Fear Of Failure


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As sales people and leaders, we have an interesting relationship with failure.

We are in an intensely competitive profession. Our customers are and should be evaluating alternatives. In any buying decision, there will only be one supplier selected, with the others losing.

As good as any of us are, we all fail!

Like any other human being, we probably have an aversion to failure. It’s discomforting, sometimes embarrassing. None of us want to admit to failing.

Too often, managers or marketing seek to orchestrate our activities and days. They strictly prescribe what we do, with who, scripting the words we say to our customers. They know what “works,” they want us to apply the formula rigorously. They don’t want us to fail–I think less for our own self esteem, but more in an attempt to make the numbers.

Other managers, thinking they are “coaching,” get into tell mode—“This is what you must do, I’ve seen these situations more than you, I know what you must do to succeed.

Sometimes fear of failure paralyzes us into inaction. We don’t want to pick up the phone to make that prospecting call, we do a little more research and preparation, just to make sure it goes right, but really trying to postpone that moment.

We’re cautious in our discussions with prospects and customers. We don’t want to say anything that will be misunderstood or disadvantage us. We want to stay on their “good side.” Often, we don’t have the conversations we need to have, for fear of failing–ironically, it’s those conversations that cause us to differentiate ourselves and succeed.

Managers sometimes have a paradoxical view of failure. If a sales person doesn’t make their numbers they are gone, yet managers often tolerate non performance for years (or until they are forced to take action). They don’t trust their people to succeed, so they micromanage every customer engagement.

It’s ironic, despite this fear of failure, as a profession we seem to be failing miserably. Year after year, % of sales people making plan plummets. Turnover (voluntary and involuntary) is skyrocketing, tenure on the job is plummeting. Our ability to engage customers in meaningful ways is horrible–at least based on customer feedback and surveys.

So despite all our attempts not to fail, we are failing miserably.

Our reaction? Do more of the same at ever increasing volumes and velocity.

As we reflect on this, one mind-blowing “truth” becomes apparent.

One of the most important ways we learn, change, innovate, or improve is through failure.

We are replete with inspirational stories about failure. Whether it is Edison and the number of attempts to invent the light bulb, a sports figure/team overcoming adversity, or the resilience of some Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Despite all of this, we don’t seem to understand failure, learn from it, or improve. In fact, our intolerance of failure betrays an unwillingness to change, learn, and improve.

Sales has the oddest relationship with failure I’ve ever experienced. We shouldn’t seek to fail, but in our avoidance, perhaps we are missing the real breakthroughs.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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