Salespeople need to be unafraid of making mistakes that lead to failure.jpg

Your Sales Team Has a Failure Problem

by Chris Young - The Rainmaker
"Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan." - Count Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944), The Ciano Diaries, 1939-1943, Vol. 2.

Long story short.  Salespeople need to be unafraid of making mistakes that lead to failure.jpg

Everyone loves winning but few are willing to embrace the journey that includes the requisite failures necessary to win.

There are four failure problems in sales:

  • The right kind of failure is not tolerated.
  • The right kind of failure does not occur frequently enough.
  • The wrong kind of failure is tolerated.
  • The wrong kind of failure occurs too often.

Long story - The right failures lead to winning.

Winning is intoxicating.

Nothing professionally excites me more than engaging CEOs, HR and sales management who are relentlessly-focused on building a selling machine that produces results.

The language spoken is of possibility and candor.

Oh so many companies say they want to win. Yet their actions shout otherwise.

Few companies and sales teams are willing to:

  • Do the work.
  • Do whatever it takes to hire and retain Sales Wolves.
  • Purposefully cull those who do not live up to the standards of the company / sales team.
  • Burn the boats from time-to-time.
  • Fail.

Recently a Client who retained us a year ago shared a powerful metric. Their close ratio more than doubled from 20% to 47% after integrating our sales personality test into their sales hiring process.

This company only hires Sales Wolves because they have the data evidence that their Sales Wolves deliver superior results.

In getting to know this particular Client, I recognize they:

  • Are not afraid to fail as long as they haven't failed the same way previously.
  • Hire only those who meet their strict sales hiring scorecard standards.
  • Retain only those who live up to their very clear expectations.
  • Expect sales team members to use their sales systems without fail.

No lifetime sales clubs.

No lifetime get-out-of-jail-free cards.

Everything is earned.

The spectrum of failure and your sales culture.jpg

Winning sales teams have the right failure mindset.

A sales team committed to winning fails fast. More importantly, they fail properly and often.

Winning sales teams fast-feedback-loop lessons learned. They push the envelop. They do everything possible to avoid repeating past failures while blazing new paths to improved sales performance.

Winnings sales teams view failing as an integral part of their R&D and learning.

Winning sales teams understand there are smart failures and there are dumb failures.

Winning sales teams do not allow dumb failures.

The "Spectrum of Failure" - Choking and Panicking.

What happens when a sales team member:

  • Misses a key sale?
  • Misses their number?
  • Does not do the work?

What happens when the wrong salesperson is hired?

What happens when a true Sales Wolf is lost to a competitor?

Do you and your sales culture immediately autopsy without blame to identify what went wrong to improve decision-making and processes? Or do you and your sales culture blame others, the situation, the low-performing salesperson and/or the Prospect / Customer?

Do you and your sales culture avoid failure at all costs? Hide failures?

How is sales management and the CEO engaged in failure?

Your sales team does what you do.

Ultimately the real question is, "When your sales team or a particular sales team member fails, what kind of failure is it really? Is the failure due to choking or panicking?"

Malcolm Gladwell recently level-jumped my perspective regarding failure. Gladwell's viewpoint helped bring into sharp clarity what and why failure occurs.

Gladwell's "Spectrum of Failure" is a concept you need to learn and absorb into your sales culture. The opposing ends of the spectrum are choking and panicking:

  • Choking - Failure that afflicts those who are good at what they do; the prepared.
  • Panicking - Failure that afflicts those who are inexperienced; the unprepared and/or those who are not good at what they do.

Failing while being good versus failing due to inexperience.

Gladwell argues there is a significant difference:

  • Choking comes from being prepared and thinking too much and/or operating outside of a zone of experience that is not easy to obtain otherwise.
  • Panicking comes from a lack of preparation and absence of knowledge.

Gladwell's caution - Do not "conflate" choking and panicking.

Gladwell asserts that we sometimes accuse the person who chokes of being a novice, of not having prepared, when they have prepared. The implications are significant because the stigma of failure may cause failure to be viewed as a negative regardless of whether it is a real learning opportunity or lack of preparation.


  • The person who chokes has prepared.
  • The person who panics may be accused of not being prepared, trained or having the experience for a particular situation.

KEY POINT - Does your sales team have an aversion to any kind of failure regardless of whether it was out of their control or they were unprepared?

Choking is honorable failure.

Gladwell uses the example of an athlete who truly chokes where we need to be more forgiving. An example would be the young high school basketball team that chokes in a final game situation they have not previously experienced.

Where are you and your sales culture viewing choking failure and missing incredible R&D / learning opportunities?

"Panic is the responsibility of the actor."

Gladwell shares the following example of panicking:

"If you get up to give a speech and are overcome with stage fright and you can't do it, that's panic. And that's your fault. You didn't practice enough. You didn't take it seriously. You didn't take steps to address your stage fright before you got up on stage. You probably knew that you found public speaking terrifying yet you chose to kind of ignore or not take that possibility seriously."

Panicking is dishonorable failure.

  • Where are you and your sales team panicking?
  • Why are you allowing it?
  • What are you going to do about it?

The Peter Principle compounds the failure problem.

Are you rewarding star salespeople for their performance by promoting them into sales management? How often does it become more of a sentence for you and them than a real reward? This of due to the Peter Principle at work.

The Peter Principle occurs when a person is selected for a position based on their prior performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role.

Key Point - Your best salespeople are not always going to be good sales managers.

Sales managers who are not a fit for the role avoid taking risks where they could fail.

Sales managers who are not prepared panic.

Promote carefully and panic less.

The wrong salespeople compound the failure problem.

If you are not using a valid sales personality test with validity backed by brain research, you are missing out big time. You are hiring salespeople who avoid failing and when they do fail, they panic instead of choke.

Carefully design your sales culture to fail properly.

Make no mistake. Your sales culture has been designed. The question is, "Has your sales culture been designed carefully?"

Your sales culture is a culmination of your collective sales management mindset and your collective sales team member mindset. Aversion to any kind of failure is a sign of two significant contributing issues:

  • All problems start at the head. Promotion of salespeople into sales management roles they are not a fit for and you end up polluting your sales management mindset. The result is an avoidance of choking failure and too much panic-failure.
  • All problems walk on two feet. The hiring of salespeople who are not a fit for the role and results in the pollution of your sales team's mindset. The result is an avoidance of choking failure and more instances of costly panic failure.

In other words, your sales team does what you do. Your sales team will view failure the way management views failure.


What is your sales team's failure mindset? Is any type of failure viewed as all bad?

When failure does occur, is it due to choking (didn't know what they didn't know) or was it due to panicking (lack of preparation, training and/or experience)?

Look at the job fit of your sales managers and salespeople. The greater the mismatch, the more likely few / no risks are taken. Make changes in your sales management, sales team and sales hiring process accordingly.

Only hire Sales Wolves and Sales Wolf Managers.

Carefully design your failure culture. Destroy any stigma surrounding failure. Reward acceptable risk-taking. Allow failure autopsies to play out. Stop protecting weak sales management team members who have been Peter Principled.

Do it now.

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Source: Malcolm Gladwell - Talent: Master Your Craft