How to Turn Setbacks into Opportunities

Published on September 7, 2017

A client cancels a meeting at the last minute. A customer cancels an order you were expecting. A long-time customer is lost because a competitor has wooed them away. The unexpected happens more often than we might like, and for those of us in sales and leadership, dealing with the unexpected should be expected.

Yesterday I was on my way to Fort Myers, Florida, for a meeting when I was notified the meeting was being cancelled. As a top-tier United flyer, I was eventually able to secure a return flight later that day, which was quite fortunate given the circumstances with Hurricane Irma. I had to reschedule the conference calls I had planned for that day, but everything worked out.

Do you fret and get upset when you realize you have to change your actions or strategies? Do you allow your frustration, anger, or feeling of being disrespected to get the best of you to the point where it clouds your judgment? Or do you accept the fact that life throws curveballs and focus on what you will do to fix the situation and see the opportunities in front of you?

Yesterday I realized the cancelled meeting meant two extra days this week for me to do other work. However, my initial reaction to the meeting cancellation was to wonder—why couldn’t you have told me before I boarded the plane? Fortunately, my empathy took over and I realized the meeting planner was getting a lot of cancellations that morning and then had to make the decision to call it off. It’s good that the meeting planner was not on the receiving end of my initial reaction. Instead I said to him: “No problem. I fully understand and will simply turn back. At least we won’t have to worry about getting back home later this week because of the storm.” He immediately replied: “Wow—thank you so much for your understanding and making this easy for me.”

Even in times of disappointment, how you act will affect your customer’s perception of you and your service. If you are out there to Impact! the world and your customers, you need to have a certain degree of empathy.

Of course, if you are losing a big deal or a customer, I do not expect you to say, “I fully understand.” But as a Sales and Leadership expert, I know that if you can empathize with them regarding the decision and find out why they made it, you can address the issue and possibly change the decision. If you can’t change it, at least you will have gained some important information.

I recently coached a client who had been notified that a huge volume contract with one of their biggest customers was being drastically reduced. My client was angry and felt as if he’d been deceived. He felt put out by the large sums of money he’d invested in machines for this client.

Initially he wanted to call the client and let them have it, but all that would have done is cement the client’s decision. Instead, I coached him to get an appointment with the key decision-maker, who he did not have a solid relationship with. Rather than going in angry, he asked the buyer to share his annual objectives and challenges. The conversation immediately switched from a potentially adversarial one to a fruitful discussion between two long-time partners. The result? My client and his customer mutually created a solution for the buyer’s current challenges, and as a result my client gained more business, including the parts he lost.

When unexpected situations occur that are an inconvenience or a major setback, coach yourself to focus on your reaction rather than the setback. It is your reaction that will dictate whether you maintain control of your destiny and find an opportunity to turn the negative into a positive. To succeed with this strategy, concentrate on giving yourself solid internal coaching. Allow yourself to vent, but then move forward by empathizing with the other party and finding common ground.

Your reaction will dictate your future success. It’s up to you. Call me if you need help.

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