I hope your week has been a good one. We’re rapidly approaching the end of August, and if you have children of your own, you’ll be well aware of the coming new school year. For those who don’t have kids, you’re soon going to enjoy the opportunity of some excellent holidays at great prices!
But traditionally this time of year sees the end of a relatively quiet period for most salespeople. Hopefully, you’re well prepared with plenty of meetings booked in for early September that you arranged before the August getaway began.
So, let’s talk about failure. A year ago, I set myself a goal. By my next birthday, I wanted to have written and published a book and be holding the physical copy in my hand.
Well, another birthday has just gone, and I don’t have a magnum opus to show for it. Now, there could be many excuses I could give for this. But I have to be honest with myself and simply acknowledge that I have failed.
Many people are frightened to admit that they have failed at something. I’m sure we can all think of one or two people in our work or social networks for whom it’s always “someone else’s fault”! Well, I’m afraid that often it isn’t, and the reason we fail – the reasons we miss our targets – is usually down to us.
So I’m going to let you know the reasons why I’ve failed to hit this particular personal target because I didn’t do anything extraordinary in missing this goal. My reasons for failure are pretty universal, and so relate to almost any goal that we can set ourselves (or be set) in work or our personal lives.
So let’s look at the reasons behind this miss. Subscribers to my Saturday Sales email will have read more detail about these and had some suggestions how they can avoid making similar mistakes with their own goals and targets.
This is the most usual culprit as to why we miss targets. Most of us have busy lives with competing pressures for our attention and energy. I’ve had a hectic year, and it’s been mostly very successful, but the reason I missed this goal is that I didn’t prioritise it as highly as I did the others.
Another classic that ties in very closely with the first reason above. If you don’t prioritise sufficiently, there’ll always be a handy excuse available. This is particularly true of difficult or unpleasant tasks. We’ll often make ourselves busy with other things to feel better about not cracking on with the stuff we know we should be doing but aren’t looking forward to!
Many salespeople fall into this trap with their prospecting. For most of us, it’s the least enjoyable part of the job and, given half a chance, something we’ll happily drop like a hot potato if something else comes along that’s more interesting.
This is why, in your daily or weekly planner or to-do list, you should put the least-liked tasks at the top of the list. Set a dedicated time in your diary to do the job and just get it done. A big clue that you are going to miss a goal is if you have postponed the activity or found yourself doing something “more important” more than twice. Don’t let it happen a third time or you will miss… that is a certainty!
No-one does. Believe or not, writing isn’t something that comes particularly naturally to me. It takes me quite a long time to get my thoughts down in a way that I’m happy with and involves lots of redrafts and a fair amount of banging my head on the desk (literally) to find the right words or phrase sometimes.
We have to realise that the highest goals always involve going through some pain. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be great goals or stretch targets, and we’d just do ‘em anyway! You need to acknowledge the pain factor when you set your goal and be realistic with yourself that it’s going to be hard – it’s going to hurt! By not skirting around this, you set yourself up mentally to be prepared for it and to face it. This helps you to stop using avoidance tactics.
Remember, hitting hard targets is going to hurt! Go into it with eyes open and acknowledge that it will be worth the pain when you reach that goal.
This is key for anything that requires regular activity to complete. Your best chance of success at doing something difficult or out of your comfort zone is to make it a habit. The trouble is building a new habit takes about 66 days for most people!
Now that sounds like a long time, but it really isn’t. Another goal I set myself this year was to hit 12,500 steps a day on my fitness tracker. I thought I was just as motivated by this goal as I was by writing the book, but obviously not. I really went for the steps goal and added a brisk walk into my daily routine – every day. Now I don’t even think about it, it’s just something I do. The habit was built quickly, and it’s now embedded.
I know what the observant ones among you are saying… My 12,500 steps per day goal was the perfect excuse not to sit down and get some writing done! There’s probably a lot of truth in that, and it goes back to my earlier point about priorities. But you’ve got me – I’d certainly rather walk for an hour than sit down and write for 15 minutes!
Take a look at my video which delves deeper into the importance of building habits and discipline in sales –
This is an essential psychological tool that can make the difference between achieving something and missing it. It’s a technique all top sportspeople use and was pioneered by performance coaches and sports psychologists.
In my case, I didn’t picture myself unboxing that first edition and holding it in my hands enough. If I had, it would have unconsciously helped me to overcome some of the reasons for failure I’ve outlined above. It would have increased my desire to go through the “pain” and avoid the procrastination that went on.
In your sales life, visualisation can be just as strong. Imagine looking at your diary for next week on Friday afternoon and seeing it filled with quality appointments. See yourself sitting on a list of 10 excellent new prospects after an afternoon of great research. Visualise coming back to the office and handing in that fantastic new business order form later today after the meeting you’re about to have.
This is perhaps the biggest reason for failure. If we don’t genuinely want something, then we will accept defeat – and we’ll accept doing (or not doing) all the things that will inevitably lead to failure.
When setting goals for yourself, being honest about your desire levels is key to prioritising and hitting them. When it comes to targets you’ve been set by others (sales goals, prospecting goals, activity targets, etc.) you need to make sure that you want to hit them.
With work goals, it could be because it will lead to financial rewards. Perhaps it will increase chances of promotion. Maybe it will lead to recognition as someone who’s successful. Whatever your motivation is, you have the power to make it desirable. It’s down to you whether or not you want it enough to succeed.
In my case… I didn’t! This was a combination of inappropriate goal setting and a lack of desire. Yes, of course, I would love to have written my book, but not as much as the other goals that I have achieved. That desire, that “wanting”, was down to me and my approach to it. Mea culpa!
So, do you recognise any of these from your own career or personal life? Remember, sometimes failure to hit a goal can still be a good result. You may have done far more than you would have done without striving for that target despite missing it.
On the other hand, perhaps the target wasn’t the right thing to be aiming for? Or maybe the timescale or size was too ambitious or unrealistic.
Rather than treating missed targets as “one of those things” (and just moving on to try again), really analyse the reasons behind the miss. This gives you the best chance of hitting the next one because you can change what you did this time around and set yourself up for success.
For more analysis on sales topics like this, sign up for my weekly Saturday Sales email. In those I go into more depth on topics like this, and offer advice and motivation for a great sales week ahead.
If you have any questions about this or any other sales topic, please do get in touch with me by email via [email protected] or through any of the social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube – just search for ‘jameswhitesales’.
Don’t forget to let me know if there are any specific topics you’d like me to cover in the Saturday Sales mails or on YouTube channel, too.
So here’s to a great week ahead of achieving goals and hitting targets. Remember to spend a bit of time this weekend visualising your successes next week, and here’s to steering clear of some of the pitfalls we’ve been talking about today.