Ever attend FailCon? It’s a one-day conference where folks share their “biggest failures.” It has been a success for four years running. But this year, FailCon was cancelled. It was cancelled not because the topic is passé or because of lack of interest but rather because the topic has become so pervasive throughout the Silicon Valley that FailCon seemed unnecessary. Today, failure is a badge of honor among some Silicon Valley start-ups.
What can be learned from failure experiences can lay the foundation for future success. Or, in other words, failure and success seem to be traveling companions. While no one wants to fail over the long run, some believe if you haven’t tasted failure, you probably aren’t pushing the limits.
This success-failure tale is a story that also has a long history in Sales. Sales reps that don’t test the limits, don’t try out new ideas to adapt to changes in the buying environment, that simply limit their aspirations to doing a better job doing what they are doing, are likely to leave “money on the table”. They will over time survive but are unlikely to prosper.
Some sales reps avoid failure by only selling the “tried and true.” They stay in their comfort zone. They don’t sell the innovative solution because it requires a lot of work to get smart about the particulars or it is risky because potential “hiccups” in implementation can’t immediately be solved because of lack of familiarity. Other sales reps assume the cautious attitude simply because it’s safer from a financial perspective – “I’d rather have less of a commission on a sure thing vs. going for a big hit and losing it all.”
But if sales reps only sell within their comfort zone, there is always the question of what could have been for those sales that were ignored or lost. There is also the nasty little problem that the tried and true only works when everything else around you stays constant – a situation which is not a very accurate depiction of today’ markets.
How do sales managers encourage their sales team to get out of their comfort zone – take a thoughtful risk? Part of the answer is how these sales managers manage failure. There is the dark approach that entails criticism and “let’s not try that again” speeches and then there is positioning failure as a way station on the journey towards success.
Every idea that emerges from Silicon Valley is not so easily transferred across industries and every company may not be able to parlay the way station idea quite as well as Steve Jobs and Apple. But given the transformational changes that are occurring in the buying environment, revisiting how to manage risk and bring imagination to selling seems worth a second look.
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