Catastrophic Failures Are Not Single Events

You missed your number. You didn’t reach your goal. It’s too late to do anything about it, and now you have real trouble. It’s a catastrophe of the first order. But this calamity was a long time in the making.

There was that one day when you didn’t feel like prospecting. Instead of booking meetings, you busied yourself with work that, even when done well, would not help you either create or win an opportunity. Nothing bad happened that day or the four days that followed. Even after a week of avoiding the phone, no ill effects were present or felt.

Sometime later, your manager asked you about your results, and you bamboozled her with some stories about the two big deals you’ve been working on for the last six months and how close you’re getting. You assuaged her fears, and she decided your story was convincing enough that she put them in her forecast. There was nothing to worry about, and you had plenty of year left to win deals.

Occasionally, when the mood struck you, you made some calls. Some days four dials, other days six attempts, but no real effort. The paychecks keep coming in, and life goes on pretty much as it always has. The idea that you are running out of time is beginning to give you cause for concern. You have months to catch up, and you tell yourself tomorrow you will get serious. But tomorrow comes, and no casual observer would recognize any greater effort were they to watch you work.

You can smoke a single cigarette without any real risk. You can likely smoke cigarettes for many days in a row without any real threat to your health. At some point in the future, without warning the risk will go from none to catastrophic. The health problem will be new, but the catastrophe is the result of an action taken over a long period. That action was taken with full knowledge of the risk of disaster that usually follows in its wake.

We give salespeople much freedom. That freedom is necessary, especially the freedom to manage their work — the discipline that allows that freedom must match that freedom. These are two sides of the same coin. Those who cannot match their freedom with the necessary discipline inevitably experience a catastrophic failure.

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