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Outside the Box: The Psychology of Using Failure to Drive Success

Encouraging failure on your sales team may just be the only way to achieve success

As a sales manager who looks to push every available button to get the most out of your salespeople in this tough year, it makes sense to factor in the psychology of salespeople in your decision-making. By playing to the psychological traits of your people, you can set the conditions that will lead to improved sales success. That means understanding the salesperson archetype, ego and emotional needs.

Increasing Sales Activities by Encouraging the Happy Losers

Psychologist and anthropologist G. Clotaire Rapaille has spent a business lifetime researching the impact of culture on business and markets, helping large companies understand how to operate effectively in different global environments. Rapaille feels that salespeople are essentially the same in all cultures, and he call the archetype the "Happy Losers"—people who relish the challenge of dealing with what is likely about 90 percent rejection. They are willing and able to keep a good, happy attitude because the thrill and challenge of the chase is what drives them. Ultimately, winning against the odds keeps them in the game. Happy losers they are somewhat like gambling addicts who know they'll lose most of the time, but hang in there for the occasional thrill of winning.

Psychologist Herb Greenburg noted in 1964 that one of the basic qualities for great salespeople is "ego drive"—the need to conquer separate from the desire to earn money. Greenburg notes that this need stays present despite the reality of frequent sales failures.

Applying Failure to Your Strategy

So, in a year where hearing "no" more often is expected, the best way to manage might be to let your salespeople know that you understand how tough it is to lose, while encouraging them at the same time to lose more. By that I mean that you have to motivate your people to increase the activities that lead to more closes—more phone calls, more face-to-face calls and more proposals…the very activities that will fail more often in a down business year.

Find ways to drive failure. Create contests, incentives or recognition programs for people who fail the most, knowing that more failure will lead directly to more winning. Who can log the most failed calls, meetings and proposals? How can you hold these people up in front of their peers for their persistence, guts and perseverance?

Growing Best Practices by Stroking Egos

While sales managers do their best to provide training for their salespeople in best sales practices, it can be argued that most salespeople still do not sell as much as they could because they don’t have enough sales skill knowledge about their own unique market and client types to operate at the highest possible level. Knowing that the sales ego—albeit large—has a need to be appreciated, managers can take advantage of that fact to encourage solid and top salespeople to share their best practices specific to their target market and clientele. Requesting that performers share information is an excellent way to stroke sales egos by setting their ideas and talents on a pedestal for all to see.

One of the most compelling reasons for implementing or expanding a best practices process is that it gives you the opportunity to share the secrets of top sellers' success with the middle majority—the crucial middle 60 percent of your sales channel that can have a huge impact on your success if they can be moved up a notch on the performance scale.

Capturing best practices can be accomplished in a captive sales force as you appeal to the ego of salespeople to share their great ideas, recognizing contributors by name. It can also be accomplished in an independent sales channel by sharing great best practices contributions, while keeping the dealer or distributor and contributor's names secret.

• First, position your sales intranet, incentive platform or CRM software as the focal point for collecting best practices ideas.

• Second, create a rules set to drive the type of ideas that you are looking to capture.

• Third, actively communicate availability of your best practices functionality to your sales channel and create an incentive program or contest to promote active input of ideas into the site.

• Fourth, use a cross functional team of salespeople and mangers to evaluate and rank the ideas implemented.

• Fifth, reward and recognize great best practices submissions as a way to say thanks and to encourage repeat submissions.

• And finally, sixth, as you use your intranet or CRM software to share great sales ideas, also be sure to integrate them into your standard sales training process.

In any year, but especially this year, give your happy losers reasons to lose more—and to win more. Take advantage of the vast knowledge base that your sales channel team represents by implementing or expanding a best practices process that can help improve the capabilities of your team for years to come.

SMM columnist David Chittock is president of Incentra, focused on helping leaders achieve their business goals by "increasing the value of the people vital to success" through integrated incentive and recognition solutions. He manages a diverse business that offers strategy creation, web performance platforms, print and electronic communications, administration, training, program analysis and rewards fulfillment around the globe.