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Oops! What to do when you mess up

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Recently, “Anonymous” sent me an email describing a mistake that may have sunk her deal. Without going into particulars, suffice it to say her dream clients’ expectations were not met. She and her team were not able to keep the commitments they’d made.

Now her dream clients say they’re too busy to meet with her. She’s been in touch weekly for three weeks but cannot obtain an appointment. She wants to show them her presentation and has even offered to cater lunch for them. So what can she do?

When you make a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes—even your dream client. And even when you do everything you can to get it right, things can still go wrong. There is no better course of action when this happens than to immediately own up to your mistake and address it. How do you go about this?

First, you must apologize. If you have made a commitment and not kept it, you owe your client an apology. Say “I’m sorry we didn’t meet the commitment we made to you.” Professionals acknowledge their mistakes; amateurs avoid them and hope they will go away by themselves. So, tackle your problems head-on.

Second, you must explain what you’re going to do about it. Explain to your dream client that you will your missed commitment at the earliest possible time and mitigate any damages you may have caused. As a professional salesperson, it’s your job to make things right.

But, in the case of Anonymous, I don’t think that’s what’s going on.

It’s not about you. Sometimes your dream clients can be very interested and engaged in what you are selling, but they can be dragged away by their own businesses. Sometimes, it’s not about you at all.

I can’t tell you how many opportunities I have seen stall because the prospect became overwhelmed. These opportunities were eventually won, but not before the salesperson spent months believing he had somehow ruined the opportunity.

Judging by what Anonymous included in her email, I believe this is what happened to her. But if you must take action, here’s how you to do it: Say something such as “I know we made this mistake, and I apologize. I’m horrified that I may have lost your trust. Are you really too busy to meet, or did this mistake give you some concerns I need to address? I want you to know that your relationship is important to me, and I will always act in your best interest.”

Panacea? No. Tough conversation?  Yes. But that’s what being a professional is all about.

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S. 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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