Sales strategy

The Tao of Sun Tzu in Sales

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Great sales leaders can take a simultaneous macro and micro view. They can select the sharpest arrows in the quiver. Ready – fire! – aim. They course correct and adjust to the target in near real-time. Tactics never get in the way of a powerful strategy but a strategic mindset will not preclude diving into the details of how, once the why is identified. Don’t fall in love with only social selling, or solely the phone, colorful slide-deck presentations or the latest e-mail template. Build a cohesive strategy that spans across multiple channels (not every channel) that is refined for its receipt point. This could be the key executive you’ve researched, a provocative message tailored to solve a challenge within a specific vertical industry, or a genuine insight relevant to the person you're engaging.

“You have to believe in yourself.”

Even in 500 BC, Sun Tzu knew the power of self confidence. Keep your own counsel and be guided by a reliable compass. This is not to say you shouldn’t look to mentors and trusted advisors within your own leadership and sales mastermind group. Trust your gut instinct, an intuition cultivated over time and experience. Make a decision and strike with fervor in the direction of your vision for navigating the account. There are many maneuvers to run on the battleground of an enterprise sale and several may indeed work. A strong strategy coupled with intention and belief is unstoppable against an unseen counterstrike. With buyers who come to you being 55% - 70% through the decision process, they are looking to be lead to the promised land of increased revenue and efficiency and will choose a sage guide who can manage their risks and deliver for them.

“Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.”

Never interrupt your enemies when they’re making a mistake. They will set traps and plant fear, uncertainty and doubt about your solution. There are always hidden factors in the deal, unseen competitors (just do a Google search), working clandestinely to sink your ship. Let them think they’re winning because their overconfidence exposes weakness and creates your greatest opportunity. Use your creative brilliance to innovate as you see solutions to problems. They may be working one or two targets in the account but you may up-level to the head of IT to win the technical buy-in whereas they’ve grown complacent as an incumbent with the strategic buyer alone. While they’re banking on a tacit close at the end of the fourth quarter, you’ve uprooted, disrupted and planted the seeds of change with willing leaders in the established fabric behind the scenes.

“Let your plans be dark and as impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

Advanced selling is similar to a three dimensional chessboard. You must think fifteen moves ahead. You must be prepared for anything. The biggest risk is 'do nothing' or the status quo. The sales eagles fly with speed and dexterity. They respond to trigger events. They exude almost a sixth sense for knowing what's going to happen, even before prospects do. They watch satisfied clients in one company move to another company and work within that new company to foster a technology renaissance. Be decisive. Shut off all the electronics, think deeply, white-board out the power base and map the account. Test several scenarios and plans. Then act swiftly! Do not doubt yourself as there is no time when you're dodging an arrow.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

In the realm of new business development, it’s smarter to play the games you know you can win. You have the luxury to continuously create pipeline and set stringent criteria for prospects with whom you engage. Improve your ability to segment and target, to qualify opportunities that make sense. My theory has been that the best farmers are wolves in sheep’s clothing, hunting in named accounts. You need to understand that every account is at risk unless you build rapport at multiple levels of the organization to indemnify against stakeholder churn. You must also understand that even a happy client is still playing on a battlefield: anything can change in an instant and competitors are calling incessantly to infringe upon your territory. Disruptive new upstart technologies that may undercut you on price or exceed your solution capabilities in one area emerge like water multiplying Gremlins. You can protect against these threats through consistent value creation, communication and active listening. Walk the halls, get a desk at your customer's office; literally and figuratively. Continue to educate your existing clients through content marketing excellence.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

Understand where you are weak. This is equally important as where you are strong. Partner up with internal resources inside your organization who can fill out your skill set. This may be a highly technical solutions consultant who can help to tailor the technological business case. This may be someone who has a highly developed statistical analysis abilities enabling them to build business cases that will lend power to your insight based approach. Take the time to study the competitive landscape, exactly who the executives are that you’re up against selling into your accounts. Understand how they typically engage, the messages they deliver, the agenda and traps they seek to set. Most importantly, know their weaknesses, without lapsing into 'negative selling'. Stay on the cusp of where technology is going so you can bring the new new thing to the table.

