John Maxwell once wrote, “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”
This is a mantra that we live by in my sales organization. We have to accept that failure is part of the process and necessary to achieve success.
Failure is inevitable. There’s simply no way around it. You’ll be presented with obstacles and challenges throughout your sales career — whether you’re an SDR, the president of your company, or anywhere in-between.
You must accept failure as a key ingredient that you HAVE to go through in sales, business, and life.
But it’s how you interpret your failure that determines whether or not you’ll propel forward, stay where you are, or go back to having a victim’s mindset.
So here are five steps to failing forward…
1. Identify the main obstacle
You first have to find out what tripped you up. What was the main thing standing in your way of success? If you can’t identify this, you’re toast. Thankfully, in 99% of cases you’ll know exactly where it went wrong.
Sometimes this takes a little reverse-engineering of the situation. For instance, let’s say you had a big prospect on the line and you were just about to close the sale, but the deal fell apart at the last minute. Think back to where it went off the tracks. Ask hard questions.
Was your prospect actually a qualified decision-maker? Yes. Did you adequately connect your value proposition to their needs? Yes. Did they have the budget to buy? Yes. Was it the right timing? Yes. Your prospect was qualified all right, but did you listen with empathy and build trust? Maybe not!
As you think back on the meeting, you can recall rushing the sale. You talked more than you listened. A big mistake! But that’s OK, you’ve identified your main obstacle and now you can move on and learn from your mistake.
2. Know your weaknesses / identify blind spots
Now I’m not saying you need to know ALL of your weaknesses. But you need to know your weaknesses that are connected to the specific failure at hand. Maybe you failed to get a promotion from Sales Exec to Sales Manager, or Sales Manager to Sales Director.
So what’s the weakness that’s holding you back? Try to identify it on your own, but don’t be afraid to get feedback from people you trust. Maybe you need to work on your communication skills? Maybe you’re too timid? Or maybe you’re too arrogant and cocky! Get a mentor in your life and they can point out your blind spots that you need to work on. You’ll get that promotion in no time.
Just remember, they’re called “blind spots” for a reason… we’re blind to them! Find out what they are to start failing forward.
3. Create a simple plan of action
Now that you’re armed with your main obstacle and weaknesses, you can come up with a simple plan of action to move forward and create momentum. Get a pen and paper (old school methods work!) and write out how you plan to overcome this failure.
Keep it simple. Bullet points will do. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself when you already feel defeated.
Let’s say you recently flubbed a deal because you couldn’t overcome your prospect’s objections. A simple plan of action might look like this:
- Every night, spend 30 minutes studying the top 10 sales objections and how to overcome them
- Find a sales role-playing partner, role-play 3x per week for two months
- Spend 30 minutes each day reading sales books
- Listen to motivational speakers for 15 minutes every day
- Every morning, reflect for 10 minutes on the things you’re most grateful for in life
I like to call these “fail-forward micro-goals.” If you put these micro-goals on paper, and follow through with it, you’re already failing forward! This brings us to the fourth step, perhaps the most important step of them all.
4. Implement your plan with consistency
This is the real difference-maker when it comes to failing forward. Consistency is key. You can collect all of the data you want, but if you don’t put the data to work day after day, you’ll continue to fail. You’ll continue to make the same mistakes. And this is simply unacceptable. So collect the data (your main obstacle and weaknesses), craft a simple plan of action, and get to work bringing your plan to life!
Don’t just show up a few days and then lose steam and give up. Keep at it. Be disciplined. Fight for a better YOU. Robert Collier once said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” So failing forward requires your daily, consistent attention. You owe it to yourself.
Think about all of your little failures, weaknesses, blind spots, and missed opportunities but turned into positive character traits, skill sets, and strengths. If you follow the plan, and implement it consistently, you’ll be a completely transformed person in one year from today. Now think where you’ll be in five years or ten years!
5. Give yourself grace!
You aren’t perfect. There’s no such thing as perfection. So remember to let yourself off the hook for certain things. Go easy on yourself when the time or occasion calls for it. If you’re able to self-correct 70% of the things in your life and sales career, that’s a job well done in my book. Especially considering that most people flounder around the 5-10% mark!
Also remember that life gets complicated, and you must take circumstances into account. Maybe serious family troubles are brewing, or maybe you fell sick for a week or two, or maybe you’re battling through a bout of depression. Look, life isn’t always easy. So put forth your best effort at all times, and then give yourself the grace to accept your shortcomings. This is so important for balance in life.
Failure is a part of life, remember that. It’s going to happen, especially in sales. But if you follow the five steps I’ve outlined in this article, you’ll be perfectly positioned to capitalize on missed opportunities in the future.
The worst thing you can do is get discouraged and quit. So it’s important you keep things simple to start. A practical plan of action can be made in five minutes with a pen, paper, and some bullet points scribbled down. Just remember to review your plan daily and take consistent action to accomplish your “fail-forward micro-goals.”
Failure is a key component in the process toward success. Embrace it. Reframe it in your mind as a positive. And take action to close the gap daily. You’ve got this.
Until next time…