Avoiding the failure cycleArticle added by Steve Lewit on June 12, 2012

Steve Lewit

Buffalo Grove, IL

Joined: February 27, 2008

My Company

What do you do when you feel like everything is working against you? We all know that feeling — the result of a long dry spell — when all your clients seem unable to make a decision. Or after a few meetings, they announce that they are going away for a few weeks; or after they have sold their mutual funds and the money is sitting in their money market fund, they decide to wait before they fund their annuity; or suddenly disappear off the grid never to be heard from again; or they all seem to have a family issue they have to deal with; or a parent dies; or won’t go out in the rain. And while all this is going on, you feel your confidence and self-esteem falling nearly as quickly as your bank account.

These are rough times. When confidence falls, selling mistakes rise. The pressure you feel inside yourself to make a sale becomes pressure, sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle, that you put on your client to buy. When clients feel pressure, they begin to run the other way. When you feel clients pulling away from you, you start chasing and holding onto them, which of course, causes them to pull away even faster.

During these times, once you know that you are in a cycle of failure, you must take action or that cycle will continue far longer than it should. In other words, unaddressed, this cycle will surely, at some point in time, come to an end. But, just doing the same thing, waiting for that moment to arrive, could cost you big time in terms of time, money and emotional energy.

It is possible to short circuit these failure cycles. In my world, I have specific steps I take that have proven themselves great allies in my career.

Step 1 - Develop the ability for early recognition of a failure cycle

While you may think that failure cycles are easy to identify, most agents that I coach recognize them only after they are deep in the cycle and have been put through the mill. Suddenly, recognition of the cycle hits them like a hammer over their heads.

The earlier you recognize the cycle, the easier it will be to deal with it. The key is to identify certain symptoms and take them seriously. Most agents actually are aware of the symptoms but write them off as just a passing, unimportant experience.

Here are symptoms of which you must take serious note:
  • Things just don’t seem to be going right
  • Clients don’t seem to be responding to you
  • You feel like you are not on top of your game
  • You scratch your head and ask yourself what you did wrong a few times in a row
  • You have a sense of urgency when you enter sales calls
Don’t make the mistake of losing a sale, for example, and just writing it off as a bad meeting. Be aware that this lost sale may be very connected to many previous ones and the failure cycle, like a great tornado, is just waiting to hit you.

Step 2 - Stop and take a serious long adult time out

That’s right. Remember when you lost it as a kid and you had to take a time out. Well, this isn’t very different. Failure cycles can be very debilitating, causing you to lose it along the way. The problem is that you don’t feel like you’re losing it at this point. In fact, you’ll probably feel like you’ve got your arms around the problem and that you’re in full control. What most sales professionals don’t realize is that failure cycles are invasive at a very slow rate and are therefore hard to detect. Indeed, they can take over a big part of your emotions and thinking before you are even aware that the cycle has got you in its hold.

An adult time out means a complete stop; leaving your office for an hour or two, finding an environment in which you can think and being alone. In other words, you shut down the engine you have created and step very far away from it.

Step 3 - Follow these 10 steps during your adult time out

1. Write down specifically what is under consideration (e.g., your clients are bailing out after the second meeting.

2 What role do you see yourself playing in what is happening? e.g., You are being too pushy.

3. How does what is happening affect you personally? e.g., It scares you in that you need the cash flow.

4. Write down your biggest fear regarding what is happening. e.g., My biggest fear is that I am going to totally fail and disappoint my family.

5. Take three minutes and just stay in touch with this fear, become quite attentive to it. Get to know it like a good friend; invite it into your thinking and consideration. Don’t try and control anything or get rid of it, just let it take you wherever it will take you.

6. Review each step of your selling system (I hope you have one). Don’t always say, "Yeah, I’m doing that," and skip over a section. Take each step as if you are learning it for the first time. Identify those steps where you feel you could be stronger.

7. Focus in on your major concern. e.g., Clients are bailing out after the second meeting.

What part of your system deals with this? Are you certain you understand that part? Can your execution be better?

8. Now, without changing your system, make a change that will deepen or strengthen the problem that you have identified. For example, when people leave after the second meeting I am going to ask them to rank how they are feeling about our meetings so far from zero to 10, where zero means that the meetings have been horrible and 10 means that they have been absolutely the best. If their ranking is less than seven, I am going to suggest cancelling the third meeting as their score is too low to ever reach a positive result.

9. Implement your new strategy at your very next sales call, even if you think the call is going perfectly well.

10. Track and review your results to see if your strategy needs to be upgraded or tweaked.


Most selling professionals are high achievers who never expect to fail. So when they do, all hell breaks loose emotionally and financially. Many just put their heads down and try to bull their way through these cycles, using their personal power and energy to get through it. While this may work, it takes too much time and can be exhausting in itself.

Instead, take the approach of being totally aware of the little things (which may be tied into a series of events which are much bigger than they appear) and take the time out to deal with them. When it comes to failure cycles, a little finesse and focused attention, all combined with a higher level of awareness, will go a long way to eliminating the cycle, thereby producing more revenue and a higher quality of selling life.
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