Selling mistakes: don’t panic – acknowledge

Avoid sales mistakes

Avoid sales mistakes

Like most rational people sales reps, I dread dealing with mistakes.  What’s to like?  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 really difficult to handle, and some are potential deal breakers.  But regardless one’s skill or luck, mistakes happen.

No matter how much value you have previously brought to your customer, it can easily forgotten when bad mistakes emerge.  Furthermore, if not handled properly or if the mistake repeats itself, it’s not uncommon for the sales rep 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 sales 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.  You must also simultaneously convey that you are going to do something about making things right.  While the customer still faces the problem, they now have an acknowledged partner working with them to solve it. Having this type of conversation in a compelling manner is a highly skilled interaction.  It is not something one just “picks up.”  It requires training and practice. Five tips for getting it right:

  • Analyze the mistake from the customer’s perspective. The first step is to get on the other side of the table.  From your side the mistake 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.  Second, check to determine if the fire has spread and you need to take some additional action.
  • Explain how the mistake happened, but be thoughtful about your explanation. While people generally 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 will prevent it from reoccurring.  Make sure you communicate to the customer what you will do in the future to minimize the risk of reoccurrence.

In many cases, executing these tips will provide a second chance with a customer. Customers understand the complex environments on both sides of the table so you have a good shot at “understanding” if the mistake is handled skillfully.

By managing the mistake professionally, it’s also possible you can win the customer’s 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!  The latter result requires skill, a bit of luck and a certain type of customer.

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©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

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. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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2 Responses to Selling mistakes: don’t panic – acknowledge

  1. Brian Finley says:

    Great article! You are absolutely right, it is impossible not to commit mistakes in everything, especially in sales. While every step is crucial, I think it’s best to be honest about it with customers, While others would try to “hide,” that would make matters worst. The ideas you have here would really help salespeople when dealing with mistakes. Those that make the worst mistakes probably want to find a new job. They can avoid mistakes in their searching if they turn to Invisume for help. It is designed for job watchers to find perfect career option without any risk. Thanks again for your suggestions.

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