Why You Should (Sometimes) Celebrate Your Sales Team's Failures

Try having your sales team members write down the circumstances of their failures. You'll be surprised at the insights that emerge.

learn more about Danny Wong

By Danny Wong


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As often as experts offer counter-intuitive lessons about the amazing, life-changing results of failure, the fact of the matter is that most listeners don't really believe them.

Related: 10 Blessings That Come Hidden in Rejection, Losing and Failure

After all, we all know people who have failed and never gotten back on the proverbial horse. Or, if they did, they still never managed to make their goal. So, while managers of sales teams give lip service to learning experiences derived from failure, that speech isn't going to help the low-earning salesperson who's on probation (or worse, fired) or even the whole team.

Still, it's understandable, but not advisable to continue to view failure this way, though the concept may take a while to relearn.

Cataloging and reflecting on failure

When salespeople document every action they take to engage prospects, they develop a rich catalog of touchpoints which they can later reference to identify behaviors or circumstances that win sales and ones that lose them.

If your team members haven't made it a habit to write down everything they've done so far, you will want to encourage them to spend some time retroactively reproducing their sales conversations and processes. This has to be treated like a brainstorming session, in which there are no wrong answers. You're trying to get to the heart of the matter, rather than the convenient lies people will sometimes tell themselves.

Perhaps the product debuted at the wrong time. Or the desire wasn't there: Research from CB Insights showed that around 40 percent of new businesses analyzed had failed because there was simply no demand for the product -- and that's something that not even the most skilled salespeople can create.

Related: You Can't Succeed at Sales Working in Failure Mode

Perhaps certain people in key areas gave up too quickly, dragging down the whole enterprise.

Hindsight is not always 20/20 when it comes to failure. Writing things down can help you put the events in context, rather than pass blame around.

Turning the mentality around

Salespeople often work on commissions, so failure may mean an inability to pay the bills. That's why turning around people's attitude toward failure won't be easy, and at times rejection will feel like an unscalable wall. But for some people, what can be helpful is to do a complete 180-degree turn in how they approach that rejection.

For instance, they might attempt to act excited upon hearing "no," and to look forward to turning those defeats into funny stories that make future blows even easier to handle.

This is an excellent strategy for some, but will likely feel fake to others, which will only lead to more bad attitudes toward failure.

Therefore, the key is not necessarily to immediately force people to act as if they're happy when they're devastated, but rather promote an overall culture and community that accepts failure as a means to self-improvement. While this may sound like an idealistic sentiment, it will only require a matter of effort and time to actually achieve that goal.

Accountability at its best

One of the best ways to develop this type of culture is to start with accountability at the top of the food chain. The best companies to work for tend to have managers who see the reality of the situation, and who are free to talk about their own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others.

With so many people trying to watch their backsides, the result has been a lot of finger-pointing or just plain silence when something does go wrong. Honesty and optimism are two of the best ways to push people to learn in the face of failure, and this has been proven again and again by serial entrepreneurs. Studies show that people like them continue to feel hopeful about the future both before and after they fail, and the reason isn't that they feel their fate is controlled by outside sources.

Documenting improvements and efforts

Just as failure should be celebrated, so should the learning process. Everyone at your company should understand that it's perfectly acceptable to make mistakes, as long as people aren't making the exact same ones over and over again.

The best way to reward hard work is to acknowledge hard work, and the upside is, that reward doesn't necessarily have to be a big cash bonus. Human resources expert Jason Evanish, for example, suggests offering thoughtful gifts like a book on a subject your sales rep cares about.

Related: This Is What It Means to Embrace Failure

Oftentimes, salespeople are driven to do well because of the results, and human recognition is a powerful motivator. Just ensure that you're not singling out the people who are most vocal and obvious about their accomplishments, as it could be the more modest people on your team who are actually making the biggest splash.

Danny Wong

Entrepreneur, marketer and writer.

Danny Wong is an entrepreneur, marketer and writer. He is the co-founder of Blank Label, an award-winning luxury menswear company, and leads marketing for Receiptful, a platform to supercharge all customer interactions for eCommerce stores, and Tenfold, a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. 

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Have More Responsibilities at Work, But No Pay Bump? Use This Script to Get the Raise You Deserve.
Black and Asian Founders Face Opposition at All Levels — Here's Why That Has to Change