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How to Grow and Learn Through Your Sales Failures

As a salesperson you will fail. A lot. You’ll fail to hit your number, you’ll fail to close the sale, you’ll fail with prospects, with clients, and with your colleagues. That can be depressing and demotivating, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right mindset you can embrace it and learn from it. Let me help you: I want to show you how to deal with failure, and how you can turn it around.

Begin beginning now.

The most important thing to do when starting a sales career is to avoid perfectionism. I have it in me to try to be perfect from the very beginning, and this has bitten me in the derriere more often than I can count. I’ve learned the hard way that the beginning is there to begin.

Really, though, the beginning is now. If you’re already experienced, you can still start to embrace your mistakes now, rather than being locked into inactivity by your desire to succeed immediately. If you’re coming with me and subsuming yourself to this mindset, let me say again: the beginning is now. Give yourself room to fail and make mistakes. And remember to learn from them when you do.

Fail early and fail often.

The beginning of anything at all is filled with error and with mistakes. A coach or mentor can put you on the right path, but unless you’re making those mistakes yourself, you’ll never learn from them. Indeed, when starting out, whether in a job or by yourself, make a point of doing things that seem silly or inappropriate to you. You might be surprised by what you’ll learn.

I was surprised in my fourth or fifth year in sales, when I already perceived myself as a veteran. A client (not a prospect, but one of my clients) was being extremely brusque with me on the phone, and was trying to get rid of me. I had received her order, and knew that there was a less costly way for her to achieve her stated goals. Instead of caving and simply processing the order (it would have been great for my wallet, certainly), I decided to push back and be brusque in return. This is not something I’d recommend to anybody, but given the circumstances and the client, I thought I’d give it a shot. She was taken aback, but was grateful to me, and remained one of my best clients.

Develop an experimental mindset.

It was through this experiment that I was able to increase this customer’s loyalty (and make money for years to come), as well as my own understanding of when I could push the boundaries. What I didn’t tell you about were the 100 or so times when it didn’t work, or when I was shut down with absolutely no recourse. I learned from each and every one of those failures, and was finally rewarded with success.

In my opinion, and that of many others, it’s a good idea to approach any role, and especially sales, with an experimental mindset. Not everything you do will succeed, but you’ll learn regardless. You’ll learn how people think, how they react, when they’re likely or unlikely to buy, and what makes compelling arguments.

Redefine success.

A sales job has very defined criteria for success: hit your number and you’re successful. Fail to hit it and you’re not. But the failure we’re discussing here is only a small wave in the vast ocean of that number. Losing a deal is failure, not reaching anybody is failure, being shut down is failure.

In order to be able to process and learn from this failure, I think different criteria for success are required. Criteria that coalesce into the vast criterium of the number at the end of the month. If you’re just starting out, you’ll probably want to start small, perhaps with the gatekeeper.

Examine every conversation you have with a gatekeeper, and think about how you can improve on that.

Turn self-criticism into self-examination.

Following on from this, think about how you react to failure. If you’re anything like me, you’ll beat yourself up over it, and then, slowly, move towards examination. Over time, I’ve learned to stop myself from doing this, and I invite you to do the same.

Rather than going into a funk about it, simply accept what happened as sub-optimal. Think about what led up to the situation, the situation itself, and what followed. Consider similar situations, and try to pin-point the factor that was different here.

Contemplation is key.

Contemplate what you’ll do differently next time. Ask advice if you need to, give yourself room to experiment, and think of things you can try out. And then, and this is absolutely vital, put trust in yourself. Finish your contemplation with the thought that you will try the things you thought about, and implement them next time you’re in a similar situation. Then, once this train of thought is complete, move on to the next prospect.

Remember to abstract.

It’s important to think about how you can apply the lessons you’ve learned in this situation to as many others as possible. If the factors of this failure were person-specific, think about how you’ll recognize similar people in the future. If they were more around the situation or the product, think how you can deflect, avoid, or embrace the situation in order to make it your own.

Embracing failure leads to success.

The more you fail, the more you’ll learn. And the more you learn, the more successful you’ll be. If you’re able to successfully abstract concepts, ideas, and solutions, you’ll be more in control of the situations you’re likely to face.

Ultimately, though, failure is an everyday occurance in sales. You must make the choice: will you let it wear you down or will you use it to build yourself up?

I hope this has been useful to you, and, as ever, I wish you all the best!

Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!

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