Learning from Failure

Full unadulterated disclosure, I hate being wrong. It is a loathing etched so deep into my bones that I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t a part of who I am.

While most people get embarrassed or don’t like being wrong, I absolutely despise it. To a fault sometimes. And for this blog to make sense, you have to understand how deeply I detest being wrong. 

If you listen to the Sales Throwdown Podcast that I am a host on, you know that I am in the C range of the DISC personality profile. I am actually a proud member of #teamC, and I fully embrace all of the strengths and weaknesses that C’s usually have. A difficulty being able to handle being wrong is one of them.

For me, being wrong and failing are tied pretty closely together in my mind. If I am in danger of failing at anything, then I feel like I did, said, or thought about something wrong. Even though we all fail sometimes, I take every failing, no matter how seemingly trivial, very personally.

Now that is out there, let’s talk about learning from my most recent failure.

About a year ago, I started working with a guy who was looking for someone to talk to his clients about sales process and technology. He was coaching people to become digital marketing agency owners and was looking for some help on the sales side of things. 

A big part of his program is that he will find you a commission-only sales person once you are up and running. This brings a lot of interest to up-and-comers and provides a lot of assistance and support to them. Eventually, he asked me if I could find these types of salespeople for his clients, and it reignited an idea I had been thinking about.

I have had the idea of an outsourced sales team for some time. It has been on the wishlist of businesses I wanted to create for a couple of years. For me, it was interesting to think of creating a team that could sell anything through:

  • following a tried and true process using a CRM,
  • using some form of psychological-based communication,
  • and qualifying prospects hard in the beginning so that closing is easy. 

Whenever I would speak about it with people, they would tell me that it was too hard and that I shouldn’t pursue it.

In addition to this idea, I had just launched my main company Adapted Growth and a podcast with three other people called Sales Throwdown. To say that my time was stretched was putting it rather mildly. 

If someone had asked me if they should do something like this, I would have advised them to focus on what was already in place first, and maybe you could do something like this later after you have replaced yourself.

But, I was cocky.

The idea was that I would find sales reps who already had full-time field sales roles but were not happy with their level of performance. I would bring them in part time, work with them on where they were struggling, and give them a laboratory to work on their sales game. Both I and the sales people would make some extra money, and they would have the chance to get better at selling at the same time. Win win!

I started with a close friend of mine, and it worked. Kind of. So I moved forward with it. 

Fast forward a little bit, the needs had vastly outgrown what I was able to keep up with. Finding good salespeople who:

  1. wanted to improve, 
  2. were able to carve out part-time hours,
  3. be coachable, 
  4. and follow the process

was way more difficult than I’d originally thought. On the other side, setting the expectation with the agency owners that my people were only part time was getting harder and harder. Especially since there were more agency owners than I had closers.

It didn’t take long before I was spending tons of my time hunting for salespeople. And then when I found some that said they were interested, I would set aside time for interviews that too many of them weren’t showing up for. Several of the ones that did abandoned ship after only a few weeks.

For the closers I did have, managing the expectations was taking just as much time as finding more people. And not just the expectations for the closers, but also for the agency owners, my business partner, and even myself. 

It was taking up all my bandwidth, and even during the time I wasn’t dealing with this, it was hard to focus on anything else because of all the stress. I’d hit a wall, and I didn’t think I could do it much longer. 

And then those walls collapsed. My grandmother had been hospitalized and the prognosis wasn’t good. I didn’t spend as much time with her as I wanted to because I had to keep taking scheduled interviews. We lost her very soon after. At that same time, one of my closers had his baby a little sooner than expected and was going to be out of commission for a bit. That left me with yet another hole to fill in this sandtrap of a business.

I couldn’t even be happy for him that he’d just become a dad. All I could think about was finding somebody to replace him.

That level of stress and negative headspace just wasn’t sustainable anymore. It was time for a change.

Having to tell my business partner was terrifying. I was concerned that he would be pissed, and I would lose that relationship. A relationship that I sincerely valued not just for the dent in my revenue that would occur with its loss, but for his insight and support.

I hemmed and hawed for a bit, and then I asked him if we could talk.

I laid it all out. All the things that weren’t working, all the things that were troubling me about it, and the ways in which I could see it working in the future. Just not right now. He told me that he understood. He had suspected a lot of this and had been working on a way to make the closer team more scalable anyway.

I was off the hook, and I didn’t burn any bridges. I let the people who needed to know that it was done, and I shut everything down. 

The relief was palpable. 

So here’s what I learned:

  • Avoid the shiny things in entrepreneurship. Focus on the things that work first, and make absolutely sure that they work. It’s great to have new and big ideas, but write them down for sometime in the future. You only have so much bandwidth.
  • Finding good salespeople is hard. Don’t rush it. I brought on some people who I had concerns about because I had to. And every single time those concerns were validated. The good, hardworking ones are definitely out there, in abundance even, but you might have to be patient in finding them. 
  • Don’t let business get in the way of your family and your personal life. I talked more about this in my post about my Mimi. When you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. Make sure you know where your priorities are, and try to keep them top of mind over everything else. 

Until next time.