The Art of B2B Sales: How Sun Tzu’s Ancient Wisdom Can Help You Close More Deals Faster



Sure, you look pretty great with a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War on your office bookshelf, but have you actually read it?

You wouldn’t be the first to admit that it’s a tough slog, and the terminology is no doubt dated. Plenty has changed in the past two centuries, right?

To quite the contrary, nothing has changed. Sure, we don’t spend much time thinking about how horsemen fare against spearmen anymore (outside of Game of Thrones, that is), but the fundamental principles that Sun Tzu teaches are really about human nature, and when you strip away all of the “things” and look at the “who,” you’ll realize that people haven’t changed a tick.

Sun Tzu talks about outmaneuvering competitors and strategizing for success, and his wisdom is just as useful to salespeople today as it was to generals then. In fact, with minor substitutions, we unearth phrases like “The art of sales is of vital importance to the company, a road to either safety or ruin!”

And so it is that sales is the lifeblood of your organization for when it ceases, so does business!  So let’s wage war (so to speak), and help you fight and scratch your way to sales victory! Here are some instructions laid out by Sun Tzu and translated for the modern B2B salesmen and saleswomen: 

1. “If words of command are not clear and distinct…the general is to blame.”

Sales translation: If there’s a miscommunication, it’s the salesperson’s fault.

Ever meet a salesperson full of excuses? If the deal blows up, the customer was crazy. If the demo goes south, the client “didn’t get it.” If the leads aren’t coming in, it’s marketing’s fault. What Sun Tzu prescribes here is to take some responsibility. All you can control in the world is your message and how you’re saying things. If there’s a trend that situations keep going wrong and you’re at the center of it, it’s time to do a little introspection!

It could be your delivery, your tone, or your subject matter, but whichever it is, an openness to receiving this often-ignored feedback from prospects and customers and then changing your message is the only way to truly improve. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your sales number, not your buyers, and if you want the right outcomes, that’s on you!

Tip: Have colleagues listen in on your calls to provide you with feedback and then try your hand at Improv comedy to improve your delivery.

2. “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

Sales translation: Sell value, not discounts.

What Sun Tzu is talking about here is winning by strategy rather than by force. In sales, this means winning by selling the value of your product and explaining how it helps your prospects solve their problems better than anyone else’s. Do that, and you don’t even have to talk about price.

However, more often than not, salespeople fall short of this. They get lazy and try to conquer battles through brute force, throwing out discounts and hoping for a quick close. This inevitably leads to price wars with inferior competitors where they cleave their own commission and devalue their products all because they failed to educate their prospects on how they aren’t a commodity.

Teach yourself to be patient and sell value, and you’ll win practically without fighting. There’ll be less back-and-forth “battle of the dueling demos,” which means a shorter sales cycle. And of course, less discounts means bigger deals, which gets you to your quota faster.

Tip: Use the PCSB format for presenting your product as your prospect’s solution:

Problem: Here’s the challenge you’re facing

Cause: Here’s why it’s happening

Solution: Here’s how our product fixes that

Benefit: Here are the result of having that fixed

3. “The highest form of generalship is to foil the enemy’s plans.”

Sales translation: Lay landmines for your competition.

What’s a sales landmine? It’s something that you offer to your prospect to trap your competitors into saying predictable things and dissolve their credibility. Here’s how it works: Study your top competitor’s materials (always be on their email chains, watch their demos, and become a prospect of theirs) and learn what they each commonly say against you.

Perhaps it’s something like, “They’re too expensive.” Warn your prospects what they’re about to be told word-for-word; you can even arm them with tough questions to ask that vendor. When your predictions prove true, your competition’s advice to the prospect will blow up in their face.

This has the beautiful effect of making the buyer immediately skeptical of the other salesperson, and while their stock plummets, yours will rise. You’ll ascend to the level of trusted advisor.

Tip: Try using the phrase, “Oh, that competitor is great at (something unrelated to the client’s needs), but you’re probably going to hear X, Y, and Z from them, and they tell everyone this, but it’s just not true. Just be prepared to hear that.”

Now, on to waging sales!

Are you feeling electrified by the possibility of what these ancient wisdoms can do for your deals? They’re powerful and they’ve been practiced not only by me, but by Chinese generals for millennia, for Sun Tzu’s cunning observations of human nature transcend the ages and ring true even to this day.

You’ll become a more strategic salesperson if you take responsibility for your communications, educate and sell based on value, and foil the competition’s plans. Do this, and you’ll have mastered the art of sales!

What other ancient (or modern) wisdom do you apply to your sales strategy? Share in the comments below!