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On the Law of Large Numbers: Sales Lessons from King Richard

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
2 min read

I recently watched the movie King Richard. It's the story of Richard Williams, father of tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams. Spoilers ahead - you've been warned.

Richard was a little kooky. He says he watched a pro tennis match, then heard how much the winner was paid, and immediately devised a plan to have two more girls. Richard drilled the Venus and Serena himself, on the local tennis court, preparing them to be the best tennis players the world had ever seen. He read magazines, listened to tapes, and absorbed any tennis content he could find.

He wrote letters to the best coaches. He hung out at country clubs and handed out photocopied pamphlets of his daughters, looking for a financial sponsor. His belief in his plan and his daughters was unshakable.

He must've spent five or more years getting one rejection after another. But he knew that one yes could outweight a thousand noes. Eventually he got it.

A tennis coach, intrigued by Richard and impressed by his daughters, agreed to take Venus on as a student pro bono. As Richard hoped, that coach helped set Venus and Serena on a path to becoming the two greatest women's tennis players in history.

The Williams family is proof that a sales program works. Was it the only thing that led to their success? Of course not. Luck, timing, determination, genetics, and a little crazy all helped too. But then again, a high-performing sales program is never the single explanation for why a firm succeeds either. But there's a lot we can learn from Richard.

He did an exceptional job of focusing his market, message, and efforts. His market tennis coaches with established track records. His message? Simple: Venus and Serena would be the two best women's tennis players ever to live. And his effort was entirely dedicated to the mission of fulfilling the plan. When he finally got the time and attention of a great coach, the coach was impressed by the girls' skill. Sure, Richard is a zany dad with an insane dream, but the girls made it all real. They could back it up.

A single yes helped changed the trajectory of Venus and Serena's lives. Your firm will need more than one yes to justify the investment in a sales program, but not a lot more. I challenge you to think about the number of clients you'd have to land every year for the economics to work out. The larger your projects, the fewer clients you need to land.

Which brings us to the law of large numbers. It says, according to Wikipedia:

The average of the results obtained from a large number of trials should be close to the expected value and will tend to become closer to the expected value as more trials are performed.

You have heard that "sales is a numbers game." Yes and no. It's like saying poker is or black jack are numbers games. It's true in the sense that, given enough hands, skillful players will come out far ahead. But you can't forget the skillful part. If sales is a numbers game, profitable and scalable sales is all about skill combined with large numbers. Both can be individually effective, but combining skill and large numbers multiplies their impact.

I've spoken to plenty of firm principals who believe that sales can't work for their business. Most have never tried, and a few have with mixed results, and stopped. Maybe they just lack imagination.

The truth is that the right mix of market, message, and focus paired with a world-class book of clients and results will work.

It's only a matter of time, and numbers.