Here's how to learn fast and recover even faster
Fail fast and small. Recover fast and big. Please understand, I don’t mean fail intentionally. In sales, however, trying to achieve perfection in everything before actually going to the market will result in more failures, not less.
Strangely enough, a recent documentary about The Improv comedy club is a great analogy. Located in New York, The Improv was basically an open mic comedy club where almost every great comedian got started. During the documentary, they interviewed Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Ray Romano, etc. They showed clips from their first years in comedy and those first times on stage. Every single one of them said the same thing.
- I was terrible in the beginning
- I worked hard and kept at it
- I improved over time by testing material at The Improv
- I never went to the big stage (the Tonight Show or Letterman) before testing it out at The Improv
We can learn a lot from these four observations. You take your products, your techniques, your sales questions and you try them out in a small way. Maybe, that’s with a “safe” customer. Maybe it’s in a “safe” part of your territory. But, it’s with real customers or prospects where you can see real reactions. From those reactions, you modify, work hard and eventually you improve.
What about customer surveys, expert panels and customer panels? All good if you have the budget, but a word of caution. Customer surveys are not the same thing as opening up their wallet and buying. So, take the results with a cautious eye. If you give someone a free sample and a coupon and then have them fill out a survey, odds are likely they want to “be nice” and say good things. This doesn’t mean they will actually take the next step and buy. Panels are sort of the same way. Hired to give their opinion, they can be easily influenced or favor the company that is bringing them together. Again, this might not translate into actually buying when the choice is presented.
So, how can we fail fast and small, but recover faster and recover bigger? If you have been on territory for any length of time, you should have those customers and those areas of your territory that you feel safe with. These are loyal customers that you have worked very hard for and earned a lot of trust and respect from. These customers will tell you exactly how they feel about you, your products and your company. Treasure these relationships because they are your version of The Improv. This is where you take your ideas for products or programs and test them out in a small way.
Over the many years of launching products and different programs, I can’t tell you how many times this technique paid off in a big way. Several times, it saved embarrassing failures before launching to the whole marketplace. However, most of the time, it yielded small tweaks that made the product or program just a little better and a little more of a fit for the customer we were going after.
Launching a new premium dog food campaign, our supplier recommended using a 1,000# ISO (Initial Stocking Order). They put together the list of their recommended products to make up that 1,000# order. By trialing this out with a couple dealers in my territory, we found about 800# of those products wouldn’t sell and had to be returned. Needless to say, we didn’t take that concept any further.
Several areas of the country had gone out with the ISO program to all their customers. And just about everyone of them were returned. We guaranteed the return from our customers but our supplier had a no return policy. So, our fellow sales people in those locations had to somehow sell off dozens of those products that now clogged their warehouses.
We had failed in a small way with only a few dealers, which allowed us to recover fast and focus on those products that actually did sell.