Managing Failure On The Road to Success

In the competitive arena of sales, and generally where people’s activities are concerned, most of the emphasis is on recognizing and rewarding success.  There is little attention given to failure.  We tend to reward success and tell people to “keep up the good work.”

Failure is success inside out:

It may seem strange to talk about failure, but what success story doesn’t have a prologue about failure?  Failure is as much a part of success as creativity, hard work, and timing.  In the area of R&D the part failure plays in success is widely known.  IBM’s rumored motto about mistakes is legendary: “Fail Faster.” Such high importance has been placed on learning from failure that it has be said that the need is to “fail faster to succeed sooner.”

If all we do is “keep up the good work,” there can be a tendency for entropy to creep in.  Change comes from an effort to make improvements and fixes.  In some ways, more can come from failure than our success.  That’s why there’s a lot to be gained by finding failure in one’s CRM system!

Failures cost you more than you think:

Success has a value, whereas failure has a cost and a lost value. (The cost of doing it wrong and the lost value that was not realized had the failure been turned into a success instead.)  Failure repeats itself.  If you find one failure, chances are there are many.  The cost of failure can be high when it’s fully calculated.  (e.g. leads that are not followed-up, broken links on a PPC search term, forgotten sales opportunities, call backs that are not made, timed follow-ups that are missed, not getting referrals, not fixing undeliverable email addresses, etc.)


Failures hide out in the grass:

Failure hides out! It’s easy to overlook failures.  For one, people boast about their successes, and keep quiet about their failures.  In fact, while the common perception is that salespeople are reluctant to use CRM because other salespeople can “steal their leads,” I believe the main fear comes from their intuitive sense that CRM will reveal their failures.   Truthfully, salespeople have more to gain by embracing a tool that identifies their failures!

Failures often come in the way of omissions which can make them more difficult to spot.  Consider synonyms for the word Omission and you can start to appreciate why it I believe it is so closely tied to failure:  blank, breach, break, cancellation, carelessness, chasm, cutting out, default, disregard, elimination, exclusion, failure, forgetfulness, gap, ignoring, lack, lapse, leaving out, missing, neglect, overlooking, oversight, skip, slip, and withholding. CRM can help you locate meaningful “omissions” so that you can do something about them.

The irony is that the failure I am speaking about finding in your CRM is really about missed opportunities, which is something we’re all interested in.  Therefore, what we have is a whole bunch of missed opportunities that are hiding out in the fields as failures.  If we till the fields we can surely turn up missed opportunities to grow our success!

What might we find when we get our hands dirty and dig into our failures?  Here are some examples of what you can find when you a find a failure:

  • An undeliverable B2B Email >> a change in our decision maker
  • A missing field value that is the basis for creating a marketing list >> grow our marketing list
  • A missed goal learned by finding the raw data >> a prospect that was being overlooked
  • An incoming email marked “false positive” as spam >> a lost quote request from someone who got blocked
  • A past due open service issue >> a customer that may turn away from us
  • A lead that has not been updated >> a lead that’s not been followed up

Out-of-sight is out-of-mind!  What you don’t know can hurt you!

The problem with out-of-sight is that it is out-of-mind which means it is not being addressed.  And too often those oversights cost you business.

In a recent survey First Direct Corp. conducted with a manufacturing association it showed that business recognize that information isn’t a visible as it we’d like it to be:

30% do not believe sales is sufficiently following up on leads

80% have difficulty knowing the status of your leads in the database without personally asking the salesperson

40% don’t believe interactions with prospects & customers are tracked and available to others who need the information

80% have to go asking for information that is important for others to collect on prospects & customers

60% find that changes to contact information that salespeople discover about customers/prospects is not supplied to marketing

Failure doesn’t have equal consequences:

Not all failures have equal consequences.  And addressing one failure may have substantially greater or lesser value over another.  The key now is to set your priorities.  Chances are you’ll want to focus on the failures with the greatest potential for improving your ROI.  For example, the consequences of not having someone’s email address are greater than not having some other piece of information.

