Failing to Succeed: Lessons in Sales Leadership to Bring About Success
By Neal Williams, Director of Sales, cStor
Failing to succeed. This term has a double meaning depending on how you view it. Most people will read it as, “You failed to achieve success.” However, upon deeper reflection and after experiencing both great failure and great growth in a sales leadership role, I now read it as the process of failing brings about success if strategies are put in place to learn from them.
Malcolm Forbes said, “Failure is success if we learn from it.”
There are countless quotes on failure and success from the world’s greatest leaders. And while all are inspiring, this also shows me that in order to be a truly great leader, failure is a necessity. All these failures did not happen by accident. Instead of becoming defeated by their issues, circumstances or decisions, greatness happened from listening and learning from these mistakes.
Strategies to Turn Failure into Success
An article that has been instrumental in helping me develop this outlook as a sales manager is “Strategies for Learning from Failure” from Amy C. Edmonson at the Harvard Business Review. She provides great insight into how to overcome these types of failures to ultimately create opportunities for learning and success.
Here is a summary of some of the key strategies she identifies:
Carefully Defining Processes for Routine Operations – this helps ensure consistency and prevent deviation in routine operations.
Rapidly Identifying and Correcting Small Failures – this averts serious failures by identifying what is going wrong before issues escalate and are compounded.
Creating Opportunities for Leadership to Analyze Errors and Quickly Adapt – this creates an environment of acceptance where failures are encouraged to be reported while helping foster an atmosphere of response and innovation.
Adopting a Learning Culture Through Sales Leadership
Sales management should first and foremost strive to set high standards for performance, but also be open to identifying failures. This may sound at odds, but the combination of the two ideologies not only ensures teams are success-oriented from the start, but they also realize that mistakes will happen, which may prevent future mistakes and even lead to innovation.
Additionally, Edmondson warns about the harm of placing blame for failures, which causes employees to become less forthcoming. When she asked leaders to estimate what percentage of failures they believed were truly “blameworthy,” they cited only 2-5%. However, more than 70% were treated as failures by the organization. She said this disconnect means “that many failures go unreported and their lessons are lost.”
For sales organizations, ensuring that failures are identified and learned from is crucial since lost revenue can compound when those “lessons” are not learned early in the sales cycle. Increasing the close-ratio and number of wins is dependent on creating an open environment that encourages discussion, questions and learnings from deal losses. Sharing these experiences among the entire sales team helps everyone learn from and reshape their sales process to garner resulting wins in the future.
By adapting our organizations to look at failures as opportunities, and by creating systems and procedures to turn those failures into learnings, we can create an environment of innovation and success.