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In Sales, Failure is not an Option – It’s a Requirement

What do these people have in common: Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison, Brett Favre, and Abraham Lincoln. Yes, they are famous. They are considered to be among the greatest of their respective professions. But the primary link is that they all failed frequently, some historically.

  • Michael Jordan – Widely considered to be the greatest basketball player ever, Jordan didn’t even make his high school basketball team. In fact, he was actually known as “Larry’s brother” because his older brother was considered to be a much better athlete. During his career, Jordan missed more than 900 shots, lost almost 300 games, and missed 26 game winning shots.
  • Thomas Edison – One of the greatest inventors in the history of mankind, Edison made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.
  • Brett Favre – The Hall of Famer owns the NFL records for pass completions, pass attempts, starts by a player, and most wins as a starting quarterback. He also owns the NFL record for most pass interceptions with 336, almost 60 more than number two on the list.
  • Abraham Lincoln – One of the most respected leaders in the history of the United States experienced an almost unparalleled series of crushing failures and setbacks in his lifetime. Just a few of them include being defeated for Illinois House Speaker, lost nomination to US Congress, failed the bar exam, and defeated twice for the US Senate.

But it isn’t their failures that define these individuals, it is their successes. Likewise, sales is a profession of failure and rejection, sprinkled with occasional successes. Even the best sales people in the world fail most of the time. All of us in the sales profession know that we need to be resilient, persistent, and can’t be discouraged by hearing the word NO. However, most sales people don’t fully realize the sheer volume of rejection and failure that sales requires to be successful.

So let me Illustrate it! We’ll start with prospecting activity and work through the sales process. Let’s say that it takes 40 cold calls to get one client appointment, 3 appointments to get one new opportunity in your pipeline, and you have a 20% win rate. You need to land 10 new clients a year to hit your quota. Working back from your goal, here’s what that looks like for the year:

10 new clients

50 opportunities (20% win rate)

150 meetings (3:1 appointment to opportunity ratio)

6000 cold calls (40:1 call ratio)

So if we look at this another way, to land 10 new clients, you will make 5990 phone calls that don’t ultimately result in a sale. That comes out to a success rate of .17%, or a failure rate of 99.83% depending on how you look at you ½ glass of water.

Shocking, isn’t it? However, the numbers I’ve listed above are not unusual – they are actually pretty standard for our industry. We all know this is a profession with lots of rejection, but very few of us realize the magnitude of sales failure that it takes to be successful. Which is why most sales people get discouraged, give up on sales processes, and ultimately leave the profession for something else. Once we understand what we are up against, we can temper our expectations, lower our stress, and focus on the activity that ultimately leads to sales success.

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