While working with a new client last week,  we looked at a particular weekly sales goal that she achieved only once or twice this past year. I asked, “when was the last time you failed spectacularly at something?” She motioned to the results on the page, “don’t you see this? I fail all the time.” I returned her results and explained, “These numbers aren’t failure. Failure is when you give your best effort and you don’t make your goal. These numbers show you giving up.”

Too often, sales professionals only recognize failure when they’re missing weekly targets and watching customers walk out the door. That is how my client could see a year’s worth of lack-luster performance numbers and say that she fails all the time. But, results are just that: results. They are the consequence of avoiding opportunities to do better. In order to change her outcomes, she needed to recognize the efforts that produced those results as the actual failure.

For too many of us in sales, justifying low performance comes more easily than doing the work to change the outcomes. This shouldn’t be the case, because as sales professionals, we know how to be successful. We see it in our sales teams long before the weekly, montly or quarterly reports are posted. We see the successful sales reps on the phone as we clock in just before start time. We hear them “talking to themselves” as they practice their presentations. We see behaviors that create success every day and choose not to do them because we’re afraid.


Yoda explained that fear leads to anger, but in sales, fear leads to avoidance. More specifically, fear leads to avoiding situations which expose us to failure. Now, I won’t go so far as to suggest that failure is your friend. But, I will say failure is not your enemy! So, what can you do differently? If there is an area of your sales process that isn’t working, ask yourself why. Then ask yourself what about that area makes you feel afraid. When you challenge yourself to overcome that fear, whether learning the features of the new CRM technology or learning a new referral script, you will begin see the breakthroughs in your career.

Honor, learning, and respect come from failing spectacularly. They come from trying your best and falling short. That’s why people who fail spectacularly move the needle. Thomas Edison quipped, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Or, put another way: failure makes the path to success visible.


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