“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”

A leader is only as good as her team. Because 'they' are 'us'. Leadership is an inverted pyramid, it’s about empowering the troops. Serve your team members, empower and enable them. Help them to serve their best customers as helping transcends selling. You will build loyalty by building up people. Focus on their strengths and help pair them up with others on the team that can make them stronger with complimentary skill-sets. When you set big, hairy, audacious goals for a team, they can become achievable harness the synergy that is created by moving as a united force. When the chips are down, the numbers are being missed, hold meetings as a group and one-on-one. Invest ample time into providing training and coaching. Exhibit passion into ensuring their success. It’s a throwback of an idea but ride along and go into the field with them. Sell alongside them and even roll up your sleeves to collaborate on proposals and calls. Stand united by a common vision in your go-to-market strategy and be sure to include marketing in your cohort.

“Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?”

We only use a fraction of the capacity of our brain. Even in Sun Tzu’s day he was talking about the unlimited power of living up to our own potential as human beings. Avoid the 'busy fool' syndrome which is the height of folly. Doing everything at once is diffused effort. But applying effort in a focused direction and putting your back into it, your heart and soul into it and making your life’s work your magnum opus, is seldom seen. The greatest leaders focus, stay humble and give their all each day in serving others. They inspire this level of dedication and intensity in others though purpose in their cause. They enjoy maximizing effectiveness and efficiency toward an achievable goal. This is how they are able to consistently exceed the target.

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

Winner’s win. It’s as simple as that. As you carve out turf inside an account, you can land and expand. Revenue growth becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Once you topple the status quo and help a client realize the inefficiency of their wasteful legacy systems, you’ll often see a domino effect where they’re looking to have you leverage you expertise as a budding trusted advisor to fully transform their entire business, applying your full suite of solutions across the board. Up-sells and cross-sells then materialize as a complex suite of solutions provide the answers within a trusted buyer-seller relationship.

Success in sales is similar to sports. You are exercising a mental muscle. Those that win are never satisfied. Yes, one must pause occasionally while summiting the mountaintop. Take in the fresh air and the view. In the panoramic distance is the next vista which is always yours to seize. It burns into your psyche, fueling your self-mastery. In the execution phase of fulfillment, clients often get even more excited about the value you can bring as a partner. Even as the ink is still drying on the contract, keep going because closing a sales merely opens the relationship to a new abundance of possibilities.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Johan Sisno

Do Nothing, Your Greatest Competitor

Every business operates in one of three modes: growth, steady state (even keel) or crisis. Only growth mode is sustainable but one of these modes is the most difficult and dangerous to engage. The way we sell is more important than what we sell and understanding the operating mode of your customer has a huge impact on the likelihood of sales success.

Every commercial enterprise is driven by a need to increase profit. Most government organizations are driven by a desire to improve service through efficiency and effectiveness (not that they have any idea what that actually means – I describe most government agencies as the blind leading the deaf). However, these outcomes for both commercial and government entities are ideally achieved without increasing costs or exposure to unacceptable risk. In essence, there is a universal desire to achieve more with less and any proposal or business case should focus on greater output or more revenue from existing resources, or achieving greater productivity (less cost or effort) resulting in better efficiency.

The pace of business (decision urgency and priority) is determined by the organization’s operating mode and it’s vitally important to understand which mode is in play when seeking to influence a purchasing decision.

When an organization is in growth mode decisions are made rapidly and the business drivers are usually productivity and profit. They also have an appetite to invest and this profile is the ideal prospect.

When an organization is in survival mode they have their own unique requirements and although they also make fast decisions, the business drivers are to reduce direct variable costs and improve cash-flow (not to be confused with profit). They are motivated to buy but you must manage the commercial risk for your side in providing credit.

When an organization is in maintenance mode (even keel or business-as-usual) decisions are usually made slowly and based upon incremental improvements in productivity and profit while also reducing costs. When dealing with a business in maintenance mode it can be difficult to identify specific drivers and obtain decisions.

Organizations in either growth or crisis mode are much easier to sell to than those who are in even-keel / steady state mode. Why should someone take on the risk and pain of change when they are operating in a business as usual environment? The answer is that there must be a compelling business case or a strong senior executive driving the initiative; otherwise you are dealing with the most frustrating and insidious competitor of all – ‘do nothing’. Ignore the status quo at your peril. Always ask: Why will they buy anything at all? Then ask: Why will they buy from me?

