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Bouncing Back From Failure

By Richard Stevenson, Last Modified
Nov 01, 2018
> Career

There's no shortage of inspirational quotes about failure. Failure is a steppingstone toward success, or an opportunity to begin again. Winston Churchill once said that "success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." For all of these inspiring proverbs, though, failure is not something we talk at length about with others or accept as a regular occurrence. Failure, at its core, is deeply emotional and can cause us to question everything.

The fact is that sales people fail all the time – in fact, it's part of the job. Research shows that only 66 percent of sales reps meet their sales quota on a regular basis. That would suggest that one-third of all sales reps fail to meet their targets. So how do we deal with failure when it happens to us? We can either reject it or embrace it.

According to a global survey of more than 1 million employees at Fortune 1000 companies, in about 85 percent of the companies surveyed, employees' morale sharply dwindles within the first six months of starting a job. This phenomenon is primarily attributed to bad management.

One of the biggest mistakes managers can make is to reject or ignore their role in how they influence and motivate their team. If we, as managers, spend the bulk of our time harping on the shortcomings of our team, morale will drop. Team leaders, instead, need to know how to navigate setbacks effectively and even use it to their team's advantage to forge ahead.

Sales people are intrinsically motivated, exceptionally optimistic and tirelessly creative, but there will always be a low point. Here are four ways that sales managers can better support their employees during the lows.

1. Understand the root cause.

The emotional ramifications attached to failing can often cloud one's judgment and make it seem like a whole team or process is broken rather than looking at a problem objectively. To find the root cause of a problem that is holding the team back or plaguing the entire organization, managers should take a step back and dissect the process, environment or sales pipeline so as to isolate the problem and find the root cause.

Sales managers, in particular, can adopt a data-driven approach to spot the root cause of the problem and remedy it. By doing so, they can reduce employees' anxiety levels, which allows workers to focus on improving in one precise area of their work rather than being caught up in an emotional maelstrom.

2. Focus on impact.

When people are proud of the work they do, they work harder, and the quality of their work is better. The employees who directly report to you want to know that their contributions have a real and positive impact on the organization. A significant reason why many employees leave jobs for new ones is that they don't feel like they or the work they do matter to the organization as a whole.

If the business, as a whole, is struggling, it's even more important to disregard the larger picture and focus on how the work your unit produces (and each employee who comprises that unit) makes a difference. For example, sales is a pillar of a company's success, so it's a manager's job to motivate the sales team on a more granular level (rather than looking at the company as a whole) to propel the team (and the company toward) prosperity.

3. Build camaraderie.

Research shows that close work relationships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent, and work best friends are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work. If we have work friends, with whom we can talk with about setbacks, like not reaching our target, we can solicit advice, learn from others' experiences and bounce back much more quickly than if we led the charge on our own. Camaraderie gives employees a stronger sense of purpose, builds positivity and facilitates a "we're all in it together" mentality.

4. Adopt a new approach to goal-setting.

Goal-setting is complicated. It is great for driving motivation and performance, but, often, our approach to goal-setting can be too simplistic. In an industry like sales, stretch goals have been proven to have a positive effect on workers. Research suggests that for jobs that are transactional and where outcomes are precisely defined, ambitious targets work well. However, in more creative positions, employees thrive better when they are given more nuanced and inspirational goals. As managers, we need to be aware that what works for some people does not automatically translate and work for others. As the manager, address employee goal-setting accordingly.

One-third of salespeople don't reach their targets on a regular basis, and because of that, managers must be motivated to show their employees that "failure" is a neutral, or even a positive, phenomenon. If we strip the stigma from failure, we'll understand how to use it to our benefit. The key is having the right outlook.

Richard Stevenson
Richard Stevenson
See Richard Stevenson's Profile
Richard Stevenson is Head of Corporate Communications for cloud-driven online shop software provider He has worked in the web hosting, domain name and Software-as-a-Service industries for over 14 years, many of which working with SMEs and web pros all over the world to drive awareness and adoption of new web technologies.
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