about not caring what others think about you.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should become a self-absorbed, egomaniacal asshole; or that you should show up to work unshaven and unbathed in dirty, wrinkled clothes. Not caring means that you are in control of you; and you are fearless in the knowledge that no one else’s actions or opinions will dictate how you feel or alter your talents. That’s Confidence.


The final C, Control, can only come after you have a mastery of the material (Competence) and a solid belief in your abilities (Confidence). To say this more plainly: You cannot stay in Control of a call unless you know precisely what you are going to say and you feel good about saying it. Without the first two Cs your prospects will continue to take you off-message as they bleed you for just enough information so that they never need to come in for an appointment.

For both parties on the call, maintaining the Control is critical to getting what one wants (or thinks they want). When the prospect keeps Control of the call, they can manipulate the salesperson or BDC agent into helping them eliminate the dealership or the vehicle from their consideration set. (One less dealer/manager/salesperson to deal with, right?) This is something the prospect thinks they want; though in reality they really want someone to sell them a car.

When you keep Control of the call, you’re able guide the prospect down an updated and abbreviated road-to-the-sale that starts with setting a firm appointment that shows. Moreover, when you’re in Control, your successful calls generally last no more than three minutes. Your calls should be short; and will be when you’re in Control.

Why short calls? When a client hires me to correct their poor phone results, I like to listen to the longest sales calls first. You know the ones: you look at your CallSource report and you see the calls that lasted 11, 12 or even 20 minutes. These are the absolute worst!

These calls sound pleasant; they sound helpful; sometimes they even sound satisfying. Unfortunately, calls that last for eleven or more minutes mean only one thing: information vomiting. And the only reason that your salespeople are vomiting information on every prospect is that they have no Control over the call. They’re in a friendly tennis match with the prospect where both sides keep volleying the ball back and forth:

Customer question.

Salesperson answer.

Customer question.

Salesperson answer.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

You have to stop this madness! This is not a tennis match and you don’t get paid for information. Maintaining Control of the call is the only way to successfully set appointments that show; and the best way to stay in Control is to finish each statement with a word track that strongly asks for the appointment:

“… and I have two test drives open on that vehicle this morning. I have a 10:45 and an 11:15; which one of those works better for you?”

This keeps you in Control of the call no matter how many times you have to ask for the appointment. Of course, without Control you’re just an old school 411 Operator. (If you’re under 30 years old, replace “old school 411 Operator” with “Google” in that last sentence.)

Is Salesperson Mastery really that critical?

The reason the 3 Cs and overall Salesperson Mastery are so important is there are two facts about vehicle buyers that are critical to remember if you expect to succeed in setting appointments that show:

  1. You cannot sell an empty seat; and
  2. The prospect really wants to buy – they just need your help to get beyond their fear of being sold.

Properly developing all Three Cs of Phone Skills Mastery is critical if your goal is to put more butts in your showroom seats … and not just for the 72 hours immediately following some expensive phone training.

Good selling!