Salespeople and sales managers are still adjusting to a marketplace in which the focus has shifted from the dwindling numbers of walk-in customers to phone and Internet ups. But almost every customer will wind up calling the dealership at some point prior to or shortly after the sale. The importance of answering the phone and returning messages is lost on many sales professionals, and they may be missing opportunities they never realized they had.

Several months ago, my wife and I decided we needed some extra storage space for all the stuff we had accumulated over the years. I set out to hire a skilled carpenter (read: not me) to build some shelves and add a big closet in the garage. I didn’t know anyone, but my wife’s friend, Jill, referred us to a handyman named Rick. She said Rick had done a number of small jobs for her, he did great work and his prices were reasonable.

I called Rick and he bid the job. We hired him and just about everything Jill said proved to be true: His prices were reasonable and his work, although not “great,” was certainly better than mine. Unfortunately, Jill failed to mention that we would have to twist Rick’s arm to get him to work every day, stay all day and finish the job. It took him four weeks to finish what should have been a one-week job.

Shortly after he left, check in hand, I noticed Rick had failed to install a support arm under a closet rod. Having no desire to chase him down, I resolved to complete the job myself. Demonstrating an expediency with which Rick would never be equipped, I promptly messed up the wall trying to drill holes. Defeated, I called Rick and left a voicemail, not saying why I was calling.

He didn’t call back. I called again, left another message and again received no response. On my third attempt, I explained the problem in detail and hinted I might have more work for him. Still no response.

Rick never did call back. I suspect he had me pegged as a complainer and worried I might not pay extra to fix the problem. Fair enough. But here’s what doesn’t make sense: When I first met Rick, I asked how he got into his line of work. He said he hated his previous job. He was tired of working for someone else and he said he wanted the opportunity to “make a lot of money.”

He definitely had that opportunity. It’s just too bad that all he saw was the extra trouble he might have to go to if he called me back. He will never know that I intended to ask him what he would charge to build storage cabinets in our new offices. We wound up hiring a very professional contractor who did the job for about $15,000. That was Rick’s job, and he threw it away rather than take a call from a customer he’d only made a few bucks on.

Do You Have Any Ricks on Your Staff?

In my experience, most salespeople have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to contacting and responding to their customers. They’re either too lazy to call or they focus on the possible drawbacks. It’s too much time, they think, too much trouble and they may have to take some heat.

I will admit that, when I was a salesperson, I fell into the same trap. I snapped out of it when I realized that the people I did call back often returned to the dealership or referred their friends. As for the complainers, it’s true that not every call is a friendly exchange, but following up with prospects and sold customers is part of the job.

By the way, I saw Jill not too long ago. I told her we needed some work done at the house and asked if she had heard from Rick lately. She said he had gone back to that job he hated so much. He told her nobody was hiring carpenters.

I took no pleasure in this news. It’s sad that Rick had to give up his dream and doubly sad because he went broke standing on a gold mine.

You and I both see Rick in every sales pro who can’t figure out why they are stuck in neutral in a booming market. Business is good, but only for those who have the courage to pick up the phone.

Joe Verde is president of Joe Verde Sales & Management Training Inc. and an automotive sales and training professional since 1973. [email protected].