Your pain is their gain – how to turn your bad news story into good news for your customers

Updated to Business on December 14, 2022.

We’ve all been there. The failed client contract, the speech that was, well, less than perfect, the meeting you forgot about, and the client that dropped you. Bummer.

Life goes on, you mumble, as you put on a brave face. Yeah, life does go on, but there’s also gold in that poop you’re trying desperately to sweep under the carpet.

“I know my clients don’t want perfect.”

The idea that we need to be perfect to coach, teach, influence or otherwise coerce others is nonsense. I know my clients don’t want perfect. They are looking for someone in the real world who has real world advice to give them. And what that means is….you will screw up. Good!

Screw ups are where some of the best, juicy stories can come from. Frankly, I don’t ever learn much success stories. How about you?

Think about the hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell). The protagonist is faced with a challenge, they reach some climax point (like, they want to quit), they resolve the conflict and lo and behold they get through, better and stronger than before. That’s how Bruce Willis always did it, and it worked for him.

There are two ways I use my disasters to help my customers.

1. Tell your customer, or prospect, a “then, now, how” story (Craig Valentine coined that phrase and I love it). It goes like this: describe what was going on for you “then”, how you do things differently “now”, and “how” they can do the same (with help from your solution).

Here’s an easy example: I used to get easily overwhelmed with work and instead of getting focused and completing things, I would multi-task and jump from one task to another. Now, I work from a plan, take my breaks, work in chunks, and rarely feel overwhelmed. Let me show you how this can work for you…

2. Create a model to help others. You got through the pinch, great. Now teach us how we can deal with similar situations. Rather than throwing lots of advice at your prospects, show them a model. Years ago, my friend Matt MacEachern taught me a great model for overcoming challenges. You start with three questions: What do I want? What is getting in my way? What is one thing I can do right now to move in the right direction? It sounds pretty simple, but a model, like that, is a powerful tool for helping a client to cut through their excuses and to get more focused. The more specific their answers, the better their results.

“We all slip up—we’re human.”

We all slip up—we’re human. And those goof-ups can become powerful lessons for others – if you do your homework. Here’s the process I use (here comes the model!) to turn my pain into their gain.

Notice the story. The meeting was a disaster, the client complained, you overcame your procrastination, or the sale went through. Every day were are missing gems that, with a little work, can help others. Pay attention and you will find stories that have teachable moments.

Journal it. What happened? How did you feel? What fears came up? What results did you get? Get it on paper (or in Evernote, OneNote, Excel, toilet paper, etc.).

Pull the lesson. One of my anchor stories is simply driving behind a Porsche owner on my way to work. But the lesson I pulled out of the story has become one of the most repeated stories from my keynote presentations. The question to ask is: what did I lean from this story that helped me with future problems?

Practice. Retelling stories is the only way I know of improving them. Pay attention to people’s reaction, tweak the story, and retell it. The focus should be on the solution, not lots of minor details that confuse or distract the listener. Less is usually better.

Here’s some simple homework: think of a time you overcame a challenge and then go through the four steps above.

“Stories make lessons sticky.”

Stories make lessons sticky. And the best stories come from your own experience. Now it’s your job to turn them into lessons that drive sales.