Tell Your Prospect How You FailedStories and case studies are powerful sales tools. They give us opportunities to showcase how wonderful our product or service is. They provide proof of our abilities and enable our prospects to see themselves benefitting just as our previous customers have.

There’s just one problem with them.

Everyone’s stories are the same.

Here’s what I mean by that. Whenever a salesperson tells a story, it’s inevitably a success story. Which makes sense—we want to brag about how awesome we are. But when everyone does it, the tactic loses some of its value.

How about a different approach? How about telling your prospect about a time you failed?

I often tell my prospects this story: Early in my career as a speaker, I booked a keynote speech for a manufacturing company for their annual distributor meeting. It was a last-minute booking (less than three weeks before their event) and I was happy to get it.

When I arrived at the event, however, I noticed that things were amiss—nobody from the company that hired me seemed to care that I was there, and the morale of the attendees seemed awfully low. As the day went on, I learned that there was a lot of animosity between this manufacturer and their distributors.

After a long day of dry executive presentations, I was scheduled to speak following dinner. By that time, the audience was tired, bored, and unhappy. They were not in the mood for a high-content sales program. Understandably, my presentation fell flat. I wouldn’t call it a disaster, but it definitely wasn’t a home run. I was the wrong speaker in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And it was my fault.

I didn’t do a good enough job in my needs analysis when talking with the buyer in the first place. If I had, I would have discovered that they didn’t necessarily want me—they just needed someone to fill a slot and I happened to be the first speaker to pick up the phone when they called. I would have learned more about their situation and their particular needs for the event. And I could have told them that I wasn’t the right fit.

After I tell this story to prospects, I tell them what I learned and how it has made me a better speaker and a better event partner. Specifically, that I:

• learned to ask more and better questions.
• learned I only want to work with organizations who actually want me and my message.
• turn down speaking opportunities I’m not right for (and recommend others instead).
• do more research on both the client and the audience so I can create more impact.
• provide free consulting to meeting planners to help them make their event successful.

I’m a better speaker because I failed. And I want my prospects to know that. And your prospects should know how failure made you a better salesperson. Or how it made your business a better company.

So tell a story about how you failed. Then tell your prospect:

• How you reacted
• What you did
• How you made it right
• What you learned
• How it made you better

By all means, keep on telling your success stories. They’re still powerful. Mixing in a failure story as well, though, will earn you massive credibility and dramatically enhance your prospect’s trust in you. It will also set you apart from your competitors. Which should lead to another success story.

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