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Do you have to learn to fail to win? This intriguing idea shows up at Number One on the classic list of selling rules developed by David Sandler more than half a century ago. Yet even today, it still throws a lot of people.

This leadoff Sandler rule, the rule that makes all the other rules possible, can come across as a deeply strange concept if you are encountering it for the first time. Initially, this rule doesn’t even sound like it’s about selling! Isn’t selling supposed to be about winning? And isn’t winning the opposite of failing?

Actually, no. Winning is the result of failing.


target with arrows

Winning vs Failing

Of course, if you’ve spent any time in an environment that told you that winning is everything, that you must win, that second place is first place for losers, that nice people finish last, and that failing is the outcome you want to avoid at all costs, then getting your head around this rule is likely to be a challenge at first. But think about it for a minute, and you’ll realize that in the world of sales, it is simply inevitable that you are going to lose more than you win.

Let’s face it. No one is 100% in the world of sales. Very often, the company hero is the person who is winning 30% of the time! So, the big question is not whether you will fail. You will. The question is what you will learn from failure.

The point of Sandler’s counterintuitive rule is really very simple. We must be ready to learn when we fail.

We can't shy away from failure. We can’t avoid situations where we might fail. We can't go into denial or sulk about failure when it does happen. We can’t take a month off if we lose a big deal. We’ve got to step up. We’ve got to be willing to say, “Okay, what did I learn from that?” And then improve.

No matter what kind of failure we experience – and there is going to be a lot of failure – we must be willing to create a lesson to match. That way, we can better understand what we did that worked and what we did that didn’t work, so we can avoid doing that again in the future.


Don’t Be Afraid To Fail

The fact of the matter is if we’re not failing then we’re not stretching. We’re in what’s known as a comfort zone. And that is not where the true winners spend their time.

So, if we want to take our career to the next level, if we want to give ourselves the best possible chance of getting the next deal across the finish line, if we want to improve our performance in both the short term and the long term, we need to accept that there is going to be failure and to not be afraid of failing. Yes, we’re going to fail . . . but by making it okay to fail and learn from our failure, we’re going to get into the habit of moving out of our comfort zone. And that’s what makes all the difference. Make no mistake: This is the kind of failure that leads to success.

Here’s an example of that: David Sandler was once working with a salesperson who complained that he was no good at setting up first appointments. Sandler told him that he should stop focusing on “setting up first appointments;” instead, he should think about accumulating a certain target number of “No” answers. Sandler gave this salesperson a sheet of paper full of blank squares. Each blank square was for someone who said they couldn’t set an appointment.

Sandler told the man to come back when he had put an X in every square. Guess what? By “going for the no” – by being okay with failing – the salesperson not only hit his prospecting goal, but he also dramatically improved his technique!

Sandler was right. You do have to learn to fail to win!


SANDLERBRIEF® is a monthly e-newsletter provided by the Sandler Training network of trainers. For more information on Sandler Training, contact the sender of this newsletter. © 2021 Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reprinted or used without the express written permission of Sandler Systems, Inc. S Sandler Training (with design), SANDLERBRIEF and Sandler Training are registered service marks of Sandler Systems, Inc. Client-Centric Satisfaction is a service mark of Sandler Systems, Inc.

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