The other day I met with a young man named Tom who is graduating from college next May. He is interested in a sales career in the technology industry and has some job interviews next month. Tom asked if I would provide some help in preparing for those interviews.
Tom spent last summer selling technology services to small business owners. Every sales call was a cold call: walk in, strike up a conversation and see if he could sell them on the value of his offering. Turns out he’s pretty good at it. He closed over 30 deals in the 8 weeks he worked there and was one of the top performing salespeople in his office.
I started peppering him with questions he should expect such as “Why are you interested in our company?" and “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. I switched to the “weakness/strength” and “challenge and recovery” questions.
I said, “Tell me about a time you failed and what you did about it.”
Without hesitation, he replied, “I failed 39 times a day.”
“Oh?” I said, waiting for an explanation.
“In the eight weeks I was selling over the summer, I usually got turned down about 39 times before I finally got someone to say ‘yes,’” he explained. “At first, it was pretty draining because the experience was so negative.”
“So what did you do?” I asked.
“I turned each ‘no’ into a positive experience. I decided to start each day with 39 ‘nos’ to count down because it’s rare for me to have more than that before I get a ‘yes.’ So each time a potential customer said ‘no’ it meant I was one step nearer to getting that ‘yes.’ That made me look forward to every new business I walked in to pitch. Each failure was getting me closer to my goal.”
Perseverance is not an idea or principle we talk much about these days. Perseverance requires focus, commitment and a positive attitude which, in our world of instant everything and immediate results, just takes too long. But those who truly aspire to greatness in their chosen fields know that there’s a lot of failing to get through before achieving success.