Sales failures – not uncommon and not that bad

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs? Thomas Edison? Dean Kamen? Three entrepreneurs who have many things in common including … they have all achieved extraordinary success yet failed somewhere along the way in their careers. Jobs was fired from Apple, Edison failed to extract low-grade iron ore from sand, and Kamen says that he couldn’t pinpoint his biggest failure because there were just too many.

Failure often seems to be a traveling companion of success. While no one wants to fail, some believe if you haven’t tasted failure, you probably aren’t pushing the limits.

This success-failure tale is a story that has a long history in Sales.  Sales reps that don’t test the limits, that don’t adapt to changes in the buying environment, that simply limit their aspirations to do 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.

Let’s take a look at one particularly devilish way one can perhaps unwisely play in safe in Sales.

Thomas Edison

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 of potential “hiccups” in implementation that the sales rep can’t immediately solve because of lack of familiarity. Plus the ever popular attitude – “I’d rather have less of a commission on a sure thing vs. going for a bigger solution and lose it all.”

But if sales reps only sell within their comfort zone, then there is always the question of what could have been for those sales that were lost.  This, of course, becomes a challenge for sales managers.

Dean Kamen

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 and then there is positioning it as a way station on the journey towards success.  It would appear that both Steve Jobs and Apple weathered their storms quite nicely indicating that the way station idea is not all bad.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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