Fail 7 out of 10 times? You might become a legend.

One of the most frustrating parts about being a salesperson is the constant rejection, the constant stream of failure.  The more neophyte salespeople I work with, the more I see the frustration over this simple fact of sales.  Sales is a numbers game.  You can’t win them all, and you have to get out there and talk to lots and lots of people, to find those people that need your solution, have the means to pay for your solution, and decide that you have the correct solution against all the other alternatives.

Your failures teach you important lessons about how to listen to the rejections and get the yes, and your track record will certainly improve over time.  Great salespeople use their sales managers and mentors to refine their pitches, and constantly learn how to get better – but the ugly truth is that you will probably fail more than you will succeed.

As I was watching a baseball game recently, on the big board came a statistic for a player who will certainly someday be a hall-of-famer, and very likely a legend in baseball.  This man had just slightly less than a 300 batting average.  This means that for every 10 times he has gotten up to bat, he has failed 7 times.  For every 10 times his fans, his coach, his manager, and his teammates counted on him to perform at bat, he let them down 7 times – yet he will become a legend.

Go back in history… very, very few of the legends we know did much better than this.  Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average is 0.366.  Only a handful of players ever got over .400 for a single season, and no player has ever finished a season above 50%.

The fact of baseball, is that, just like sales, the system has built into it the knowledge that individual failures are part of the game – and therefore the game and season have built into it the concept of individual failures – and that when you look at the team under the long term lens, that the best still rises to the top.  The same is true for companies and their sales organizations.

Thinking about the reasons for individual batting failures:

  • Sometimes, the failure is just because the player is off his game.  Its certainly very difficult to be at your best all the time when you play many, many games each week.  The same is true of sales.  Not every salesperson will be able to find the right pitch, the right words, the right counterargument every time.  But in both cases, practice is essential to get better.
  • Sometimes, the failure is because the pitcher is just having a great day, and can outsmart the batter – or knows the batters weaknesses and takes advantage of them.  In sales, your competition is working the same prospects as you.  Its essential to know everything about them, their products, and what their pitch is so that you can be prepared to overcome that.
  • Sometimes, the batter is dinged because someone else fails (error).  In sales, there are a lot of times where there are very obvious wins, that are lost OR cases where you get moved forward in a pipeline discussion because of your competition’s mis-step.  Its important to capitalize on these – but never assume they will happen.
The only way to get a hit, is to swing the bat.   And if he finds success 3 out of 10 times, he just may become a baseball legend.
Salespeople need to know that losses happen all the time, and its a big part of the way sales works.  Its hard to know if a prospect is right for your offering unless you find them, talk to them, and try to sell to them.  Many of these prospects will be strike-outs, but that’s OK.  You need to focus on getting as many wins as possible – but knowing that even the legends fail more than they win – in both sales AND baseball.

Of course, its the constant stream of failure that makes a win taste that much more sweet.   Hold on to that when your batting average takes a dip.

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