Recently, I picked up an ancient and incredibly popular book: Sun Tzu’s Art of War. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you do as it only takes about an hour or so to read the book in its entirety.

There is no doubt B2B sales is in many cases, a battlefield (Do You Treat Your Sales Teams Like the Hunger Games?). Sales reps must become sales warriors and learn to train and strategize like that of Sun Tzu’s soldiers. Here are 5 excerpts from The Art of War that can teach us a thing or two about how to prepare and execute in B2B sales.

1. Know your prospects and know yourself

“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.”

In this sense we are going to switch “enemy” with “potential prospect”. Knowing and understanding potential prospects is a crucial aspect of sales, however rarely executed correctly. The Aberdeen study on the Science of Sales Intelligence shows that 42% of companies have insufficient knowledge of the business needs of prospects.

One of the greatest tools a company can use in this case is sales intelligence. Sure, searching the web is a great resource, however, the Internet is simply becoming too large to find any real-time and accurate data. In one day, the Internet is filled with enough information to fill 168 million DVDs [Link]. Using tools such as connections and trigger alerts, a sales professional is delivered an incredible amount of real-time information to know and understand a potential prospect. In a word from Sun Tzu: in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.

2. Use preparation to swiftly overcome the competition

“To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues.”

In a Social Selling world, B2B buying decisions can start, move forward, and close business online or over the phone – without a single face-to-face meeting. According to a survey conducted by SiriusDecisions, 60% of the buyer’s journey is complete before it gets to sales. If a sales rep is not prepared with recommendations, comments, and referrals from people their prospect trusts, how will they be prepared to close a deal that happens online or over the phone?

Your prospects are out there talking, asking for advice and seeking solutions. If you do not prepare and seek out these people raising their hands for help, your competition will.

3. Choose Your Battles Wisely

“He who knows which battle he should engage in and which he should avoid, will win.”

You need to choose your battles wisely. There are battles you need to stay away from because they will suck up time and resources only to be shelved – just as there are buyers who you need to realize will never become your customers. It’s a simple fact of business; not everyone needs your product or service.

Part of being a salesperson is having to stay on top of your prospects and active sales opportunities. This means that you need to send emails, make phone calls and even connect with them online to stay top of mind with the decision makers.

As most experienced sales professionals know, buyers are busy and getting hit from all different angles addressing the needs of their company as well as being contacted by other sales people. If your buyer is not responding or continuing to blow you off, step back and reevaluate. Don’t be pushy. When you do enough of the right things, in time, the math will add up and the desired results will chase you.

This goes back to an earlier discussion in our blog a couple of weeks ago – Pushy or Persistent: Is There a Difference When it Comes to Salespeople?

4. sell with confidence and preparation

“The winner, after careful preparation, is confident he will win the war before he wages battle. The losers, without preparation, engage the enemy first, hoping they will win the fight.”

For a salesperson, the battlefield should not be the commission but the faith and passion he or she has for the product/service they are selling. A sales manager should lose hours of sleep if their sales reps are looking at the dollar signs for themselves rather than the value for the customer.

Sales professionals must prepare to the point where they know anything and everything about the prospect. They need to know the right person, with the right message, at the right time. Doing so will give them a point of confidence where they no longer become a sales rep but a trusted advisor.

5. Train Your Sales Reps to be sales warriors

“If officers are unaccustomed to rigorous [training] they will be worried and hesitant in battle; if generals are not thoroughly trained they will be inwardly quail when they face the enemy.”

As you can tell in his teachings, Sun Tzu often reiterates the importance of preparation – I don’t think he could stress its significance enough. Your company will not benefit if you do not hire the right people or train them properly. There are career sales people that have been trained for years that your reps will have to go up against and to compete.

Great sales leaders understand that in order to build a winning sales team you need to invest in them and teach them everything there is to know. Do not toss them into battle armed with only a week or two of training and their instincts. Even if a buyer might be interested in what you are offering, they are extremely busy and there is a good chance you don’t even know they are a prospect if you’re not actively listening. 70% of the buying process is happening online and in order to stay ahead your sales reps might need an edge over the competition.

Related to this quote from Sun Tzu:

History of the Sun Tzu’s Art of War

Military greats and business leaders alike have hailed The Art of War. Former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell said, “I’ve read the Chinese classic The Art of War written by Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu has been studied for hundreds of years. He continues to give inspiration to soldiers and politicians. So every American soldier in the army knows of his works. We require our soldiers to read it.”

Today, Sun Tzu’s appeal has extended beyond the military realm into the world of business. IBM, XEROX, 3M, and many other corporate giants use the teachings of Sun Tzu in their training of executives because business by definition deals with competition.