Selling mistakes – five corrections for getting back on track

Sales reps and mistakes

Sales reps dread dealing with mistakes.  At best they get you off track … at worse they lose you the sale.

Mistakes run the gamut from corporate issues like defective products or billing issues to mistakes generated by the sales rep themselves – like sharing faulty information or missing a key player involved in making the buying decision.  Some mistakes are just annoying; some are financially costly, and some have more dire consequences.  But no matter one’s skill or luck, mistakes occur.

No matter how clever your sales strategy or how much value the sales rep brings to the customer, all that is easily forgotten when mistakes emerge.  Furthermore, if not handled properly it’s not uncommon for sales reps or their company to be “branded” as risky to work with or non-responsive, or unpredictable.  There is no way to avoid mistakes completely so learning how to handle them is critical to sales success.

The bottom line for handling mistakes is when something goes wrong – take responsibility for it – and do it quickly. By owning up, you’re telling the customer you “acknowledge” the mistake.  While the customer may still face a problem they now have an acknowledged partner working with them to solve it.

Some additional tips include:

  • Analyze the mistake from the customer’s perspective. The first step is to get on the other side of the table.  From your side it may not appear to be a big deal – you may have seen the mistake many times before.  Not necessarily so for the customer.  This impacts how you handle the mistake both in tone and in substance.
  • Act professionally. As you begin to tackle the mistake, start with your attitude. Customers should believe you understand that a mistake has occurred, you take it seriously, and you will handle it professionally.
  • Remember bad news documents itself. It is rather uncanny that one has to go to great lengths to promote and publicize good news.  On the other hand bad news documents itself and does so quickly throughout the customer organization – think “wildfire.”  So handling things immediately is a basic requirement.
  • Explain how the mistake happened, but be thoughtful about your explanation. While people in general like to know why something happened, they don’t want to hear a saga involving a litany of accuses – especially when the storyline places blame everywhere but where it belongs.
  • Don’t forget prevention is better than cure. When a mistake happens and customers give you the opportunity to rectify it, take the time to analyze how you are going to prevent it from reoccurring.  Make sure you communicate to the customer what you will do in the future to minimize the risk of reoccurrence.

While these techniques won’t guarantee a second chance with a customer, they’re critical if a sales rep wants to retain the customer relationship.  By handling the mistakes professionally, it’s very possible you will win customer respect.  Best case, of course, is you impress the customer so much on how well you handle the mistake … it becomes a plus rather than a negative!

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©2013 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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