Have you ever been blind sided by an issue – either career-related
or in your personal life – that seemed to come out of nowhere?
Do you remember how gut wrenching and overwhelming it seemed?
Even the most successful sales people can make the mistake of ignoring
the little issues, in the hope that they’ll just up and go away.
But more often than not, those little "molehill" issues
can grow into huge problems when we’re not looking – problems
that can become a source of real friction in our relationships with
our customers, or even cost us lost business.
In past articles, we’ve talked about the importance of open,
honest communication in sales. But how do you sustain that kind of
trusting, open relationship? By fine-tuning your communication skills
– and then fine-tuning them some more.
Forgive – even if you can’t forget
The first step in fine-tuning your communication skills is learning
how to forgive.
Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves.
It’s also the second best communication habit that the top 10%
of sales people learn to master (the first being questioning and listening
skills, of course!).
The inability to let go of the past and forgive can become a barrier
to attaining a loyal, profitable relationship with a customer. When
we’re wronged, it’s natural to want to balance the scales
or settle a score. But while it may be tempting, this is profoundly
counterproductive behavior, and it can color every part of your relationship
with a customer from that point forward.
If we are to be successful, every action we take has to make us more
likable to the prospect, not less. Being unable to forgive just makes
us appear petty, small-minded and judgmental. After all, the desire
to get even with someone can hardly be considered constructive, when
your objective ought to be building solid relationships based on trust
Many people think that by forgiving someone, they are in effect letting
them off the hook. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Forgiveness
– real forgiveness – is about ourselves, not the person
we are electing to forgive. A lack of forgiveness only punishes the
one who refuses to forgive – leading to broken relationships,
lost sales and lower commissions.
In addition, unresolved customer situations are not only a burden,
they are a distraction. They prevent us from being present and focused
on other clients. And they can become a constant stress in our lives,
affecting our productivity when prospecting, making sales calls and
working with other clients.
Forgiveness is an essential way to free yourself from the past, so
you can focus your time, effort and energy on building strong client
relationships today and into the future. Remember: you don’t
have to forget; you just need to learn to forgive.
3 steps for letting go, and moving on
When confronted by a difficult issue, here are three steps that can
help you let go of the past, and create room to forgive:
1. Have a direct conversation with your customer or prospect.
Own up to the fact that you’ve been stressed because you’ve
been preoccupied by the issue, and ask for their suggestions to help
improve the communication process so that the issue doesn’t surface
again. Tell them that you forgive them (if this needs to be said).
2. Think about the lessons to be learned from the past, and commit
to specific actions that will help you avoid repeating your mistake.
If possible, share these actions with your colleague, partner or customer,
and seek their approval before implementing them.
Customer Example: If you were left out of a buying decision
where your customer went straight to a reseller, ask yourself what
lessons you can learn from this. Perhaps the lesson is to stay in
closer contact with your customers. Perhaps there’s a need to
establish and clarify expectations with your customers before they
need to reorder. Or maybe you need to do a better job of keeping your
clients informed of your company’s new product releases. Whatever
the lesson(s), identify and acknowledge them, and commit to doing
three things that will directly ensure that these situations aren’t
repeated. For example, commit to a scheduled follow-up program with
your customers, schedule a regular annual meeting to review last year’s
purchases, and make sure to remind your clients of the successes you’ve
created together in the past few years.
Management Example: If a sales manager or employee broke your
trust, commit to reading self-improvement books, seeing a coach or
taking a course to identify what you may or may not have done to contribute
to the situation, or to learn to recognize the signs you may have
missed. This will help give you the confidence not to repeat your
mistakes, helping you build better, stronger and more trusting relationships
with your staff or colleagues.
3. Create a powerful goal that forces you to leave the past behind.
Customer example: After losing an important sale with an existing
customer, establish a goal of finding two new customers to make
up for the loss by a specified date (and make sure your boss agrees).
I recently worked with Mike, a sales rep at a software company who
had missed his target quota for two of the last three months. On the
third month, however, Mike set himself a new goal: to make his quota,
plus enough additional sales to make up for the past two months when
he’d been behind. He finished the month 20 percent above his
Management example: If a sales rep breaks your trust and acts
unethically, commit to finding a more committed sales rep by a specific
date. This will cause you to take actions that will help you leave
the past where it belongs – behind you.
Yes, the advice we’re offering here might appear obvious or
even simplistic. But it’s been my experience that common sense
doesn’t necessarily translate into common practice.
Learning how to forgive will make a world of difference in the way
you sell. It will also produce results, because in sales, nothing
is more important than remembering to acknowledge people’s emotions
In sales, nice guys do finish first, because they understand that
closing a sale is not about them – it’s about the customer.
Nice guys focus on creating a positive customer experience that is
based on trust, appreciation and honesty. As a result, few if any
of their customers look elsewhere when they need to reorder. In terms
of percentages, the salesperson who remembers to be kind can expect
to do 70-80 percent of their business each year with their existing
customer base – a track record that’s a success in anyone’s
So the next time you find yourself tempted to "get even"
with a client or colleague, remember the number one tenant of the
Selling Innovation model: Be Nice. It’s the greatest gift you
can give someone else – and yourself!