Winning business in complex enterprise selling is always difficult. The mix of variables can be mind-bending, as individual politics and agendas combine with corporate drivers and modes of operation to create a mine-field of explosive termination points for unwary sellers. Plan, prepare and strategize every deal – that’s what makes you a professional; you are someone who is masterful and aligning with the right agendas and managing risk.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: brett jordan

The BIG Question Customers Want To Ask

Customer churn does massive damage to any business because a ‘leaky bucket’ of revenue destroys confidence and the ability to invest. Unhappy ex-clients also retard business development activities and undermine marketing efforts. The best businesses instead harness the power of their happy clients for advocacy, and they measure and reward their staff on creating brilliant ‘customer experience’. Measuring customer satisfaction with systems such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) are essential for astute business leaders who drive a customer-centric culture. 

Make no mistake; winning new customers is expensive and often difficult because empowered buyers are armed with research and they seek to commoditize seller ‘solutions’. Savvy buyers are also distrustful of ROI claims and sales messages when there is not an established positive relationship. On top of these factors, consensus-based decision making means that there are more who can say ‘no’ and there are, on average, five decision makers (or decision-making groups) who have to say 'yes'. The biggest competitor in complex enterprise selling is often apathy, the status quo / 'do nothing'.

Retention programs therefore deliver stronger return on investment and leverage the almost magical power of recurring [compound-curve] revenue streams. Selling to existing clients is comparatively easy compared with new account acquisition but how do you make sure customers don't fall prey to competitor? A simplistic approach is to 'stay close to them and sell more' but relationships today are not enough... we also need to create real value. Whether your customers ask you directly or not, here is their question that you need to address.

How can we derive greater value from fewer supplier relationships?

This question is what the smartest people inside your customer organizations are thinking. They understand that every supplier relationship costs time, effort and money to manage. They also know that concentrating their spending power should deliver better 'value' but they easily focus on price as the lever to pull. But sellers should set the agenda on value rather than price.

Get on the front foot, go disrupt yourself before your competitors do it to you. Deliver innovation for clients to reduce their costs and improve their businesses. Trade lower pricing with the requirement for customers to make greater revenue commitments and deliver advocacy (case studies, testimonials, etc.).

If you are an incumbent supplier with a customer that has upside revenue through greater scale or cross-selling other products and solutions. Secure a meeting their CEO and CFO on the basis that you are unhappy with the level of value they are receiving from you.  Tell them that they are missing an opportunity to derive greater value from fewer suppliers, and that you want to move from supplier to partner by investing to deliver for them with ... (supply chain improvements, greater access to IT systems, share executive insights, etc.).

Never take a customer for granted. There is always an opportunity to provide greater value without reducing price.

As proof of the fact that price is not the most important factor in the decision process for enterprise buyers. CEB research published in The Challenger Sale shows what buyers really value when making their buying decisions. Only 9% is price and 53% is the level of 'value-add' provided through education, insights and a partnering approach to delivering the required outcomes and managing risk.

What is your experience is working with clients to be one of the fewer suppliers delivering greater value? How have you used this strategy to out-fox the competition in the best interests of your client?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Josh Tidsbury Follow Questioning

Lose Fast and Win Slow

I was once part of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team conducting due diligence on a company and we were uncovering anomalies in their data. The owner who was seeking to sell his company jumped on the front foot: "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you and if we can't progress quickly we'll start negotiating with the other party."  Our CEO just look at him calmly and said: "Opportunities are like trains... there will always be another one along shortly."

I learned a valuable lesson... never be desperate and whether you are a buyer or seller, always test the other side. It should always be done with intelligence and good manners. There is no shortage of opportunities, just limited hours in the day for us to invest our time wisely in preparing for success, building relationships and executing the right activities masterfully.

