November 8th, 2012 by Michael Smalls


How to Build a High Performance Sales Culture: Keep Happy Losers Happy

happy loserThe term “happy loser” suggests a fool or stumblebum who stands content in his or her own failure. It sounds a bit derogatory. But in reality, happy losers are often the most effective members of any sales team.

First coined by psychologist G. Clotaire Rapaille and reported in a Harvard Business Review article, “happy loser” refers to people who see rejection as a challenge, a barrier to be overcome. A happy loser is someone who relishes rejection and views it as a faster path to getting to “yes.”

Whether happy losers are born or made is still open to debate. But Rapaille suggests the trait can be learned. In an article in Inc. Magazine, he tells a story about training a corporate sales team. Originally, the sales manager would ask how many sales the team made each week. Rapaille realized that this approach focused on winning instead of losing.

As an experiment, he reversed the process. The sales manager opened each meeting by asking his team, “How many nos did you get this week?” Rapaille learned that sales people with the most nos also had the most sales. He contended it was because these salespeople were willing to assume more risk–happy in losing–as long as winning was a byproduct of the process. Sales increased as the team realized that more rejection resulted in greater rewards. In the end, they had become happy losers.

While that might make sense from a psychological perspective, in practice it’s much more difficult to manage and achieve. That’s because most sales organizations simply do not have the time or resources to cultivate a culture of happy losers. Most happy losers seek to work in environments where there is an understanding of the difficulty of sales. One that doesn’t take success for granted. That requires a special kind of sales manager, indeed. One who understands the psyche of salespeople and focuses on both data and the psychology to shepherd the flock.

That’s why it is crucial to create a high performance sales culture. Since salespeople face a lot of rejection, they really need to be recognized and rewarded for progress as it occurs to keep them fully engaged and motivated. According to an article in Gallup Business Journal, engaged salespeople deliver better sales results, stay with their companies longer, and create more customer loyalty.

Here are four hallmarks of a high performance sales culture:

  1. An enterprise that has the ability to define the actual tasks that power sales performance so that rewards can be aligned with success.
  2. A workplace that celebrates progress and success. A salesperson facing a lot of nos really needs an “attaboy” when good things happen. Recognition goes a long way.
  3. An environment that fosters friendly competition. Salespeople are naturally competitive and enjoy seeing if they can do better than their peers and get to the top of the organization.
  4. A workplace that values resilience over short-termism. One that glorifies the long, inevitable journey of nos, fully aware that they set the stage for getting to yes.

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Michael Smalls

About Michael Smalls

Michael Smalls is the founder and CEO of Hoopla. He has more than 25 years of experience in the technology industry as a sales executive at several startups, and as a leader of a variety of teams at larger companies. Prior to Hoopla, Michael was Executive Vice President at ClickEquations, a SaaS paid search platform for large advertisers and agencies. In 2004, he joined the founding team of Turntide, an innovative anti-spam company, as VP of Sales. TurnTide was acquired by Symantec, where Michael became Director of Emerging Products Sales. Earlier in his career, Michael held sales management roles at innovative startups like Destiny Software and Kurant (acquired by eBay), and at Symantec as it grew from $50 million to over $650 million in sales.

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