Opinion

How to fail in the right way

We've all heard that we should "learn from our failures", but that isn't enough says Richard Hadler. He outlines why marketing and sales teams need to embrace failure - in the right way.

Over the last few years, I’ve failed in pitches. I’ve had failings as a manager. I’ve even failed at perfecting sales and marketing alignment in our business.

Anyone who says they’ve never failed has their fingers crossed behind their back.

This article isn’t to tell you “learn from your failures”; it’s a cliche, and you would have read those articles dozens of times before.

However, I am here to tell sales and marketing folk that failing *together* is OK — and how to fail the right way.

It’s fine on three conditions:

  1. You fail together
  2. You fail fast.
  3. You fail frequently.

However, it’s not fine on one condition:

  1. You fail because of poor co‐ordination

Let’s take that last one first. At the risk of repeating my previous blogs, if you’re losing sales because of poor communication, lousy lead handover, or a lack of co‐ordinated sales and marketing plan…shame on you. You’re burning the company’s cash as sure as if you made a bonfire of £50 notes in the lobby.

So when is failure OK?

Fail together

The blame game only exists if sales and marketing aren’t aligned from the outset. You can only fail together if you launch together. By launching projects/campaigns together, you reduce the potential blame game that will inevitably follow if the launch isn’t as successful as hoped.

I’m sure marketers reading this will be thinking it takes too long to explain marketing plans to the sales team; the sales team think their time would be better spent “working on live opportunities”. The harsh reality is you need each other.

This is the most imperative factor in any marketing campaign or initiative. Marketers: you need to involve sales from the outset. Not just because it will help you with buy‐in but also because salespeople are closest to the customers and you never know, may give you some timely insight!

Fail fast

The quicker you fail, the quicker you can look to introduce new ideas, ways of working and ideas. The key here is not to dwell on what went wrong but how you can do it differently next time. Failing fast gives you less time to dwell on the negatives.

“We need an environment that encourages the testing of ideas,” Ogilvy & Mather CMO Nina Jasinski told Business of Marketing last year. “That process needs to be fast. You can’t let failure fester.”

Fail frequently

If you haven’t failed recently then either:

  1. You are a genius; or
  2. You’re in a rut and trying nothing new (be honest).

I must admit, there’s a backlash against failure at the moment. When the tech industry was in its hardest upswing a few years ago, everyone had “fail fast, fail often” as their motto. (OK, not everyone: it wasn’t popular among surgeons and airline pilots.)

Now the tech industry is faltering the phrase has become derided, seen as a sign of all that’s wrong with Silicon Valley.

Yes, failure that’s a result of recklessness is just plain stupid. But a marketing experiment that consumes limited resources and doesn’t risk the overall marketing plan is an excellent way of learning something new about customer behaviour. The insights learned can maybe make the next project a real winner.

Queue the dramatic mic drop…

I’m not proud that I failed. But I am proud of what I have learned from failure.

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