Failure is seminal for any successful salesman. And failing big is even more wonderful.
As many of you know, I was an actor for a good while in my younger years. One of my colleagues was a man named Austin Pendleton. I remember Austin talking one day about solving his auditioning conundrum–the problem being how to figure out what directors really were looking for. He told me what he had finally decided was to “go big” with his audition choices. If he had an “outrageous failure” at least he was rejected for something distinctive.
I have often thought back on that comment in my 17 years as head of my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International. I fell on my face often as an actor and I had to learn to handle my frequent (very personal) rejections and even enjoy the process. It’s helped me enormously as an entrepreneur and salesman for my company.
I was caught by an article in the Wall Street Journal last week by reporter Sue Shellenbarger, titled “Better Ideas Through Failure.” (Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011-Section D, p. one) It concerns a pitch done by Amanda Zolten, a Sr. VP at Grey Advertising for a kitty litter product. Ms. Zolten found an answer to her pitch through her cat, Lucy Belle.
“Before she and her team met with six of the company’s executives, Ms. Zolten buried Lucy Belle’s mess in a box of the company’s litter and pushed it under the conference-room table. No one noticed until Ms. Zolten pointed it out–and the fact that no one had smelled it.
Shocked, several executives pushed back from the table. Two left the room. After a pause, those who remained started laughing, says Ms. Zolten, a senior vice president with Grey New York. “We achieved what we hoped, which was creating a memorable experience.” she says.
She won’t know for a few weeks whether Grey won the business. But her boss, Tor Myhren, named Ms. Zolten the winner of his first quarterly ‘Heroic Failure’ award for taking a big edgy risk.”
There is a wonderful lesson for the entrepreneurial salesman here. Compelling charismatic sales narrative comes out of fearlessness and free expression of the truth. Peregrinations within the timid confines of the quotidian n’er did win fair maidens–nor new clients. Bravo, Grey Advertising!
Thank you, Fyodor.