Slipping Up

Botched a sale? Learn from the error of your ways-dust yourself off and try again.
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This story appears in the August 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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In a perfect world, no one would ever make a mistake. Fortunately, though, most people are willing to forgive human error. I've certainly made my own share of them. I once wanted to send a gift to a customer at FedEx to thank him for his business. It was a nice gesture on my part-except I sent it to him by UPS. It was a careless error, but the client got a kick out of it, and sharing the joke actually strengthened our relationship.

Although there's no way to completely avoid making mistakes, here are three key methods of dealing with them:

1. Put your ego aside. Remember this: Confidence can knock down huge barriers, but humility opens doors. It's easy to get angry or frustrated when things don't go your way, and it's easy to stubbornly hold on to the idea that it's someone else's fault things went wrong. But there's only one way to find out what the problem was-ask the customer. Listen to what he or she has to say. Then say, "Is that the only thing that's stopping us from doing business together? If I can do that for you, can we make an agreement?" You never know: There may still be time to save the sale.

2. Use a setback as a setup for future success. Let your errors be the motivation for making improvements the next time around. When you don't make the sale, or when a deal falls apart, don't let it bring you down. You've put in a lot of time and effort-and if you don't learn from what went wrong, all that time is wasted. There's a wonderful old movie called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and one of the songs in the film contains a great line: "Up from the ashes grow the roses of success." When you get burned on a deal, use the ashes as fertile ground to grow your next move. Mistakes are our greatest teachers. If we don't use them to fuel our passion to move forward and make improvements for the next opportunity, then we've made the greatest mistake of all.

3. Take a proactive approach. Read everything you can about your profession, your industry, your products and services. Find out what other companies like yours are doing to get business. Meet with people who have particular skills and talents and share information with them. Keeping your mind fine-tuned sharpens your edge and helps you eliminate future mistakes.

In the end, remember: It's better to make a mistake than to take no action at all. Every mistake provides you with valuable information to make a better choice for your next move. As playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, "A life spent making mistakes is more useful than a life spent doing nothing."

Edition: July 2017

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