The Role of Luck in Sales

Tara Sestanovich

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March 17, 2021

Have you ever looked at a salesperson and wondered, ‘How did they get so lucky to hit their numbers?’  The idea of ‘provoked luck’ is actually pretty common in the sales world.  It’s the belief that unexpected events come about because strategic behavior has maximized the opportunities.  So just by strategically managing your pipeline differently, you can create even more opportunities for your team to have good luck for the quarter.  

Sales Luck in the Sales Process

A ten-year scientific study on the nature of luck has revealed that much of the good and bad fortune we encounter is a result of our own thoughts and behavior.  Experienced salespeople know how to arrange their sales processes so “lucky” things are more likely to happen to them.  They know how to maximize their opportunities to benefit from provoked luck.  They do the things that allow them to take advantage of the situations that happen around them.  “Lucky” salespeople are always thinking about their pipeline and thinking ahead to the next quarter or even the next year.  They plan out the work they need to do now in order to have an impact on their pipeline months from now. 

In the Harvard Business Review article, “Why the Best Salespeople Get So Lucky”, Joel LeBon, marketing professor and author, found in one study that provoked luck was behind nearly 60% of sales made.  “I found that the greater a salesperson’s belief that success is a combination of luck and effort and that good luck will come along sooner or later, the greater his or her sales activities, such as making phone calls, meeting prospects, qualifying prospects, and gathering intelligence about prospects and competitors. The greater the sales activities, the greater the opportunities for luck and the greater the person’s provoked luck. The greater the provoked luck, the higher the performance.”  

So Why Did the Quarter End the Way It Did?

At the end of the quarter, are you finding that you’re happy with your sales teams’ results?  Were you lucky with the outcome?  Did you misread signals along the way?  A good pipeline management program should set you up for how you’re going to hit ‘the number’.  Research shows that with good pipeline management, team performance increases by 28%.  Good pipeline management answers questions like, ‘Are we doing the right things to hit quota?’ and ‘Are we building the right process to help reps be more efficient?’  Take a moment to think about your current process…  Do your reps know what they need to do in order to hit quota?  And do they know when they need to do it?  Managing your pipeline clearly creates the conditions for provoked luck. 

What your reps are doing now will affect what your pipeline looks like two months from now.  Adding a pipeline metric that you pay on (win or lose) will help your sales team learn from pipeline loss and, ultimately, improve their individual productivity and performance.  As a result, reps will own their learning much more concretely, and become more able to identify which approaches lead to success with different types of customers.  Successful (and lucky) salespeople don’t waste time on things they don’t do well, they build the right sales habits and play to their strengths.

In Conclusion

You can’t really build luck into your sales process but a lucky mindset and a well-defined sales process can definitely impact performance.  Creating a good pipeline management program, building the right pipeline habits, and introducing smart comp plans will set the stage for more sales luck.  If you haven’t already done so, make a blueprint to hitting quota so you’re able to track your team’s progress and use it to guide your prioritization moving forward.  Debriefing at the end of each quota period will help you determine which assumptions you made along the way were wrong and how much luck actually impacted your results.

Next Steps

Want to help your team hit quota?  In our Pipeline Management Boot Camp, you’ll have access to a series of short videos, readings, and exercises featuring the best research for what good pipeline management programs look like.

Want to learn more? Talk to a comp expert about how to improve your team’s motivation and performance with a comp plan designed to increase sales productivity.

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