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Monday, February 22, 2016

Obstacles and Failure

I have a great group of salespeople working for me at our company who never cease to impress me. They take their jobs very seriously, put in a lot of extra effort and bring a great attitude to work every day. But being a salesperson isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult and demoralizing at times.

Recently one of my salespeople came to me very discouraged. He had put in a ton of effort on a project to improve the lighting at local apartment community. He surveyed the entire complex, photographed the existing light fixtures, took foot-candle readings at night, and then prepared a detailed written plan for upgrading to a new LED lighting system. His recommendations were excellent and would greatly improve the light levels while saving thousands of dollars per month in electricity. The customer was so impressed they decided to move forward with his recommendations. However, they also decided to send his written specifications to several other lighting companies to bid on and unfortunately a competitor came back with a lower price using cheaper Chinese import fixtures. Despite my salesman’s advice to stick with major brand fixtures with a strong warranty, the customer chose to save a few dollars.

I could see the disappointment in his eyes and hear the discouragement in his voice but I wasn’t about to validate his negative feelings. So my first question was, “Did you thank the customer?” He looked at me funny. “That customer gave you such great gifts”, I said. “He gave you experience, helped you develop your product knowledge and moved you one step closer to long term major success in your career.” I could see by his bewildered look that he wasn’t getting it, so I offered to explain.

For ten years I played baseball but really sucked at hitting. I would either strike out or ground out and it was extremely discouraging. Finally, I got tired of failing and got serious about practicing. For nearly two years I took hitting lessons every week and hit thousands of BP pitches until my hands were permanently calloused. My confidence grew along with my skills and not long ago I found myself in the biggest game of my life. It was the final game of the MSBL World Series in Phoenix, bottom of the 10th inning, with two men on, two out and the scored tied. I should have been nervous but because I had practiced so hard, I felt relaxed. The first pitch was a slider and I opened up too early in my swing and missed it badly. I realized my mistake and stepped back in. The second pitch was an inside breaking ball that just caught the corner of the plate for strike two. I realized my mistake, thought about it, and then stepped back in. I had made two mistakes and the count was 0-2, but I knew from my mistakes exactly what I needed to do. When the next pitch came, I was ready for it and drove it to left centerfield for a base hit and a walk off win! In a way, failing is what gave me the experience I needed to finally succeed.

I could see my salesman smiling as I finished my story. And although he may have been being a bit sarcastic, he said, “You’re right, I’m going to send that customer a thank you card right now!” I just laughed and told him you may not always get what you want but remember this… Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted!

Dear Lord,
Help me to remain humble through obstacles and failure…
But hide not from my eyes the prize that comes with victory!
~ from “The Salesman’s Prayer" by Og Mandino 

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