Salespeople dread dealing with mistakes. At best they get you off track … at worst they lose you the sale.

Mistakes run the gamut from corporate issues, like defective products or billing issues, to mistakes generated by the salesperson themselves, like sharing faulty information or missing a key player involved in making the buying decision. Some mistakes are just annoying, some are financially costly, and some have even more dire consequences. But no matter one’s skill or luck, mistakes occur.

No matter how clever your sales strategy or how much value the salesperson brings to the customer, all that is easily forgotten when mistakes emerge. Furthermore, if not handled properly, it’s not uncommon for salespeople or their company to be branded as risky to work with, 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 mistakes is that when something goes wrong, take responsibility for it – and do it quickly. By owning up, you’re telling the customer you acknowledge the mistake. While the customer may still face a problem, they now have an acknowledged partner working with them to solve it.

Some additional tips include:

  • Analyze the mistake from the customer’s perspective. The first step is to get on the other side of the table. From your side it 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 recognize that you understand 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 while bad news documents itself and does so quickly throughout the customer organization – think “wildfire.” So handling things immediately is a basic requirement.
  • Explain how the mistake happened, but be thoughtful about your explanation. While people like to know why something happened in general terms, 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 that prevention is better than cure. When a mistake happens, and the customer gives you the opportunity to rectify it, take the time to analyze how you are going to prevent it from reoccurring. Make sure you communicate to the customer what you will do in the future to minimize the risk of reoccurrence.

While these techniques won’t guarantee a second chance with a customer, they’re critical if a salesperson wants to retain the customer relationship. By handling the mistakes professionally, it’s very possible you will win customer respect. Best case, of course, is you impress the customer so much on how well you handle the mistake that it becomes a plus rather than a negative!