Being a small business consultant is a bit like being a therapist; there are regular meetings where I probe and quiz the business owner about their business and ask hard questions about the way they operate. The responses inevitably involve some shame, as the person admits to all the things they know they should be doing but are not. One client even used to called our monthly meetings ‘business confessions’.
Well today, I have my own confessions. And they involve both klutz-ery of the highest order in my sales process; but also some surprising results that came from owning my mistakes.
The first instance of incompetence came last week.
I’d been getting a lot of telemarketers calling the business line, trying to convince me to buy everything from shares to advertising, or to extract donations for a variety of causes. So when I received a call from, (I hate to admit), an Indian chap who kicked things off with “the reason for my call today” I went in automatic not-interested mode and immediately asked “are you trying to sell me something?”
His response caught me off guard: “no I’m looking for help with a business plan”, then our call was cut off.
Feeling embarrassed, I stewed for the next hour, trying to justify why I need not admit my ill-judgement and call back. The self-talk was quite convincing, but I overcame it, swallowed my pride, called back and apologised.
The customer was very appreciative that I had called back and the conversation quickly moved on to his project. At a project meeting a few days later, he said he had no intention of calling me back, but when I made that call and apologised he said to himself “I gotta go with this guy.”
The second incident in the ‘klutz files’ happened when I missed a call from a new enquiry. She left a message asking me to call back, but I got caught up in super busy project and almost a week passed before I got to it.
Again, feeling like a doofus for such poor sales skills, I ummed and ahhed as to whether I should really return the call at such a late stage. I did do it however and I immediately opened with “Jayne I am going to start with an apology for taking so long” before sheepishly enquiring whether she had found the help she needed.
Luckily for me she was still looking and was appreciative of me following up and being honest. We went on to do a great project together for the next two months.
Even after 20 years in business, consulting to hundreds of businesses and writing on the subject I still occasionally make stupid mistakes with clients and new enquiries. We all do. What counts though, is how seriously you try to recover. It’s not always easy to ‘fess up and say your behaviour was not up to standard. But the reaction you get when you make yourself vulnerable is amazing. It endears you, even to strangers who are debating whether to place their professional confidence and money in you.
In short, being a real person who is able to speak honestly is a good foundation for an ongoing business relationships.
So much about how to achieve success in business, is over-complicated. Small events in my business life remind (and still surprise) me of the simplicity of great business relationships of all kinds: respect, honesty and vulnerability. The business world so often portrays itself as a dog-eat-dog world where honesty is a weakness, and only the fierce thrive. Those who want to be open and let their true personalities show really do stand out.
So the next time you’re faced with swallowing your pride, remember it’s a golden opportunity not just to get new business, but also to create a loyal followers and raving fans.
Rather than making assumptions, focus on making the connection; even if you have to go cap in hand.
Have you ever built great new business relationships off the back of an apology?