My wife and I were channel surfing when we came across “All the Right Moves.” It’s an old Tom Cruise movie about high school football in a football-crazed Pennsylvania steel town. My wife likes Tom Cruise. I like football. It was a good fit.

In a pivotal scene, Cruise’s team simply needs to run out the clock for a big victory. But as the quarterback went to make a simple handoff to the running back, he fumbled. The other team recovered and scored a game-winning touchdown.

Because I try to help auto retailers sell cars, I saw a business lesson there. Sometimes, winning comes down to executing fundamentals. In this case, a simple handoff, executed improperly, blew the entire game.

What’s the dealership equivalent to the simple handoff? It’s answering the telephone. It is a skill so basic that many people take it for granted. But, when executed improperly, it often blows the sale.

We all know the automotive retailing world has changed a lot in the past couple decades. The rise of the Internet, email and social media have radically changed the way car dealers market to and communicate with current and potential customers.

It’s easy to get caught up in these important technologies. After all, customers are using them all the time.

But these technologies are to auto retailing what the spread offense is to football. They are exciting and fun, but completely useless if you don’t execute basic blocking and tackling.

In this new age of technology, dealers often start to lose focus on some of the most basic telephone skills. In 2012, CallSource monitored more than 1.9 million calls in the auto industry. Only 7% resulted in an appointment. It’s next to impossible to make a sale if a salesperson can’t even set an appointment.

The first step is to understand that answering the phone the right way takes a structured process. We’ve identified five basic elements of the phone call and have developed training modules for each.

These elements include the appropriate greeting, conducting a needs analysis, obtaining contact information, setting an appointment and closing the call.

Some parts of the process sound elementary. How hard can it be to speak clearly and answer the phone in a friendly upbeat manner?

But you’d be surprised how many times salespeople violate this simple rule. People are human. Sometimes, they are having a bad day. Sometimes, they’re rushed. Sometimes, they just don’t know any better.

Think about the difference between two phone-call responses. One, a quick and somewhat muffled “Smith Motors” and the other a friendly, upbeat “Good afternoon, Smith Motors. This is Andrew. How can I help you?”

The first sounds like the salesperson just woke up from a nap. The second sounds like someone who wants to solve a customer’s transportation challenges by selling them a car. As a customer, who would you rather work with?

Make sure the sales team understands how important the simple act of answering the phone is to their long-term success. Then, it is imperative the sales team understands the process for answering the phone and the proper techniques for succeeding in each of the call’s five elements.

If a typical commission is $200 per vehicle, simply converting one more sale each week can add $10,000 a sales person’s annual compensation.

Football season is in full swing. If you’re like me, you’re probably spending TV time watching your favorite team. Look at how flawlessly most teams execute some of the game’s most simple elements.

The snap from center, the simple hand-off, maybe even a running back blocking a blitzing linebacker. Often, these plays are taken for granted, but they are essential to winning. Hopefully, your dealership team members are executing just as flawlessly when they pick up the phone.

Andrew Price is president of CallSource Automotive.