Garret Norris | KONA Group Managing Director
All through my sales career and even today people have commented on how “lucky” I am… My response has been and will continue to be, “it’s hard work being this lucky”.
When I had large teams of salespeople, throwing “luck” in as a conversation sometimes helped but they also knew how unreliable it is. I have seen luck occasionally give lift to morale, but attributing success or failure to random outside factors drains salespeople’s willingness to try new strategies and they sometimes use it as an excuse (Oh I was just unlucky with that deal).
Consequently, I urge sales managers to de-emphasise luck, instead stressing the importance of stable, measurable, and controllable factors such as motivation and activity = results.
But if you choose to ignore “luck” altogether, you stand to fall behind competitors who have learned how to manage it.
Manage it? Yes: In my experience, luck should be viewed as a controllable determinant of salespeople’s achievement. Success derives not from effort alone but from a combination of effort, thus, creating “luck”. An understanding of luck’s synergistic role in success can improve performance and increase young salespeople’s confidence in the face of uncertainty and failure.
I have conducted many exploratory interviews with salespeople, including successful sales professionals and new salespeople, and research involving over 250 salespeople who sold many different products and services. The salespeople all had territories and targets and used a customer-relationship-management system.
Through this process I found that experienced salespeople can tell many tales of luck, and they tend to say that an important factor in their jobs is provoked luck: unexpected events that come about because their strategic behaviour has maximised the opportunities. An example of provoked luck is one of my team who first lost a key account, then won it back because he called them every three months, emailed them relevant information and made sure that he remained their “strategic adviser” (see below KONA’s Six Levels of a Sales Professional). Then, as “luck” would have it, he had an opportunity to help an executive of the client with industry advice, and the client put in a good word for him (this salesperson was always getting himself into lucky circumstances!!!).
My research findings involving salespeople has allowed me to estimate the importance of luck-related events in selling. For example, following our sales training, a particularly renowned company’s sales team of 70 people sold more than $1.32M in services in one quarter – and they attributed more than two-thirds of the revenue to luck. In fact, of more than $430,000 raised in selling, about 60% came from what they call “luck circumstances,” with the rest deriving from standard sales processes. From 76% to 88% of the “luck” circumstances were incidences of “provoked luck”. LUCKY, THEY HAD THE TRAINING!!!!
The numbers would no doubt vary somewhat in other contexts, but I’m confident that provoked luck – that is, activity – is part of sales success in many if not all segments (but my question is, if no activity happened would they have been so lucky?).
So how do you manage this hugely important sales input? The key is – belief.
I’m not playing mind games. I found that the greater a salesperson’s belief that success is a combination of luck and effort and that good luck will come, the greater a person’s 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.
Belief in the power of luck seems to boost self-assurance, thereby helping experienced sales professionals remain optimistic in the face of setbacks and assisting inexperienced salespeople in overcoming uncertainty and fear of failure. These factors are critical in helping salespeople maintain motivation and job satisfaction. They also matter a lot in reducing turnover, especially for new salespeople.
Not only does a belief in luck boost sales behaviours, but it works the other way around too: sales behaviours can set the stage for improved luck. Here are a few such behaviours that your sales team can be trained in:
- Building a strong pipeline: salespeople should be trained to search for knowledge about customers, prospects, competitors, and the overall market. The more field intelligence a salesperson has, the smarter (or “luckier”) they become.
- Manage the Key Accounts: being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important life skills to learn. Communication is defined as transferring information to produce greater understanding. The quality of our communication can only be measured by the response we receive from the other person, do not blame the other person if they don’t understand you!
- Managers should be setting high goals: I’m not talking about targets. I’m talking about number of calls, numbers of meeting and real measurable activities, such as trying to surpass one’s past performance. Salespeople should be encouraged to adopt such goals, because they drive forward-looking behaviours. Ambitious goals make salespeople more creative and strategic.
- Negotiate to sell more value: Poor sales negotiating may be costing you as much as 50% of your net profit. Economic uncertainty has taught customers to push hard on price and terms, and even relatively receptive buyers use aggressive negotiation techniques. For sellers, the impact on average price can be as much as 5%, which in turn can represent up to 50% of net profits.