Salespeople, Are You Apologizing Too Much?

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Shit, I think I screwed up.

Even top salespeople make mistakes. I’m a big believer in being completely transparent when there are small errors in the sales process. And I follow a quick, easy process to get back on track. That leads to trust with my managers, colleagues, and prospects.

In 2018, trust is hard to build, easy to disrupt, and essential to helping prospects make a good decision. If you build trust with a prospect, they’ll respect you, believe you, and, potentially, buy from you. If you don’t build trust with your prospect, you won’t get the deal.

When to Apologize

I can hear it now, “But Dan, what kind of mistakes qualify as minor?” I’m glad you asked.

Missed appointments, a minor error on pricing, delivery expectations that are slightly delayed, or forgetfulness are examples of minor issues you should take responsibility and apologize for.

Most prospects and customers will understand and -- if errors are minimal and caught quickly -- you can continue the sales process without disruption. Here are a few tips to make your mistake right and move your deal forward swiftly:

1. Acknowledge it quickly

If you make a mistake, don’t wait to tell your prospect about it. Identify the mistake, identify a solution, speak to your supervisor or other stakeholders, share the results with your prospect.

There might be scenarios where you should notify your prospect of an issue before identifying a solution or contacting stakeholders. For example, perhaps there’s an issue with your prospect’s demo, a site-wide outage, or simply a form you forgot to send. In these cases, it’s best to acknowledge the mistake and let your prospect know you’re working on a solution.

2. Make two touchpoints in 24 hours

I make two calls and/or emails to rectify misinformation within 24 hours. I prefer a telephone conversation -- to explain the reason for the mistake -- then it’s time to move on.

The first call/email should be to notify the prospect of the mistake and provide a solution or timeline for solution.

The second call or email should be a check-in to make sure the mistake has been rectified on their end or to provide an updated timeline for when they can expect a fix.

3. Don’t apologize too much

Endless apologies and explanations kill the trust you’ve built with your prospect and inappropriately accentuates the problem. It takes the focus off how proactive you’ve been about fixing the mistake and finding a suitable solution and shifts their attention to the mistake itself.

When you’ve made a small mistake, like the ones mentioned above, apologize once, provide a simple explanation of what happened and what you’ll do to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and then spend the rest of your time and attention on a solution.

How Apologizing Can Erode Trust

When you spend too much time apologizing, several things occur that damage your relationship with the prospect and the likelihood you’ll close their business. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before apologizing profusely:

1. How severe is this problem?

Determining whether it’s minor, intermediate, or major will help you decide on the ultimate success of the solution, and the type of steps you need to take next.

I was working an SMB in Utah a few years ago. Early in the sales process, we talked about updating the prospect’s website on the CMS. When I quoted the price, I overlooked that part of discovery, so the quote was $800 or so shy.

My contact looked at the quote and asked, “Does this include the website update?” I picked up the phone immediately, thanked her for reminding me of the website update, sent her an updated quote, and closed the deal.

The severity of this mistake was minor and required a simple apology and immediate rectification of the issue. It was a non-event because I fixed it quickly. If I’d waited for a few days or tried to hardball her on price, I might have lost the deal or had to make concessions on price. Because I acted quickly, we moved forward without issue.

2. What’s the impact of this mistake on the sales process?

Is this a common misconception or a serious mistake? If you identify it as a common mistake, apologize to your prospect immediately, and ask if there are any other stakeholders you need to apologize to.

I once worked a deal with a company in Southern California that was looking to deploy enterprise-wide technology. We engaged in a lot of back and forth, and there was some conflicting information from a variety of stakeholders. In the end, I was asked to include premium services to help with onboarding.

We submitted the quote to the committee for approval -- without the premium onboarding. It wasn’t obvious until the purchasing agent who was assigned to negotiate the process asked about the services included.

I had to backtrack. It was a gray area, but inbound salespeople should be thorough. I updated the payment link, but then it came back incomplete. It looked like it included the services, but something wasn’t adding up. The second error was the killer, and the buyer lost confidence in our ability to manage the process.

Some mistakes can be irreparable. Try to keep those to a minimum. When you make a mistake, fix it, move on, and close the deal. Maintain prospect confidence and you can overcome almost anything. Just don’t keep apologizing. It will erode your confidence as well as the prospect’s.

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