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Remember the old Kung Fu movies where the teacher uses every mistake the student makes to physically punish him? It’s the harshness of the lessons that makes them stick. It’s the experience of paying for the mistake that engraves the lesson on your neurons—and sometimes on other parts of your anatomy.

Experience is a brutal teacher. But she’s sometimes the best teacher; you don’t forget her lessons.

Your Losses

Do you remember the deals you lost? Do you remember the deals that you lost that you absolutely should have won? I remember all of them.

I remember one deal I lost where I did the best discovery work of my life. I built the solution together with the decision-maker. I even had a verbal commitment—and a handshake (which is all I would have needed to do business). I was shocked and horrified to learn the competitor swooped in behind me, made a promise to do something that we had never even discussed, and ran off with the business.

Now I never leave a sales opportunity without scheduling an appointment to resolve concerns. Had I done so here, I would have had a chance to respond to what my competitor offered.

Each time you lose, experience offers another lesson. Just make sure she isn’t teaching you the same lesson over and over again.

Your Mistakes

How about your mistakes? We’ve all made them.

On one call, I brought an inexperienced person from my team to a sales presentation. As soon as I was done outlining one of our procedures, she opened her mouth to describe a different procedure and confused our dream client (and it really was a dream client). I couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle once it was out.

Her mistake was talking out of turn. But I took full responsibility; I was the one that prepped her for the sales call.

I would never think of making a team call without a serious discussion of roles and responsibilities—especially when bringing civilians on a call.

Experience will offer you lessons when you make a mistake. If you are observant, you only have to take each of these lessons once.

Your Failures

Sometimes you lose opportunities and learn from those losses. Other times, you make mistakes that offer you an education. But sometimes you just flat out fail.

I’ve failed to win a number of opportunities where I got completely outsold. I had the better offering, and lost because I couldn’t convince my dream clients that they were underinvesting and that cost and price are two different ideas (and two different numbers).

I’ve failed to win some deals where I failed to build consensus. I tried like the devil to build consensus in one account where my competitor got in early, built deep relationships, and totally blocked my efforts to develop relationships. Failed!

Failing reinforces the lessons you most need to learn. If you own the failure, you own the lesson. But if you make excuses and blame something external for your failure, experience is happy to teach you the lesson over and over again.

Experience is a brutal teacher, and she doesn’t mind repeating herself. You’re better off learning the lessons she teaches, passing the final, and moving on.


What has experience taught you?

What has she had to teach you on more than one occasion?

What have you learned from your losses?

What have you learned from your mistakes?

What have you learned from your failures?


Sales 2012
Post by Anthony Iannarino on December 3, 2012

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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