Sales Leadership: World Class (Heavy-Hitter) Sales Leadership Traits as Inspired by Sun Tzu’s The Art of War…

“People should not be unfamiliar with strategy; those who understand it will survive; those who do not understand it will perish” ~Sun Tzu

Sales Leadership: Developing and managing a world-class sales team requires more than just measuring the teams monthly sales achievement. It requires guts, wisdom, analytical skills, the correct temperament, good management, motivational skills, and much more. 

According to Sun Tzu in ‘The Art of War’; “if you fail to plan, you have planned to fail” or “strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory and tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”. While most sales managers do implement some level of planning and strategy, most sales leaders are preoccupied with achieving today’s sales numbers.

Sun Tzu’s treatise and keen observations of warfare in the 6th century BC are lessons that are relevant today in business and leadership, and the ideals of character, morals, and strategy are the foundation for world-class  sales leadership...

In the article “Sun Tzu and the Art of Sales Leadership” by CJ Ng writes: CJ Ng In business, many companies have used lessons from the ‘Art of War’ in business strategy, and more importantly, in leadership. The biggest misquote of the ‘The Art of War’ is “Know yourself and know your enemy, a hundred battles fought with a hundred victories gained”. The quote according to the original text is actually “Know yourself and know your adversary, a hundred battles fought and not be imperiled in any”.

If you were to ask any sales person who he thinks is the adversary or enemy, chances are the answer will be the competitor. The adversary in sales is actually the customer. Think about it. Before you make your sale, your customers may have their reservations about buying from you: Your aim is to optimize your profits and fetch a good price. Their goal is to save money and cut unnecessary spending. Both parties started off as adversaries, initially.

The second most frequent quote from Sun Tzu is probably, “The best victory is the one that’s wins without fighting.” This couldn’t have been more apt for dealing with customers, as your goal is to win them over without conflict. It’s quite clear that many customers are indeed waiting for some enlightened sales people to win them over!

If you know your customers’ business, and you know how you can add value to their business, you would probably have won them over. To win over customers sales people must plan more, before communicating with customers… According to studies conducted by HR-Chally, some of the key customers’ demands of sales people include:

  • Sales people ‘must’ understand our business.
  • Sales people ‘must’ be our advocates.
  • Sales people ‘must’ provide (innovative) solutions that work!

In the book “Sun Tzu and Art of Business” by Mark McNeilly writes: Focus on the competition’s weakness, which maximizes your gains while minimizing the use of your resources. To find and exploit your competitor’s weakness requires a deep understanding of their executives’ strategy, capabilities, thoughts and desires, as well as similar depth of knowledge of your own strengths and weaknesses.

Sun Tzu states that ‘you must be able to act with blinding speed’: To move with speed does not mean that you do things hastily. In reality, speed requires much preparation. Reducing the time it takes your company to make decisions, develop products, service customers are critical. Shape the competition; meaning changing the rules of the contest and making the competition conform to your desires and your actions.

It means taking control of the situation away from your competitor and putting it in your own hands. One way of doing so is through the skillful use of alliances. By building a strong web of alliances, the moves of your competitors can be limited. Also, by controlling key strategic points in your industry, you will be able to call the tune to which your competitors dance.

It takes special kind of leader to implement these strategic concepts and maximize the tremendous potential of employees. Sun Tzu describes the many traits of the preferred type of leader: The leader should be wise, sincere, humane, courageous, and strict. Leaders must also always be ‘first in the toils and fatigues of the army’, putting their needs behind those of their troops. It is leaders with character that get the most out of their employees.

These principles have been utilized throughout time in both the military arena and the business world to build creative strategies and achieve lasting success. If you use them properly, they will bring you success as well…

However, there are other views about ‘the art of war in business’, Ryan Allis,, writes:  For decades, there has been a working assumption in business; that sports and war offer a language of common understanding that supports a business culture that values winning above all and sees it as a zero-sum-game: That is, our gain is necessarily someone else’s loss. 

The truth is that business is not a zero-sum-game. Yes, it’s often very competitive, but success doesn’t always have to be measured by someone else’s failure. This kind of thinking is toxic, and it is ultimately not beneficial. When people are conditioned to view competitors as the enemy in war, they are closed off to new ways of thinking, including partnering with competitors where it makes sense, or viewing what they do as growing the pie for everyone, rather than preventing someone else from having a slice. In most fields, there is enough business for more than one competitor to thrive, and taking a broader, less combative approach may serve you better in the long run…

In the article “Sales According to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War” by Chin-Ning Chu writes:  A winner must experience triumph in body, mind, and soul even before he goes forth to fight his battle. You cannot make a sales call in the hope you might make a sale; you must already have sold your product or idea in your own mind before you can expect to sell it to another.

Listen, and tune into your buyer’s heart and mind. The new sales strategy is not about how much you can talk, it’s about how you listen, it’s about what you say, and how you say it. Use words efficiently with intention, sincerity and power.  Let people use you—but this does not mean let them abuse you.

You become their strategic partner; not their personal valet and gopher. As a leader, you must generously reward the superior performers on your team with recognition and respect… The eight essential elements of winning are:

  • Tao: Moral standing, ethics, righteousness. The product and the company culture need to be in line with Tao, righteousness. Without Tao, a short-term profit is attainable, but long-term success is not possible.
  • Tien: Timing of your products and your marketing strategy needs to be in line with the social timing and the universal timing.
  • Di: Utilize your company’s assets and liabilities, as well as, each individual understands their everyday work and quality of life.
  • Jian: Leaders relate to their staff, customers and suppliers according to five qualities: wisdom, trustworthiness, benevolence, courage and discipline.
  • Fa: Effective executive’s actions will result in keeping the revenue coming in rapidly.
  • Xu, Shi: Paradox of the real versus the unreal.
  • Qi, Zheng: Innovation and tradition.
  • Know thyself, Know others: Essential elements of a salesman; know yourself, your product, and your customers–in equal measure.

In translation, Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ reads like a collection of vague military aphorisms. In the original Chinese, it is a series of detailed competitive rules in the formulas of ancient Chinese science. According to Gary Gagliardi, Sun Tzu teaches that our success depends on our individual decision-making in interacting with other people. Sun Tzu taught a new way for us to see competition.

Sun Tzu teaches that competition is not conflict between enemies: Competition means a comparison among alternative positions. We create our positions while evaluating the competition’s positions; and likewise, they will create their positions based on ours. This creates a dynamic environment of complementary opposing relationships. To reach our goals in this adaptive process, we avoid costly conflict and, instead look for openings to build positions.

Sun Tzu teaches us how to make productive decisions in competitive situations…  According to Steve Martin, all sales leaders must play three completely different roles to succeed. First, they must be ‘generals’ who create a strategy to win their wars long before the first battle begins. Second, all sales leaders must be professional persuaders.

Finally, successful sales leaders must be oracles who predict their chances of winning based upon their common-sense judgment. When a sales leader has mastered these three roles; strategist, persuader, and common-sense sage, then he has attained sales wisdom, and thus they become a ‘heavy-hitter’. Heavy-hitters are truly great sales leaders who have acquired prominence through their accomplishments, expertise, and judgment…

”Leadership is the lifeblood of a company, a matter of ‘life and death’, survival or extinction. Indeed, something that needs to be studied, applied and re-modified consistently” ~Sun Tzu