Search
  • Brett Zalaski

Failing Up in Sales


'Failing Up' is a phrase that was used to describe people who were never really good at their jobs, yet always seemed to find a way to move forward in their careers. It was not meant as a compliment.


In 2015, Leslie Odom Jr., who originated the role of Aaron Burr in the smash musical Hamilton, wrote a book called Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning that almost completely flipped the phrase on its head. He did not use the phrase negatively, he used it to tell people to take risks and make mistakes because growth will come through that. It was cool to see that book come to existence, because that's how I've often thought of myself and my career.


I've had a few reps write in with similar questions, but I'll use this one from an NBA inside sales rep: I'm in an environment where I'm scared to not make sales. I'm scared to not make 100 calls a day. But I'm also scared to have others hear me on the phone and judge me. How do I get over this?


That question brought me back to my first 3 months in sales at CEB. I was awful. And I crawled into my phone in the hopes no one would hear me every time I got up the nerve to make phone calls...because I also spent a lot of time avoiding them. And I didn't read an article that helped me here, or find a top 5 list of methods to blah blah blah, I got sat down by my boss who said: 'You are close to being fired. If you don't pick it up in the next few months, you'll be out of a job here.'


Those words STUNG me. I had always been pretty good at whatever I tried...but my pride was crushing my sales ability. I didn't want to be heard because I wasn't good. And I didn't want to pick up the phone because I didn't want to be heard. That's a rough combination to find sales success.


So what'd I do? Simple. I decided that failure was worse than making mistakes. So I practiced. And I listened to other people who were good at the job. And I made calls, on calls, on calls. It wasn't that I stopped caring what other people thought...it was just that I decided that ultimate failure was an embarrassment worse than anything I could do on one individual phone call. And that drove me to find accountability...which then found success.


You can't fake this one. You can't shortcut this one. I'm sorry I don't have a better answer here. It's a personal decision that every salesperson needs to make at some point. Don't wait for tomorrow...make that decision sooner than I did.