13 Phrases to Make Up With a Pissed-Off Prospect

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Leslie Ye
Leslie Ye





Alexander Pope once wrote, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

And he was right. Because we’re all human, we all make mistakes. Unfortunately, if you’re in sales, when you mess up it’ll typically be public and your errors will affect people besides yourself.

If I make a typo in a blog post, I can fix it on my own and without really needing to do damage control. But because the vast majority of your day is spent interacting with other people, the mistakes you make are customer-facing and impact people besides yourselves.

That means the misunderstanding you had with your sales engineer could lead to more than just confusion that can be corrected with a simple internal mea culpa. If you relay that incorrect information to a prospect, a simple miscommunication balloons into false promises, incorrect buyer expectations, potentially damaged trust, and a lost sale.

Whoa. Clearly, the consequences of making a mistake in a sales conversation (even an unintentional one) require some damage control. Use any of the 13 soundbites below to start repairing a damaged deal, whether your mistake derailed an ongoing conversation or only surfaced once the ink dried on a deal.

13 Phrases to Recover a Damaged Deal

1) “*Silence*”

When we make a mistake and get called out, our first instinct often is to explain it away, make an excuse, or immediately jump into possible solutions. But the best thing you can do when your prospect is angry is to just be quiet (especially if you’re the reason they’re annoyed in the first place). Let them vent their frustrations and feel heard.

2) “I’m sorry.”

It doesn’t matter if the mistake wasn’t technically your fault (a colleague gave you incorrect information, the prospect’s frustration is due to user error, an act of God delayed the product shipment … ). Something in your company and your prospect’s relationship has gone awry, so express your regret that things haven’t gone as planned.

3) “I take responsibility for X.”

If, however, the mistake was your fault, taking a little accountability goes a long way. Don’t try to talk yourself out of a corner or make excuses. Just be upfront and mature, and admit what went wrong.

4) “Tell me more about X.”

Whether it’s a problem in the product, a delay caused by misaligned expectations, or internal confusion on the prospect’s side, you can’t hope to fix it until you know all the details. Asking your prospect to tell you more not only gets you that information, it signals that you care.

5) “How has X affected you?”

Delve a little deeper. Find out what day-to-day pain your mistake has caused or failed to alleviate. The more detail you have about your prospect’s situation, the better you can help. This will also reveal whether you can help at all -- if your prospect merely thought your product could do something but that’s not the case, you’ll be able to uncover that misalignment now.

6) “I can see how this would be confusing / annoying.”

Always acknowledge your prospect. Don’t brush off their frustration, even if it’s because they misunderstood or misused something. Make them feel heard before you offer potential solutions.

7) “What were you expecting when you did X?”

This is a good way to uncover user error or incorrect expectations. If your prospect was under the impression that your product does X but that functionality doesn’t actually exist, no one technically did anything wrong -- they just misunderstood what was available. Understanding your prospect’s expectations is the best way to assess the root cause of a situation.

8) “How did you interpret X?”

If your prospect is upset about something they think you promised or said, ask them how they interpreted it. It’s possible you were using unclear language or your signals just got crossed. It also prevents you from jumping to conclusions -- instead of telling a prospect, “You misunderstood me,” you’ll find out if they actually did.

9) “I understand how you feel.”

This one’s a customer service standby for a reason. Like #6, you acknowledge your prospect’s feelings without riling up their anger. You can then delve deeper into the issue.

10) “I hear what you’re saying.”

In the same vein as #9, use this statement to open up a larger conversation on a positive note.

11) “How can I help?”

Every conflict needs a resolution. If your prospect has a request you can help with -- help selling internally after their goals were miscommunicated, for example -- stepping in where you can will go a long way to maintaining your credibility and the health of the relationship.

12) “How can I fix this?”

Employ stronger language if your mistake was more serious. For example, if you promised your product could do something it couldn’t and your prospect didn’t realize until after a purchase, do whatever it takes to keep the relationship healthy. If the specific feature or problem isn’t a dealbreaker, taking responsibility makes it that much more likely your customer will stay a customer.

13) “What do you need from me to make this better?"

A variation on #12, use this question to determine what you can do to help. For example, if your buyer told a higher-up the product could do X and are now facing a loss of internal credibility, offer to step in and speak to their boss directly.

Making mistakes isn’t the end of the world (or a deal), but if you respond in the wrong way it can be. Employ these soundbites to keep things positive, focused on the buyer, and free from empty excuses or apologies so you can make things right.

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