What to Do Immediately After a Failure

BY Jessica Helinski
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Even the most successful salespeople fail sometimes. And, it’s those same successful salespeople who know how to handle each failure. While never welcome, failures can help your career—and are actually a good sign. “While failure can certainly come from inattention or poor decision-​making, it often is associated with experimentation and innovation,” Perry Hewitt explains in a recent article for Quartz at Work. “No one seeks out the sting of a failure and its repercussions, but smart professionals embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.”

Hewitt goes on to detail just what a salesperson should do when a client cancels a contract or a deal falls through. The first rule, he writes, is to talk about it. This isn’t Fight Club: Talk about your failure. Sure, it’s not something you want to broadcast widely but there’s no point in ignoring the elephant in the room. A dialogue about what happened will help you understand what went wrong, how it went wrong, and how to avoid it the next time. Get to the root of the issue by asking questions that reveal:

  • The timeline of events, and a shared understanding of how they unfolded
  • Context for any assessments or judgments made
  • Things that people knew (and might have assumed are common knowledge)
  • Team members’ states of mind at the time
  • Mental models for how things “should” work, and how they are shared or differ among team members
  • Factors that led people to take a specific action
  • Signals that caused people to ask for help—or not

Two key factors in these discussions is avoiding the blame game and speed (make sure talks happen close to the event so details are fresh).

This first step of discussing, understanding and learning is vital if you want to learn anything from a failure. By following this step, and the others in Hewitt’s article, you turn a bad situation into a teachable moment. This opportunity to improve as a salesperson will be valuable in your career ahead.