In the last century, countless scholars, educators and business professionals have sought to prove that people learn more from their failures than they do from their successes. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by Francesca Gino and Gary P. Pisano even poses that “success can breed failure by hindering learning at both the individual and the organizational level.” Nevertheless, few of us dare to look at our failures closely. Despite knowing that failing creates opportunities for us to learn, change, grow and improve, as human beings, most of us tend to resist acknowledging the ways in which we’ve failed.
The HBR article points to the Ducati Corse motorcycle team as an example of what can happen when failures aren’t analyzed. After impressive Grand Prix successes in 2003, the team began losing miserably. Why? It had become focused on winning rather than on improving.
Like the Ducati Corse team, sales professionals have a track record of focusing on winning rather than on improving. We’re determined to make the sale rather than determined to reach our full potential as professionals and individuals. Somewhat ironically, this inhibits our ability to sell.
What can we do to ensure that we learn from our failures?
In an October 2013 Huffington Post article, Guy Winch, Ph.D., explains, “To be able to learn from our failures, we need a way to decode the ‘teachable moments’ hidden within them. We need a method for deducing what exactly those lessons are and how they can improve our chances of future success.”
Until you develop the method that work best for you, try integrating the simple three-step method below into your sales routine.
Step 1. Record and analyze your sales failures.
What did you do that resulted in a loss? What would you do differently if you could go back and relive the engagement? Try not to focus on outside factors beyond your control. Instead, focus on the role you played in the failed sales engagement. Even if you find that you made no missteps and that the prospect was simply the wrong prospect to target, you will at least improve your ability to recognize which prospects are valid and which are not and hopefully learn to make better use of your time. Keep your notes in a spreadsheet or in another format that will make it easy for you to spot patterns and trends over time.
Step 2. Engage daily in activities that serve as ongoing training and motivational tools.
Let’s face it: Looking at your failures isn’t fun; in fact, it can be downright depressing. Maintain a positive outlook and balanced perspective by taking a few minutes each day to read materials by professionals you admire, participate in online forums in which valuable ideas are shared, listen to inspirational talks or watch informative video interviews, or participate in some other activity related to your profession that motivates you to keep putting your best foot forward.
Step 3. Create an action plan for tomorrow.
Creating a plan of action and task list for tomorrow at the end of each day will help you apply the lessons you’ve learned and remain conscious of them as you go about your business. Focus on dos instead of don’ts. A statement like, “Don’t use low pricing as a selling point during my call Mr. Jones,” isn’t going to empower you. A statement like, “Focus on the value of the product during my call with Mr. Jones,” and a few quick bullets related to your product’s value are much more likely to keep you focused and able to route the engagement in the direction you'd like it to go.
Keep your records and analyses of your failures in a different document than your action plans, and avoid reviewing your past failures immediately before engagements with prospects and leads. You don’t need to be reminded of past failures during calls, meetings and correspondences with new leads. Instead, refer to your action plan. It will help you to nurture your leads more effectively—and to nurture yourself on your individual path as sales professional.