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Stop Punishing Failure (A Note to the Sales Manager)

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
January 26, 2011

Your salesperson made a mistake. Perhaps it was even a big mistake. They went off the reservation and doing so cost them an opportunity. They failed. Now you want to make sure they understand what they did and what it cost; you want to make them pay so that they’ll never make the same mistake again.

Making them pay for their mistake costs you more than you can afford, and does nothing to help either you or your salesperson.

The Price of the Punishment

You may want to make a point. You may even need to make a point. You may want to make an example of your hapless salesperson by making known to all the mistakes that they made and what it cost. But punishing the salesperson—even if it is only an embarrassing dressing down—costs you more than you can afford.

The price of punishing failure is the salesperson’s initiative.

By making your point, you may temporarily feel better. Your salesperson, on the other hand, will decide the price of independently taking action is too high. So instead, they will stop thinking about what they might do, and they will stop exercising the one of the greatest and most powerful of all human attributes: their resourcefulness.

The salesperson, devoid of both their creativity and their resourcefulness, will instead come to you tell them just what you want them to do. Punishing failure turns human beings into mindless automatons, and in sales, mindless isn’t what you as a sales manager or your clients need.

If No Pound of Flesh

I can throw hyperbole with the best of them, but I am not into celebrating failures. I am for learning from them.

Instead of a punishment, a positive after action review to walk through what transpired, what the salesperson believed the outcomes of their actions (or inaction) was going to be, what actually happened, and what might have returned a different outcome will allow you to help your salesperson think about what happened.

Instead of killing your salesperson’s resourcefulness, working through what happened, capturing and codifying the lessons learned will draw out their creativity and encourage them to think deeply about the actions they take in similar situations in the future. And, perhaps most important still, they will understand that they are expected to take the initiative that they showed when they failed.

Sharing these lessons, without judgment, can help bring your whole sales team up to another level. Improvement is about notching salespeople up, not beating them up, or knocking them down.

In most cases, the salespeople that should be punished should be punished for demonstrating a lack of resourcefulness and a lack of initiative. Ultimately, this is far greater sin than failing.


What are the most positive outcomes that you can possibly obtain from a painful loss or a painful mistake?

How do you ensure that you obtain those outcomes?

What role do mistakes play in learning and development?

Of the greatest and most important lessons you have learned, how many were learned the hard way? How valuable are these lessons now?

Sales 2011
Post by Anthony Iannarino on January 26, 2011
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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