Sales managers need to encourage their sales people to make tough decisions in being productive. Qualifying out of a deal should be a smart decision, not the result of laziness. The decision will depend on the situation but the art of sales management is to stay positive in the way we lead and to instill the principles of 'non hunger' and ‘less is more’. Volume kills quality and it’s easy to be ‘the busy fool.’ The best way to create success is through careful targeting, senior engagement, strong qualification, and then out-investing the competition in deal pursuit. Make sure you know what a well qualified prospect looks like by profiling your very best customers.

"If you are going to lose, do it quickly and graciously. Don't allow a lost cause to drain your time, energy and resources"

The opportunity cost in failing to pursue winnable business is real because while you are being consumed by a distraction you are not investing where you should. It is therefore important to withdraw from a losing situation as early as possible because investing right up until the buyer's final shortlist and then coming second means you were the loser who incurred to most wasted investment of time and resources.

But how do you know if you cannot win a deal? Here is list of tell-tail signs:

  • You were invited into the process late and they just want your price
  • You are denied access to the decision-making power-base of people
  • You are asked questions that highlight your comparative weaknesses
  • You are not given adequate time to prepare a bid response or demo
  • They won't share their business drivers or business case

Equip your sales people to engage in intelligent conversations at senior levels and then establish value and differentiation; or qualify out. As a sales manager; be an encourager, coach and strategist… get out of weeds of spreadsheets and CRM reporting. Instead challenge your sales people to be their very best and challenge your boss to let you invest more time in the field to mentor and coach in driving excellence in execution.

"If you know you can win, take your time to do proper research, planning and resource management. Invest more than any other competitor to differentiate yourself in how you understand the customer and sell"

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker

Main image photo by: Flickr: Tim Norris ...and in last place

How To Snatch Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory


True story. One of the people I coach was recently in a meeting with their reseller and the room was filled with all the stakeholders and decision-makers for a huge enterprise opportunity they had been working with a large government department for 15 months. Toward the end of the meeting the CIO (who owns the budget and signs-off on a purchasing decision) asked; "How long will it take to stand this up for us?" The channel partner sales person didn't miss a beat and jumped-in; "That's an interesting question... the really good thing about what we're offering here is ..." He went on to talk about the joys and wonders of the features they were offering. I kid you not – it really happened.

The best response would have been to ask; "When do you need to have it up and running?" Then follow-up a little later with; "Why is that date important and what happens if it's missed for some reason?"

We need to really listen rather than simply wait for our next opportunity to speak. So many sales people are not really engaged in listening and instead focus on projecting their message or pitch.  No matter what the situation – counseling, resolving conflict, interviewing, consulting or selling – we need to lead by being fully immersed in the conversation and ask insightful open questions. It's always a mistake to use clumsy outdated questioning techniques to attempt manipulation. Transparent sincerity and a genuine interest in the other person is the best way to build trust and positive influence.

So, how do sales people manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory after they've done so much good work to develop an opportunity and establish value? 


A lack of situational awareness causes failure in business and other areas of life. Here are other things that sales people must avoid:

  • Being distracted and failing to be fully there. A sure-fire turn-off for anyone you are seeking to influence.
  • Acting without first thinking. Every action can have unintended consequences and all tactics should be executed within a well conceived strategy.
  • Failing to plan a meeting or leaving without creating progression. You're not a professional visitor; instead you need to be an engineer of value, process and tangible business outcomes.
  • Failing to understand the customer's internal processes for evaluation, selection and procurement process. What date matters to them and why is it important? What's their process and who needs to approve?
  • Introducing unnecessary new information or people. Beware your chest beating boss who wants you to take them out there to close the deal.
  • Allowing lawyers to hijack the process. Lawyers need to be instructed rather than be allowed to engage in esoteric ego-fests. Especially beware external lawyers who make more money the longer it takes and the more complex it becomes

Join the conversation... what are some other common pitfalls you've seen? Let me know by commenting within this post and I'll add them to the list.

In line with the shark theme here... did you know that more people died this year from selfie mishaps (taking daring pictures of themselves in precarious situations) that by shark attack? This summer has been a record for shark attacks here in Australia where we breed them to be very big. I'm a wakeboarder and every time I jump in the water here in Sydney I have flash-backs of the movie Jaws which I saw as a young teenager at the movies. The video below is breathtaking... this real shark is bigger than the one in the movie Jaws.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker

Main image photo from Flickr.