Fail Well! Build Your Success on Your Failure in These Three Ways   Recently updated !


Fail well! Now there ‘s an idea. In Silicon Valley it’s often said that investors are happy to invest with entrepreneurs who have failed in the past, because they will have learned so much from the experience. If you are in the ad-sales business, failing to close deals is not a career building approach. But, frankly, failure is a part of your job. So lets think carefully about how to fail more effectively.

Fail more Frequently

Pyramid Building Wins on Losses

When it comes to getting an appointment for a sales call, failing well and more frequently is critical. Few appointments will come on the first call.  But having a high-quality message for your prospect will make it work like advertising, the frequency will build and become convincing. The prospect, hearing or reading your excellently crafted message, will at some point decide to respond. They’ll be convinced because you are saying the right thing, and because the frequency of receiving your message will demand attention, then reaction. So an un-returned prospecting cold-call or communication is not failure after-all, just frequency. Overcoming our fear of rejection, to build the drum-beat of frequency to our prospects, reminds me of a quote from Michael Jordan who said he built his success on missed shots:”I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  Keep in mind that there is no game lost when you make a call and fail to get an answer or response. Just keep making them.

Fail Forward

Thinking of sports analogies, consider the idea of a football running back who wants to score a touchdown every carry.  Great running backs aren’t measured on the percentage of carries that result in touchdowns. They are measured by their yards-per-carry. When a running back is tackled, the ones that consistently “fall forward” gain an extra yard-per-carry.  That is enough to move them from average to Hall of Fame status. How can you “fall forward” in ad-sales?  The answer is simple: learn from every failure. After every sales call, in person or remotely, take time to think about what you heard, what you missed, and your responses. Did they ask a question that revealed some concern that you didn’t address on the spot? Was there  an objection you could have handled better?  Did you let them off too easily without asking for a concrete follow-up step they could do? By thinking through the interaction while it is fresh in your mind, you’ll improve your ability to recognize and respond to opportunities and to handle objections more smoothly, eventually improving your win-rate. Think of it as failing forward.

Fail Faster

Of course improving your win-rate is a great goal, but increasing your contact rate per-day and per-week may be the quicker way to success. Many of your sales calls just won’t have the ingredients for success. Then better skills may not really change the outcome. Better skills can help you fail faster, so you can move on to the next opportunity faster. You can be like a batter who can get more hits simply by getting up to bat more often. Prospective clients are often so nice they don’t want to come out and tell you “no.”  But good listening skills, especially proper probing, might tell you a deal is never going to close. It might be better to agree to return at a better time, and to move on the next prospect than fooling yourself and investing time in a prospect that doesn’t have the needs, or where the timing isn’t right. The world of ad-sales is full of sales reps who spend a great deal of time on proposals that have not traction. The prospect says “I’ll send you and RFP” to get rid of you with no intention of paying attention to the proposal. By being unafraid to fail, a sales person can recognize the failure and move to another opportunity sooner, resulting in more wins.

For those of us in ad-sales-management, we need to recognize and support the ways that failure leads to success. We don’t need to ‘reward’ failure, but we do need to support it. We need to get the message to the team that we believe in frequency to build success in appointment-getting, and we know our team can learn from sales calls that don’t go as well as we’d hope. We should help our sales team understand that sometimes pushing a prospect harder, or being more persuasive isn’t the answer. Sometimes the best path is letting a prospect know we are listening to them and we will come back at a different and more opportune time, freeing up time to make a new contact.

To help your team think about how they can benefit from failure, consider asking these questions in a sales meeting:

  • How many cold call “failures” does it take for one appointment success?
  • Are your prospecting messages designed to work like advertising; frequency that builds to a buying activity?
  • How are you failing forward?  What did you learn from your mistakes?
  • If your ‘win-rate’ is 30%, more failures = more successes. How can you fail more often to win more often?

About Daniel M. Ambrose

Ambrose, launched ambro.com, corp. in 1994 to provide sophisticated strategy consulting and advertising sales training to advertising-driven media clients in the U.S. and abroad. Starting with the founding of About.com and iVillage in 1995, ambro.com has worked with hundreds of clients to help accelerate advertising revenue growth.

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