Have you ever been blind sided by an issue - either career-related or in your personal life - that seemed to come out of nowhere? Do you remember how gut wrenching and overwhelming it seemed?

Even the most successful sales people can make the mistake of ignoring the little issues, in the hope that they'll just up and go away. But more often than not, those little "molehill" issues can grow into huge problems when we're not looking - problems that can become a source of real friction in our relationships with our customers, or even cost us lost business.

In past articles, we've talked about the importance of open, honest communication in sales. But how do you sustain that kind of trusting, open relationship? By fine-tuning your communication skills - and then fine-tuning them some more.

Forgive - even if you can't forget
The first step in fine-tuning your communication skills is learning how to forgive.

Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves. It's also the second best communication habit that the top 10% of sales people learn to master (the first being questioning and listening skills, of course!).

The inability to let go of the past and forgive can become a barrier to attaining a loyal, profitable relationship with a customer. When we're wronged, it's natural to want to balance the scales or settle a score. But while it may be tempting, this is profoundly counterproductive behavior, and it can color every part of your relationship with a customer from that point forward.

If we are to be successful, every action we take has to make us more likable to the prospect, not less. Being unable to forgive just makes us appear petty, small-minded and judgmental. After all, the desire to get even with someone can hardly be considered constructive, when your objective ought to be building solid relationships based on trust and loyalty.

Many people think that by forgiving someone, they are in effect letting them off the hook. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Forgiveness - real forgiveness - is about ourselves, not the person we are electing to forgive. A lack of forgiveness only punishes the one who refuses to forgive - leading to broken relationships, lost sales and lower commissions.

In addition, unresolved customer situations are not only a burden, they are a distraction. They prevent us from being present and focused on other clients. And they can become a constant stress in our lives, affecting our productivity when prospecting, making sales calls and working with other clients.

Forgiveness is an essential way to free yourself from the past, so you can focus your time, effort and energy on building strong client relationships today and into the future. Remember: you don't have to forget; you just need to learn to forgive.

3 steps for letting go, and moving on
When confronted by a difficult issue, here are three steps that can help you let go of the past, and create room to forgive:

1. Have a direct conversation with your customer or prospect. Own up to the fact that you've been stressed because you've been preoccupied by the issue, and ask for their suggestions to help improve the communication process so that the issue doesn't surface again. Tell them that you forgive them (if this needs to be said).

2. Think about the lessons to be learned from the past, and commit to specific actions that will help you avoid repeating your mistake. If possible, share these actions with your colleague, partner or customer, and seek their approval before implementing them.

Customer Example: If you were left out of a buying decision where your customer went straight to a reseller, ask yourself what lessons you can learn from this. Perhaps the lesson is to stay in closer contact with your customers. Perhaps there's a need to establish and clarify expectations with your customers before they need to reorder. Or maybe you need to do a better job of keeping your clients informed of your company's new product releases. Whatever the lesson(s), identify and acknowledge them, and commit to doing three things that will directly ensure that these situations aren't repeated. For example, commit to a scheduled follow-up program with your customers, schedule a regular annual meeting to review last year's purchases, and make sure to remind your clients of the successes you've created together in the past few years.

Management Example: If a sales manager or employee broke your trust, commit to reading self-improvement books, seeing a coach or taking a course to identify what you may or may not have done to contribute to the situation, or to learn to recognize the signs you may have missed. This will help give you the confidence not to repeat your mistakes, helping you build better, stronger and more trusting relationships with your staff or colleagues.

3. Create a powerful goal that forces you to leave the past behind.

Customer example: After losing an important sale with an existing customer, establish a goal of finding two new customers to make up for the loss by a specified date (and make sure your boss agrees).

I recently worked with Mike, a sales rep at a software company who had missed his target quota for two of the last three months. On the third month, however, Mike set himself a new goal: to make his quota, plus enough additional sales to make up for the past two months when he'd been behind. He finished the month 20 percent above his quota.

Management example: If a sales rep breaks your trust and acts unethically, commit to finding a more committed sales rep by a specific date. This will cause you to take actions that will help you leave the past where it belongs - behind you.

Yes, the advice we're offering here might appear obvious or even simplistic. But it's been my experience that common sense doesn't necessarily translate into common practice.

Learning how to forgive will make a world of difference in the way you sell. It will also produce results, because in sales, nothing is more important than remembering to acknowledge people's emotions and actions.

In sales, nice guys do finish first, because they understand that closing a sale is not about them - it's about the customer. Nice guys focus on creating a positive customer experience that is based on trust, appreciation and honesty. As a result, few if any of their customers look elsewhere when they need to reorder. In terms of percentages, the salesperson who remembers to be kind can expect to do 70-80 percent of their business each year with their existing customer base - a track record that's a success in anyone's book.

So the next time you find yourself tempted to "get even" with a client or colleague, remember the number one tenant of the Selling Innovation model: Be Nice. It's the greatest gift you can give someone else - and yourself!

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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