Turn Mistakes into Positive Selling Opportunities

Steve Nicholls’ article in the April issue of KBDN, “Tips for Avoiding Mistakes on the Jobsite,” offered great advice about how to eliminate or reduce mistakes on our projects. This got me thinking about how we, as salespeople, deal with challenging issues when they develop.

Sometimes it really feels like we are just as much firefighters as we are salespeople – we’re constantly putting out fires. Let’s face it, we’re in a profession that requires a large number of people outside of our control to do their jobs correctly to ensure our projects go smoothly.

Whether those people work for your company, work for a vendor you rely on for products or services or are a direct part of the construction process, they all have a direct impact on the success (or lack thereof) of your design projects.

And we, too, also make mistakes from time to time. So the question is: When that refrigerator opening is too small, or the cabinets come in with the wrong door style, or the plumbing fixture you forgot to order is on backorder and has a 12-week lead time, how can you turn that very negative experience into a possible selling point? The simple answer is visibility.

Providing a Presence

As sales professionals, we typically spend the majority of our time cultivating leads, working to close sales and completing all of the necessary processes to ensure the product is delivered correctly and on time. And, because of the time invested, we assume it will be flawless. But sometimes things simply don’t happen as planned.

As salespeople, it’s our primary role to represent our company in the best possible light. This role is never more important or more difficult than when an issue rears its ugly head.

Some salespeople will try to avoid the conflict and hide from the issues altogether. They may not be as visible as they could or should be. Frankly, they may disappear from contact and hope the issue will go away or resolve itself.

They are not proactive in addressing the issues and providing resolution for the client. They don’t return phone calls or e-mails as fast as they should. It seems they just fall off the face of the earth…and there could not be a more critical mistake for them to make than that.

When issues arrive, visibility is more important than ever with regard to the role of the salesperson. Simply put, this is the time we need to be our most responsive. Staying in the closest contact with our clients is crucial in times of distress – in fact, it is the most important time to ensure the process turns out positively.

Addressing Issues

When an issue first arises, the following actions are critical:

  • Acknowledgement – As soon as you hear of the issue, acknowledge it and figure out what went wrong. It is imperative to understand why it happened and make sure you learn from the mistake. Do this whether it was your fault or not.
  • Formulate – How is this issue going to impact the overall design and sales process? How will it affect the clients and their needs? The project and its progress? How do you rectify the issue and solve the problem or problems that this issue will create? When you do confront your clients with the news of the issue, it’s paramount that you come prepared with a solution for them – or better yet, a choice of solutions – so that you can work with them to determine the best way to address the problem. It’s important to have formulated a plan before you speak with the client – even if it turns out not to be the ultimate solution. Not having a resolution or idea of how to resolve the issue will only add fuel to the fire in most cases.
  • Inform – When an issue arises, try to set up a face-to-face meeting whenever possible. People are typically less likely to respond aggressively in a face-to-face situation than, say, in a conversation over the phone or, even worse, by e-mail. Outline the issue and explain how it happened. If it was your fault, take responsibility right away. The client will respect you for accepting responsibility. Lying or making excuses will only make the issue worse. If it was someone else’s mistake, explain how there are systems for checks and balances, but unfortunately the mistake was made and is now adversely affecting the project.
  • Action plan – Outline the pre-formulated action plan (or choice of action plans) to the client. If the client is not agreeable, ask for input on how he or she would like to see the issue resolved. Carefully and honestly outline the timelines and/or lead times for the resolution to take effect and be completed. If possible, explain how or what work can continue so there is still progress on the project. Think outside the box and employ help from staff members, if necessary, to expedite the solution.
  • Empathize – Clients need to vent and let you know how these issues will impact them. They need to be heard. Sometimes they just need to know you care and want to help. Be empathetic to them and let them know you care. Let them know you are there to help. Ask questions in a sensitive manner and understand how they are impacted and cater the response to what needs to be done to ease their individual burden.
  • Execute – After the determined plan is underway, it’s important to execute the resolution effectively and efficiently. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver, and certainly don’t make promises you can’t keep. Stick to the plan and see it through. During this process it’s important to maintain constant contact and provide intermittent updates. Highlighting a milestone can be powerful as well, and projects a sense of progress. Updates are important in reinforcing that you are on top of correcting the error. Stay visible and accessible as the solution to the error is applied. Be available to answer the client’s questions and manage expectations throughout the resolution.

The key to this process is being available and taking a negative and turning it into a positive. It is how you respond that will resonate in the client’s mind. The goal is to have that client refer you, regardless of whether there was an issue on the project. It is how you service them during their “time of crisis” that will determine whether that referral is coming.

Recognize that the client is going to tell friends about the issue. Your goal is have that client be able to say that you made good on your promises and that the issue was resolved adequately, effectively and with as little inconvenience to them as possible.

Remember, one of the most basic ideals in the sales process is to sell yourself first, your company second and your products and services next. A time of crisis is the most critical time to sell yourself and your company while backing it up by highlighting your products and services.

As challenging as errors can be, we want our clients to respect us as much in troublesome times as in good times. So be visible. Be available. Be responsible. Be responsive. Take a few hits. It is not fun, but it is important.