In the winter of 1934 the U.S. Army Air Corps was given the responsibility of delivering the U.S. Mail by President Franklin Roosevelt. These combat-ready airmen were dying in what seemed to be an endless series of fatal crashes. The common theory of flight, at the time, suggested pilots were born with the gift of flight. They would take a student up in a plane and execute a series of loops and rolls and if the student didn’t get air sick, he was considered qualified to become a pilot. He went through ground school and eventually put in a plane; over time he was allowed to handle the controls. Remember, the thought of the day was born to fly, not trained to fly.
Needless to say, the system didn’t work very well. Early fatality rates were nearly 25 percent. By 1934 the techniques and technology had improved but was still primitive and the deaths of U.S. Army Corpsmen confirmed the predicament. The solution to the Army Air Corps situation came at the hands of Edwin Albert Link, the son of a piano and organ maker from Binghamton, New York. Link was an amateur pilot, tinkerer and inventor. Recognizing the need for a better method of training pilots, he invented the flight simulator that allowed pilots to practice intensely in a controlled environment and to learn from failure without incurring death. As a result of the flight simulator, the Army Air Corps changed their prior thinking that pilots were born to fly and realized they were more successful when trained to fly. Through practice and overcoming errors and mistakes in the simulator, the pilots learned better skills more quickly and safely. They also learned they could teach most anyone to fly.
This story of Edwin Link, the U.S. Army Air Corps and the introduction of the flight simulator has a very close correlation to salespeople. Many people believe selling is a gift from birth and the skills required are part of their nature, similar to the thought pilots were born with the “gift” to fly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nearly 25% of those early pilots with the “gift” crashed and died and the same is true for salespeople who believe they are born with the gift of sales - they typically crash and burn. In the flight simulator, pilots could make mistakes and learn from them. Learning comes from activity, incorrect as well as correct. No one is born perfect. Perfection is a process achieved through perfectly practicing until perfection is achieved. Failure is part of the process of becoming perfect and failure for those early pilots could only be survived in the flight simulator. Sales training and coaching is the simulator for salespeople. The only way they can learn to be perfect is in the laboratory of selling, which involves applying the principles and skills they have been taught. They learn from doing and the doing includes failure as well as success. Success is not found in never falling, but in rising every time you fall. Overcoming failure in the quest to reach beyond your ability is a far better teacher than perfectly achieving that which is well within your reach.
Challenge yourself to become great at selling. Learn the skills and principles of your profession. Apply your learning and reach beyond your comfort zone. You will fail in the process, but that is the best way to learn. Evaluate your failures; fine tune your performance and try again. With each failure comes wisdom and experience. Let your failures become stepping-stones to perfect performance and overwhelming success. No, you weren’t born to sell, but you became your best through learning, application, failures, successes and eventual perfection.
The Best Salespeople Were Not Born That Way
- Written by Timothy B. Huffaker, President, The Business Performance Group