Your “I’ll tell you when I made a mistake” Story (Sales Story #7)

{The 7th in a series of the 25 most useful sales stories}

One of the things I learned from interviewing professional buyers was that there are two things salespeople can do to immediately earn buyers’ trust and credibility. In the words one buyer used to explain it, “First, tell me when you can not help me. And second, tell me when you made a mistake before I find out from someone else.”

I focused on the first one in a previous podcast. Here I’ll talk about the second way — admitting you made a mistake before the buyer hears about it from someone else. If you admit your own mistakes, they’re more likely to find out sooner when they have a problem. More importantly, they’ll trust that you’d even tell them about mistakes they would never find out from someone else.

Here’s an example.

Duane was having one of those crazy busy days. As he explains it:

One of my top customers had placed a sizable order with me. Well, as busy as I was, I made the fatal error of not writing down their order. I thought I had the memory of an elephant, but when I submitted the order I found out not only was I wrong but not one thing was right with the order. And the worst part was this was a need-it-now order.

So, about an hour and half later I got “that” call. Yes, my customer was livid. Because I got the order wrong, they had to put a halt on their normal work process. I asked them to give me a minute and I would find out what happened and I would call back immediately.

After talking to the warehouse the obvious hit me — I blew it in a big way. I called them back with a sick feeling in my stomach. So I explained that I hadn’t written down their order and just submitted it from memory. I apologized and told them I would make it right. I drove an hour to our warehouse, loaded my car with the products they actually wanted, and raced over to their location.

So now it was time to face the music. With my hands shaking, I walked in and told them the order was in my car and waited for the inevitable lambasting. He looked me in the eyes and said “you don’t know how pissed off I was.”

I was thinking, here it comes. I’m done!  Then he said,

There are two things that made me feel good and confident this was a one-off. First, you could have blamed it on the warehouse or a routing error but you didn’t. You owned it. Second, you dropped everything and got us going again.”

They still do business with us today, and at a higher volume than prior to my snafu. But don’t think that it went away without another thought. The first thing he says to me everytime he places an order is, “do you have a pen?”

So, if you’ve ever owned up to a mistake to a buyer, craft a story around it and have that “I’ll tell you when I made a mistake” story ready to tell at your next sales call. And if you’ve never owned up to a mistake to a buyer, you should start. Because it’s unlikely you’ve never made a mistake.

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Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a StoryParenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.

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