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Why We Make Mistakes

Why do we insist on making all the mistakes ourselves when we could learn from others?

The following article has been excerpted from Masters of Sales: Secrets From Top Sales Professionals That Will Transform You Into a World Class Salesman (Entrepreneur Press, September 2007).

There are "tried-and-true" sales techniques that are so simplistic that it seems they can't be really effective. Many times, we try to re-evaluate, improve upon and complicate them. An experience I had once while on vacation reminds me of how we try to make some things harder than they really are.

I was in Hawaii enjoying the surf when, unbeknownst to me, the water became thick with Portuguese Man O'War jellyfish. Suddenly I felt a stinging sensation across my chest. I wiped my chest with my right wrist and arm and lifted my arm up out of the water. I saw the tentacles dripping off my arm and followed them with my eyes to the body of the Man O'War jellyfish about eight feet away. With mounting alarm, I shook the tentacles off my wrist back into the water and quickly swam out of the surf to the shore.

I ran up to the first hotel employee I saw, a cabana boy, who was serving drinks to a sunning couple just off the pool deck and urgently exclaimed, "I think I've just been hit in the chest by a Man O'War jellyfish! What should I do?"

"Are you feeling any pressure in your chest?" he wanted to know.

"No, none at all," I replied anxiously.

"OK, OK, here's what you need to do. Go on over to the market off the lobby and ask for some vinegar and meat tenderizer. You're going to want to spray the vinegar onto your chest and then shake the meat tenderizer onto the same spot and rub it all around. You'll be fine," he assured me.

Well, I must say that I was less than impressed with this bizarre advice. He was entirely too calm and that was entirely too easy to be a real solution--not to mention that it was just plain strange. I figured he was doing a version of "let's goof on the tourist," so I moved on to ask someone else for help. Strangely enough, I asked two more hotel employees what to do about my injury, and got the exact same answer: vinegar and meat tenderizer.

I reluctantly trucked down the hall to the store just knowing that they were all back there laughing at the goofy tourist who was actually going to do a self-imposed "meat rub" on his chest. I was sure they had some barbecue grill going for when I returned to the lobby all slathered up with vinegar and meat tenderizer.

I entered the small market off the lobby and started my search for char-grilled products when I started feeling short of breath. Suddenly, very quickly and forcefully, I began to experience a crushing weight on my chest. Was I having a heart attack? Great! I'm having a coronary after wasting so much time talking to members of the hotel staff, who were trying to get me to rub meat tenderizer on my chest. I walked out of the store and staggered to the front desk, which by now was very busy with new guests checking in to the hotel. I made eye contact with the hotel manager and almost immediately, dropped to the ground, clutching my chest, barely able to gasp, "Man O'War!"

What happened next was a total blur. I seem to remember a small child yelling and pointing at me as I lay there in my bathing suit, gasping for breath.

"Look mommy, there's a man on the floor." The mother said something about staying away from people who do drugs. I looked over and tried to say no, not drugs--jellyfish. But all that came out was gibberish.

The paramedics rushed to the scene. Finally, I was going to get the medical attention I needed. After determining what had happened, the paramedic opened his lifesaving kit, and I knew he was about to pull out a defibrillator. I made my peace with God, and I braced myself for the big jolt. Instead, he pulled out--yes, you guessed it--vinegar in a spray bottle and some Adolf 's meat tenderizer. He then proceeded to spray the vinegar and sprinkle the meat tenderizer on my chest, and thoroughly rub the mixture around. Within seconds, literally seconds, the excruciating pain began to subside. Within a couple minutes it was almost completely gone.

What I thought was a big "barbeque joke" on the tourist turned out to be a well-known cure for some jellyfish strikes. You see, the meat tenderizer contains the enzyme papain, which breaks down the toxin proteins and neutralizes them. It sounds too simple to be really effective, but it is, in fact, one of the best things to do in that situation.

Thinking back on it, I am amazed at how many people gave me the solution before I had to learn the hard way. Sure, who's going to believe a cabana boy? I mean, what does he know, right? And the hotel employee--OK, maybe there's the start of a pattern here, but I have a doctoral degree--I'm "smart," and these guys have just got to be kidding me, right? And then the hotel manager as well . OK, I admit it, at that point there's just no excuse. I should have figured out these guys knew what they were talking about, and I did not.

I made one of the biggest mistakes that people in business--and especially in sales--make. I didn't listen to the people who have experience. I assumed that I just had to know better. And the truth is, I didn't know better.

There is nothing like experience. It beats education every day of the week. The only thing better is a combination of education and experience, or a willingness to learn from other people's experience. There are many basic sales techniques that any good salesperson knows to be effective. They don't try to look for something more complicated or involved, because they know from their own experience, as well as the experience of others, what works in sales and what doesn't work in sales.

You may hear things that seem too simple to be effective or ideas that you've heard before. Never dismiss them. Embrace them. Go get that vinegar and meat tenderizer, and learn from the masters that sometimes the simplest ideas can have the biggest impact.

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman of BNI, the world's largest business networking organization and co-author, with Don Morgan, of Masters of Sales: Secrets From Top Sales Professionals That Will Transform You Into a World Class Salesman (Entrepreneur Press, September 2007).

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman of BNI, a professional business networking organization headquartered in Upland, Calif. He is co-author, with Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele, of Business Networking and Sex: Not What You Think (Entrepreneur Press, 2012).
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