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The Invaluable Nature of Mistakes

I was a better salesperson before I was given my first job in sales. I just tried to get people to meet with me, some did, and some gave me good opportunities. Then my manager made me a full time, outside salesperson. The company armed me with a big binder full of our history, our locations, and our features and benefits. Having not been trained, I read most of the 84 pages to my unsuspecting prospects, never noticing that all were lulled into a catatonic state.

As I was responsible for more deals, I mistook receptivity for opportunity. I spent time with people who were happy to have someone to speak with but had no real power–or interest–in changing anything. They were receptive, but they’re weren’t motivated to change anything.

As I improved I won very, very big deals. At one point I had three of four major clients and I was making more money than I had ever made, all of it commissions. Then the largest of the clients decided to relocate to another state. The second largest changed their business strategy and no longer need me or what I sold. My income was cut in half, and because I was content to serve these big clients, I had no pipeline.

I had a big deal all wrapped up and a verbal commitment from the buyer. It was worth a few million bucks a year. But then he took a final meeting with a competitor, and they showed him something I hadn’t shown him. It was something he never mentioned. He chose them instead of me. I demanded a meeting, and he agreed. I reviewed 8 pages of notes with him, none of which contained a single word about the shiny object my competitor had used to lure him away.

These were all major mistakes I made. And I could write dozens and dozens more of these that I have personally made, and countless more I have seen others make.

No one likes to make mistakes, but the experience of making them is one of the primary ways that you learn, adjust, and improve. The experience is something very different and more valuable than reading about other people’s mistakes. It ingrains the lesson into you.

Mistakes without learning, without deciding what you will do different in the future, are wasted. But mistakes with a lesson that changes your beliefs and behaviors are invaluable–but only if you treat them as such.

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  • Scott Zahn

    Wondering about that shinny object was that you didn’t have in your 8 pages of notes? Was it something you missed in your survey/assessment or was it a unique selling feature that was only available to your competitor who won this deal? Seems that their maybe conditional reasons applicable to situations where you are outsold. Of course if it was an oversight on your behalf – well, at least you received some training.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I always take responsibility for my losses. I didn’t anticipate my prospect giving my competitor another bite at the apple, and I should have.

      The shiny object was a program they offered, and I didn’t have a similar program. I call it a shiny object because it didn’t at all help with his strategic initiatives, and he fired them. I picked the business up six months later. We both lost six months.

  • revtallen

    A wise person can learn from the mistakes of others; a fool can’t even learn from his own mistakes!