Moving Beyond Excuses – by Doug Rice

Sometimes, as salespeople, we mess up. We tell a client that we are able to do something only to find out that we were misinformed and cannot fulfill the promise. We get confused by the financials and misquote numbers. We (gasp) forget a customer’s name. These events do not mean that we are bad people; they mean we are human. Yes, making mistakes such as these can cost us our business and our reputations, but they only mean that we are fallible beings. We will mess up; it’s inevitable.

The important thing is what happens next. What do we do when we fail? When we make these awful mistakes, what do we tell ourselves about the situation? All too often, we make excuses for our behavior. We tell ourselves a story about how we are not to blame and it makes us feel better about our failures.

  • I didn’t lie to my customer; my manager led me to believe that I could deliver on a certain item. I was just the messenger. It wasn’t my fault that my customers was misinformed. It was my manager’s fault.
  • It isn’t my fault that the numbers were misquoted. The layout on the document I was discussing with the customer wasn’t clear. Someone from the finance department is responsible. They should have made the numbers easier to discuss.
  • I can’t help it that I forgot a customer’s name. Do you know how many names I hear in a single day? Besides, I’ve been really stressed lately about meeting my numbers and the last thing I care about is a name. If management didn’t put so much pressure on me to reach my goal, maybe I could engage better with customers.  It isn’t my fault.

Okay, these excuses are kind of lame. Most salespeople can do better than that. But the point is that they are excuses. They pass the blame on to someone else. Why is this such a big deal? Because the salesperson that makes excuses for her behavior, regardless of where the fault lies, is not improving. The next time a similar situation arises, the same thing is going to happen. The question a salesperson should ask herself when she messes up is not, “Whose fault is it?” It doesn’t matter whose fault it is! That is irrelevant. The question a successful salesperson will ask herself is, “How can I do better next time?”

A great salesperson does not care about who’s to blame. The great salesperson cares about improving. Making excuses justifies failure. Moving beyond excuses and asking what we can do differently in the future sets us up for success. Perhaps we need to personally validate a claim that is made by our manager before making the claim to our customers. Perhaps we need to get a better grasp on the financial aspect of the deal we are discussing. Perhaps we need to focus more on relationships and remembering customers’ names. Whether or not we had good reasons for making the mistakes we made, we need to focus instead on how can avoid them in the future.

What about you? Have you found yourself making excuses and rationalizing your failures? I ask you, where does that get you? What can you possibly stand to gain from that kind of thinking? Get rid of your excuses. Stop trying to find someone to blame. Work instead on improving yourself. What’s done is done. All that matters now is the future. What will happen next time? That’s the important question.