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Your most brutal teacher

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Remember the old kung fu movies where a teacher would use the mistakes a student made to physically punish him? It was the harshness of the lessons that made them stick. Paying for a mistake so painfully engraves the lesson on your neurons—and sometimes on other parts of your anatomy.

Experience is a brutal teacher. But she’s sometimes the best teacher; you certainly won’t forget her lessons!

Your losses. Do you remember the deals you lost? Do you remember the deals you lost that you absolutely should have won? I remember all of them.

I remember one deal I lost: I had done the best discovery work of my life. I had built a solution together with the decision-maker. I had even gotten a verbal commitment—and a handshake. So, I was shocked and horrified to watch as a competitor swooped in behind me, made a promise to do something that the client and I had never even discussed and ran off with the business.

Now I never leave a sales opportunity without scheduling an appointment to resolve concerns. Had I done so then, I would have had a chance to respond to my competitor’s offer. (Happily, I took back the account six months later.)

Your mistakes. How about your mistakes? We’ve all made them. On one call, I brought an inexperienced person from my team to a sales presentation. As soon as I was done outlining one of our procedures, she opened her mouth to describe a different procedure and confused our dream client. Once it was out, I couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle.

Her mistake was talking out of turn. But I took full responsibility; I was the one who had prepped her for the sales call. Today, I would never even think of making a team call without a serious discussion of roles and responsibilities.

Your failures. Sometimes you lose an opportunity and learn from the loss. Other times, you make mistakes that offer you an education. But sometimes you just flat out fail. I’ve failed to win a number of opportunities because I was completely outsold. Although I had the better offering, I lost because I couldn’t convince my dream clients that they were under-investing, that cost and price were two different things.

I’ve failed to win some deals because I failed to build consensus. I tried like the devil to build consensus on one account, but my competitor had had a head start and built deep relationships. He totally blocked my efforts to develop relationships with the clients.

Failing reinforces the lessons you most need to learn. If you own the failure, you own the lesson. But if you make excuses and blame something external for your failure, experience will be happy to teach you the lesson over and over again—until you do learn it.

Each time you lose, you are offered another lesson. If you are observant, you will require each of these lessons only once.

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Anthony Iannarino is the managing director of B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, a boutique sales coaching and consulting company, and an adjunct faculty member at Capital University’s School of Management and Leadership. For more information, go


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