Sales failures – not uncommon and not that bad


Share on LinkedIn

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs? Thomas Edison? Dean Kamen? Three entrepreneurs who have many things in common including … they have all achieved extraordinary success yet failed somewhere along the way in their careers. Jobs was fired from Apple, Edison failed to extract low-grade iron ore from sand, and Kamen says that he couldn’t pinpoint his biggest failure because there were just too many.

Failure often seems to be a traveling companion of success. While no one wants to fail, some believe if you haven’t tasted failure, you probably aren’t pushing the limits.

This success-failure tale is a story that has a long history in Sales. Sales reps that don’t test the limits, that don’t adapt to changes in the buying environment, that simply limit their aspirations to do a better job doing what they are doing are likely to leave “money on the table”. They will, over time, survive but are unlikely to prosper.

Let’s take a look at one particularly devilish way one can perhaps unwisely play in safe in Sales.

Thomas Edison

Some sales reps avoid failure by only selling the “tried and true.” They stay in their comfort zone. They don’t sell the innovative solution because it requires a lot of work to get smart about the particulars or it is risky because of potential “hiccups” in implementation that the sales rep can’t immediately solve because of lack of familiarity. Plus the ever popular attitude – “I’d rather have less of a commission on a sure thing vs. going for a bigger solution and lose it all.”

But if sales reps only sell within their comfort zone, then there is always the question of what could have been for those sales that were lost. This, of course, becomes a challenge for sales managers.

Dean Kamen

How do sales managers encourage their sales team to get out of their comfort zone – take a thoughtful risk? Part of the answer is how these sales managers manage failure. There is the dark approach and then there is positioning it as a way station on the journey towards success. It would appear that both Steve Jobs and Apple weathered their storms quite nicely indicating that the way station idea is not all bad.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Ruff
For more than 30 years Richard Ruff has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Dick has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Dick is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers, and the Sales Training Connection.


  1. How do Sales Managers Discourage Risk Taking? Let me count the ways . . . The fact that sales management’s frequent modus operandi is to give sales staff a swift kick in the rear when they fail, and to selectively laud “achievers” (read: those who have attained quota) is one of the great mysteries of sales culture–at least for me.

    Here is a profession that intends to reward personnel who put earnings at risk, but the inside culture punishes those who fall short of a singular measurement called revenue. So the outcome, while unintended, is that salespeople play things safe. Why get involved in large, time-consuming deals when they can stick to “core prospects” that marketing has identified? Why consider instinct and tacit knowledge about lead quality, when “the numbers” that the Analytics Group has generated point to different conclusions? Who wants their boss saying “I told you so!” in a sales meeting. Better to toe the line.

    Right now, there’s a sales executive looking at an Excel Spreadsheet with top producers listed in descending order of percentage of opportunities closed. Guess who will be giving the motivational talk at the upcoming sales kickoff? What message will that send to the rest of the sales team?


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here