Sales Training With the Greek Philosophers

Tap the ancient wisdom of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to make sales training more productive and enhance your consultants’ communication skills, process adherence, and personal growth.

July 2018, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Phillip Hellstrom

Photo by Anestiev via Pixabay
Photo by Anestiev via Pixabay

The automotive industry is constantly being challenged by outside influences, including tech companies and marketing agencies, many of which are attempting to streamline the car-buying process by minimizing the role played by dealership sales consultants. Customers who once relied on your expertise and guidance are finding it elsewhere.

Now is the time to remind ourselves of the basic principles behind the traditional showroom selling system and how to optimize the sales training we deliver. Let us do so with the help of the “Big Three” of Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. How would each of these great thinkers train your sales team?

Photo by Sting via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Sting via Wikimedia Commons


Socrates (c. 470–399 BC) is known for not having any written works. He understood that thoughtful interaction is the greatest quality given to humankind. As a sales manager, he would reinforce the need for sales consultants to effectively communicate with customers as well as each other. That ability is an important leadership attribute the people you train will recognize, learn from, and emulate.

Socrates would “set the stage” for public debates — sharing thoughts, concepts, and knowledge in hopes of sparking discussions among his peers. Classroom-style training can improve productivity, but how are your trainees applying what they’ve learned? Pay close attention to your consultants’ physical location and posture on the lot and in the showroom, their body language in the fixed position and in motion, and their level of verbal discourse when speaking with customers on the phone and in person.

Photo by Bibi Saint-Pol via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Bibi Saint-Pol via Wikimedia Commons


Plato (c. 428–c. 384 BC) is known for expressing the importance of order, form, and structure. The road to the sale is a system that must be taught to each sales consultant and then readjusted over time for continuous growth. For example, knowledge is provided in two forms, and they are dependent upon each other:

A priori knowledge is a universal truth and cannot be refuted. Plato would argue that great sales consultants are not born; they are made. He would train based on a system: One must know the steps to the close and how to sell the product, the organization, and oneself. This type of knowledge is only gained if managers accept the responsibility to share it.

A posteriori knowledge is gained by individual experience through observation and can be refuted. Thus, sales consultants will learn through trial and error how to navigate their way through a deal. This type of knowledge allows for creativity, allowing each trainee to develop their own identity.

Photo by Jastro via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Jastro via Wikimedia Commons


Aristotle (384–322 BC) pursued an understanding of individual potential and capacity. As managers of the next generation, your duties go beyond desking deals. Evaluating talent and growth on your sales floor can be tricky, particularly if you do not have a method in place.

If he were a sales manager, Aristotle would know that the effectiveness of telling, showing, and recitation will vary based on the individual, and he would urge caution when offering support. For example:

• If managers provide too much assistance to a sales consultant, the consultant’s capacity remains idle and their potential is limited. Those who always expect a “helping hand” will grow slowly.  

• If managers provide zero or not enough assistance to a sales consultant, the consultant will believe his high level of potential is going to waste and his level of capacity is nonexistent — a resentful underperformer.

• If managers provide assistance in moderation, the consultant’s potential and capacity is challenged through success and failure. This leaves the consultant in a position to accept responsibility when assistance is not present and be grateful when assistance is provided.

Socrates shined a light on the importance and value of human discourse. Plato showed us that knowledge is gained through guidance by facts and personal experience, as separate entities and as a unit. Aristotle emphasized individual potential and capacity. Socrates taught Plato and Plato taught Aristotle, preserving and perpetuating their field of study. Dealers and managers are experts at passing down knowledge. The ability to do so in the face of constant disruptions will help keep us in business in the decades ahead.

Phillip Hellstrom is founder of Phelcan Group LLC and a 17-year automotive retail professional with expertise in sales training and customer relations. Email him at

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