Each organization’s priorities, needs, and business practices differ.  What is important and useful to one organization may not matter to another.

To overlook failure is to accept its fate!

While actions lead to success or failure. I am especially concerned with inaction.  Because, in my experience, it is not so much what people are doing that is leading to failure, as it is what they are not doing.  In my opinion, it is inaction and omission that are much more to blame for failure!  For example, how would you find a call you forgot to schedule?

The problem is that working up a smart way of identifying let alone managing failures is often beyond the skill set of the typical CRM user.  It begins – like many aspects of CRM – in the planning, design, and implementation of the system.  By simply providing a process and means by which one can find their failures, can go a long way in helping them do their job better.

To overlook a failure is to accept it as fate.  And because we’re going to see that the failures which a CRM system can expose occur on a perpetual basis, you need to develop solutions for handling failure which are driven by a process.  You could think of it as “Managing failure on the road to success!”

Take proactive steps to mitigate failure:

Managing failure is about being proactive.  Day in and day out we’re reactive, but in the process things slip by us. Things that should be done are overlooked and, once they are, if we don’t have a system for handling those overlooked situations they fall into an abyss and are lost.  Before we know it, we are onto the next hot thing.

We all have things that are falling through the cracks.  The difference in the way one can use CRM to pull up a list of what’s falling through the cracks and organize the information in ways that allow them to work from that.  Some examples:

  • Ability to search based on multiple criteria to find a missed activity.  (example of a missing source)
  • Ability to use search results as an action list
  • Ability to delegate and/or get assistance on leads from support staff (example of Susie making my calls)

Leverage your CRM Functions:

  • Queries & Reports to find details
  • Create quick tasks and automation to help with productivity and proper lead follow-up
  • Automatically update one field based on the value in another.   Validate a field entry to ensure entries will match up to searches

Answers to the best questions:

The best professionals ask the best questions.  Whether that professional is a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or a salesperson or marketing director.

Databases are used to store and use these answers.  Management tends to be selfish when it comes to reporting.  They want their reports, and often overlook their subordinates’ need for reports, including administrative staff.

Signs of failure in field information, activities, outcomes, etc:

1.     Missed date – Call, renewal, etc.

2.     Empty field – that could be the basis for a marketing list or report

3.     Lack of scheduled follow-up or in-activity in a relationship

4.     A changed classification – review lost deals for insights

5.     A goal or objective not achieved (20 calls a day)

6.     An negative outcome to a prospecting call – could provide an opportunity for coaching to improve effectiveness

7.     A lack of communication internally and externally  (E.g. An RSVP not responded)



Analyzing former prospects and customers to reveal competitive decisions

Compare Lead source figures from one year to another year may show a declining campaign

Qualitative Understanding:

What’s behind the numbers?  When you look below the surface of your failures, the information in your CRM can often provide a deeper understanding.  Here you hope to find the notes and explanation that provide a narrative for a more meaningful understanding.

  • Comments – he said, I said
  • A reason or response to a relevant follow-op question
  • Raw data is seldom as insightful as graphical representations
  • Clicking Into the Results – Anytime a user can act off the data with less steps, the more likely they are to do so and the more productive they can be
  • Everything is relative and therefore when you are considering how you want to analyze things context is an important consideration.  A result in one place in a database often needs to be put in context with data in other places in a database.  Failure to follow-up may really be just a matter of honoring a request to not call or email. Lower volume in one area may be due to lower volume in another.  An external factor could have an impact.  A new rep may need time to come up to speed


In Conclusion:

There is no question that there are little and large failures taking place within every organization virtually every day.  If you accept that those same failures could be the seeds of success, then you have a simple choice to make.  Either you find and manage the situation in order to produce more desirable outcomes, or you accept failure as fate.