What to Do if You Mess Up a Sales Meeting
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I hear from people all the time who slightly mess up a sales meetings: they get the time wrong, there is noise from pets or kids in the background, etc.
But what if you royally screw up?
- Getting the prospect’s name or other basic information wrong;
- Being totally unprepared and having it be obvious;
- Making the prospect angry over something;
- Sensing an awkward personality conflict that you can’t seem to resolve;
- Cracking a bad joke that offended them;
- Misjudging their interest in your services or assuming they were more intent on moving forward than they truly were; or
- Being grossly late.
I’ve done all of the above.
In fact, I mess up meetings all the time. I was on a call a few years ago with a man who was interviewing me for a speaking engagement. The meeting was going well until the end when I exuberantly proclaimed, “This has been great, Kevin! I look forward to the next steps.”
My enthusiasm, however, was met with a lukewarm response. I couldn’t figure out why. A few minutes after we hung up, I remembered his name was Michael.
Funny thing – since then, no matter what I do, he won’t respond to my LinkedIn messages anymore.
Emergency meeting clean-up kit
People respect it when you are honest about your mess ups. It makes you look modest and humble. They also appreciate it when you show respect for their time – with actions not just words. It also shows that you are willing to take control instead of brushing it aside when things go wrong.
As a result of messing up more meeting than I care to remember, I have come up with a three-part emergency meeting clean-up kit.
Part one: Press the reset button
Look, you may as well nip it in the bud. Do this if you committed a minor infraction and you think you can save the meeting.
Whenever I say something stupid (and like I said I do this all the time), I have gotten myself into the habit of immediately saying, “Wow, what a crazy thing to say. Delete! Delete! Delete that last line from your memory. Let’s start this conversation over again.”
Most of the time I get a smile and a laugh, and the person joyfully obliges. Resetting the conversation allows you to playfully make light of the blunder and fix it with the other party’s consent.
Part two: Emergency medical evacuation
Let’s say that you just keep tripping all over yourself in the meeting. Whatever you do, the meeting just goes in the wrong direction and you’ve lost control. It has escalated to where the prospect is getting annoyed or even disgusted by you.
View it as a good thing. This can work in your favor. In moments when you have highly irritated someone, you can be sure that you are the total focus of their energy. You can be sure you have 100% of their attention and that is not a bad thing, is it?
Of course not!
The angrier they are, the better. Emotions this intense are highly unstable; they can be flipped around so easily. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows there is a thin line between love and anger. Take hold of those unstable emotions and make them work in your favor!
So, here you are in the meeting and you realize the deal is dying. You realize you are not getting out of this one alive without doing something drastic. You need a medical evacuation (medi-vac). You’ve got to cut the loss, call the chopper into Ramadi and get the wounded soldiers out before you lose the whole battle.
Apologizing profusely when people are aflame is just going to make things worse. Ignoring it won’t work either. Make this move quickly and boldly.
Let’s suppose that the prospect thought you were going to review their portfolio in the meeting, but you forgot, or it wasn’t made clear to you that this was their expectation. Now you’re floundering around, trying to piece together a coherent thought about their portfolio, but you’re not getting anywhere and their annoyance is multiplying with every second that passes.
Look them straight in the eyes and in a bold, confident voice say something like:
- Look, it seems as if the more the conversation moves in this direction, the further away we get from the goal of this meeting. Let’s see if we can get back into alignment. Sound good?
- Listen, I apologize for the misunderstanding about your portfolio review. You probably agree that it makes more sense to speak from a more solid foundation. Right?
(wait for them to respond)
Great! So we agree.
(wait for them to nod in agreement)
Why don’t we cut this short and instead set up a time to meet another day once we have had time to exchange all the necessary information for my team to do a complete analysis?
If they say yes:
Thank you, Geraldine. How about Thursday at 10 AM? Shaqil from my office will call you Tuesday to confirm we’ve received your statements so we can proceed with the analysis in time.
If they make an excuse about not having their calendars or just outright refuse:
Geraldine, we’re committed to delivering our best 100% of the time. I wouldn’t be honest if I told you that everything goes smoothly every single time around. But I will tell you that we firmly believe in taking action and taking control to avoid and amend any missteps that happen at any point in our process.
That is who we are as a company and who we will always be, and that’s the truth.
I realize asking to try again is a big ask at this point. It’s perfectly fair if you don’t want to continue at this point. We just ask that you let us know what you decide.
Count to 10. Sit there in complete silence, making eye contact the whole time. Wait and read their body language. Just sit there, literally just sit there in total silence.
If they say nothing after ten seconds, say this:
If you need a few days to decide then, I’m fine with that; Shaqil from my office will call you Tuesday if we haven’t heard from you.
This may not work all the time, but when there’s a raw, open wound you have two choices. You can let it bleed and hope it clots before you bleed to death on the battlefield. Or, you can get the paramedics to apply a tourniquet from the emergency meeting clean-up kit and arrest the bleeding.
The deal may not survive in either case, but which way would you rather go? I’d rather go down swinging.
Part three: Confirm the intended resolution in your follow up
Don’t try to gloss over it in the thank you card as if nothing happened. Let’s say that the lights went out during your meeting. Make a lighthearted comment such as, “Next time we get together I’ll make sure I consult with the electrician to avoid spontaneous loss of lighting.”
Or, “I’ll make sure the office is equipped with glow in the dark file cabinets just in case the lights go out the next time we meet.”
Humor can allow you to overcome most minor errors. Own up to it briefly and make sure you express what you’ll do to resolve the issue next time around. I’ve seen this work well before.
Interpersonal dynamics are a key part of all aspects of marketing, including prospecting on social media. I will be releasing an e-book entitled “Financial advisor LinkedIn messages and sequences that won’t make you sound stupid.” Sign up here to be notified when it’s published.
Sara Grillo, CFA, is a marketing consultant who helps investment management, financial planning, and RIA firms fight the tendency to scatter meaningless clichés on their prospects and bore them as a result. Prior to launching her own firm, she was a financial advisor.