If you want to be great at sales, you need to get comfortable with failure. Selling requires you to constantly put yourself on the line: From requesting referrals and calling new prospects to pursuing a whale or entering a highly competitive situation.

The more chances you take, the likelier you are to occasionally -- even frequently -- fall flat on your face.

But as Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Stop beating yourself up for failing. These eight perspectives will help you see your failure in a positive light.

(More of a visual person? Jump straight to the corresponding infographic we created with 24Slides.)

Want to know what real salespeople say is the biggest mistakes they've EVER made? Check out this episode of The Real Deal of Sales with Keenan, A Sales Guy.

1) A Chance to Increase Your Resilience

There are only two possible responses to failure: Either you give up, or you get up and try again.

If you take the second route, you’ll inevitably become more resilient. Bouncing back gives you confidence. The next time you fail (yes, you’ll fail again), you’ll remember this situation and think, “I overcame X, so I can overcome Y.”

Rather than viewing yourself as a failure, see yourself as a person who refuses to let setbacks stop them and will continually experiment until they reach their goals.

2) The Beginning -- Not the End

We tend to think of failure as the end of an opportunity. Your prospect decides to go with another vendor, so you mark the deal as “closed/lost” and move on. The end.

However, every failure is actually a beginning. Maybe you follow up with that prospect when their contract is close to renewal. They’re impressed by your persistence and decide to switch their business to you. Or perhaps this experience motivates you to work on your value differentiation skills. Once you’ve gotten better at making your product stand out, you start losing far fewer deals to the competition.

As Tony Robbins said, “Think of failure as an experience, not a tattoo.”

3) Proof You Took a Risk

If you never try, you’ll never fail. Failure is proof that you were ambitious. You could avoid picking up the phone and calling prospects or asking for the order, but then you’d never connect with buyers or close deals.

At the end of the day, you should be proud of your failures. Each one represents a time you put yourself out there.

Just make sure you’re not repeating your failures. It’s not brave to repeat your mistakes -- it’s simply dumb.

4) A Situation for Gaining Knowledge and Experience

Being successful 100% of the time makes you overconfident, which hurts your ability to realistically assess risk. You’ll make foolish decisions as a result.

Let’s say you’ve been the top-performing salesperson in your vertical for the past two quarters. Buoyed by these results, you decide to focus all your energy on an opportunity five times larger than normal. You believe you’re capable of closing this deal, even though your sales manager warns you they’ll probably want a more robust solution.

Ultimately, she’s right. You miss your quarterly quota by a long shot because you ignored the rest of your pipeline.

Failing this time means in the future, you’ll be careful to simultaneously work smaller deals with higher closing probabilities.

5) A Test of Your Assumptions

Salespeople rely heavily on assumptions. Think about the ones you’ve made this week alone, from “That type of buyer isn’t serious” and “She has enough budget” to “Those deals rarely close” and “They’ll probably get the most value from these two features.”

Assumptions help you make decisions more quickly and accurately, since tossing out your prior experience with every new prospect would be highly unproductive. However, if you’re operating under the wrong assumption, you need to know as soon as possible.

Failing tells you that one or more of your beliefs is wrong. For example, you assume small companies always care about price, so you aggressively discount with a prospect who would have been willing to pay full price.

As long as you learn from your false expectations and don’t repeat them, failure will help your bottom line.

6) A Series of Small Wins

The road to failure is paved with a series of small wins. Every time you’ve made a mistake, you probably made several good decisions along the way.

To illustrate, suppose you misidentify the prospect’s needs -- meaning your demo covers the wrong features and benefits.

You’re understandably pissed at yourself. But if you think about it, you had to do five things right to arrive at the demo in the first place:

  • Make them interested in talking to you
  • Earn their initial trust by adding value
  • Getting them to schedule a connect call
  • Using an upfront contract to secure a discovery meeting
  • Asking enough relevant questions they agree to a demo
  • As you can see, there’s no way to fail without succeeding first. Zoom in on these wins if you’re feeling insecure.

7) An Opportunity to Be More Empathetic

Failing is a humbling experience. You realize that you’re not invincible -- you have flaws and shortcomings, just like everyone else.

This revelation might sound like negative, but in moderation it’s good for you. If you think you’re the universe’s gift to sales, you’ll have a hard time relating to anyone else. Once your ego has taken a couple hits, your empathy for others will shoot up.

Not only does this benefit your collaboration skills, it also improves your leadership abilities. Great leaders can relate to their team members’ challenges. Do you want to be a sales manager or director someday? Empathy will be key.

8) A Sign You’re On the Wrong Path

Failing can show you that you’re on the wrong path before the stakes get too high. Suppose you try a new method for reaching the decision maker. After this strategy fails with a few smaller accounts, you decide to go back to your old way.

That decision saves you from making a mistake with the next -- much bigger -- account you chase. Rather than losing one $300,000 deal, you lose two $50,000 deals.


How do you typically react to failure? Let us know in the comments.

HubSpot CRM

Originally published May 26, 2017 8:30:00 AM, updated May 26 2017


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