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  • Writer's pictureKevin Snow

Sun Tzu and The Art of Sales, An Introduction

“If you know your adversary and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not your adversary, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither your adversary nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

2500 years ago a Chinese warrior named Sun Tzu wrote a 13 chapter book outlining how to successfully conduct warfare. Since then his text has become the basis for much if not all military strategy today. The contents of this book have also become standard reading in business and management curricula around the world.

What does this have to do with sales? When you think about it, business to business sales is all about strategy. A sales process is nothing more than a battle plan that outlines how an engagement is going to progress so that the Commander's desired end state is achieved. In the world of sales, the Commander has become the VP of Sales and the desired end state is now a signed contract.

One of the key topics in The Art of War is preparation prior to the battle. Sun Tzu talks at length about knowing yourself and your enemy and this section is one of the most frequently quoted sections of the text. What many people miss is the other two items you need to understand prior to entering battle.

”If you know your adversary and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”

As Sun Tzu explains, “heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons,” and “earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.” But also, you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses and how "Heaven and Earth" will affect them, as they may establish limits to what you can tell, do, or commit to.

Building a sales program is very similar to standing up an army as it requires the same preparation that Sun Tzu outlines in his text.

1. Understand yourself

2. Understand your adversary

3. Understand your environment

4. Understand the impact of the environment

Unfortunately I encounter many business owners and CEOs that did not conduct any of this planning prior to hiring their initial sales force. Instead of creating a plan, they increased their headcount and gave them their orders, " Go sell".

Over the next four weeks we will be expanding on each of these four planning considerations and exploring how they apply to developing a sales program and enabling your sales people to close business.

If you want to win the sales battle this is a series that you won't want to miss!


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