Sales: What does luck have to do with it?

Posted on October 12th, 2022 to Uncategorized

Over the past week my phone has dinged several times, as it does this time every year, to alert me when a new Nobel Prize winner has been announced across a wide swath of categories — physics, chemistry, literature, economics, peace. 

This year, however, I learned of a Nobel Prize I never knew existed — the Ig Nobel Prize. The New York Times doesn’t send out alerts about the winners of this prize, and the Wall Street Journal refers to it as “slightly less prestigious” than the standard Nobel Prize, which is likely why I’d never heard of it.  

According to Wikipedia, the Ig Nobel is designed to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” This year, the Ig Nobel in economics went to three Italian scholars who found mathematical proof that the most successful among us may not be the most talented or hardest working — rather, they have the greatest preponderance of luck

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, one of the Ig winners said: “If you are a very successful person, you owe something to the context.”

I find this assertion both comforting and aggravating. If it really comes down to luck, why are we working so hard? Why do I support my clients to architect a winning sales process or learn how to proactively develop business?

When I look back on my career journey, I can absolutely see the role luck has played in putting me in the right rooms, at the right times, with the right people. My clients could all tell similar tales — my favorite being the one who landed her first six-figure client because they sat next to them on a plane. 

If it’s all so out of our control, why bother investing the time, money and effort to create systems and develop skills?

It’s about readiness.

In that same Wall Street Journal article, the reporter spoke to comedian, director, producer, and screenwriter Judd Apatow, who shared:

“Luck is only helpful if, when it arrives, you are up to the task. If it arrives, and you aren’t, that luck will end your career.”

I’m assuming Apatow is referring to his Hollywood peers — a new film director given a platform they’re not yet ready for, or a green actor who isn’t prepared for the pitfalls of fame. But what does it mean for business owners? What does it mean for revenue growth?

I can tell you, because I’ve had a front-row seat. 

If your streak of sales luck comes before you’ve created the systems to organize it, or before you’ve developed the skills to field the requests, you’re likely to experience some combination of these outcomes:

  • Undercharging for your work
  • Agreeing to unfavorable terms 
  • Saying “yes” to scopes of work you never intended to offer 
  • Crafting your growth plan around a singular client (the “all-eggs-in-one-basket” scenario)
  • Not knowing how to find more clients like the ones that spring from luck

So, what’s the balance? What does it look like to welcome luck into your sales pipeline and be ready to receive it?

For me, it comes down to three things:

  1. Know what you want to sell and to whom you want to sell it (so that your “lucky break” doesn’t turn into a breakdown)
  2. Learn how to proactively develop business (so that you have insurance if your luck changes)
  3. Develop your sales and negotiating skills (so that you can make the most of the luck that comes your way)

How ready are you for a stroke of luck?

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