Not much differentiates one company from another these days – in fact, not a lot separates products, but we all know that the differentiating factor lies in the individual salesperson, their leadership and the strategies employed to gain the high ground.

We also know there is a cost to preparedness as well as a cost to lack of preparedness. One will provide a win and the other a loss.

A number of salespeople consider competition in the world of selling as a setback or a situation that equals conflict and uncertainty. When they find themselves in a competitive sales situation some wouldn’t have a clue where to focus their attention or what steps they will take next.  They are unsure of what actions they will prioritise or how they will react to a competitor being present in their accounts.  The reaction for some is to begin a price war.  And we know that customers do not always buy on price (even though that’s what they may tell you).

After reading the works of Sun Tzu in his book The Art of War, he describes beautifully the rules of competition and how to use these rules to our own advantage.  Initially designed for the battlefields of China some 2,500 years ago, his works have now been adapted to leadership, business and more relevantly sales strategies.  He says that ‘success in competition more often depends on our ability to avoid conflict rather than win it’ and to win it we need to have strategies.

One of those strategies is summed up by this very ‘relevant to 20th century sales leadership behaviour’ statement :

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

If you were sent to any of the wars we have witnessed in the past century – WW2, Vietnam or Iraq and you had never been trained in battle, how would you go?

The Australian Defence Force refers to this as being ‘Individual Ready’ – available to deploy, be fit and healthy and hold weapon proficiency. The Australian Chief of Army’s Preparedness Directive of 2008 states that ‘individual readiness is the foundation of collective preparedness’.

How To Win On The Front Line Using Strategy, Sun Tzu and Sales Readiness

How ‘individual ready’ are you in your ability to remain physically fit and healthy – whether it be in coping with the heat, the terrain or the lack of sleep? In selling, how do you ensure you have energy to do more than the average salesperson,  keep  up with your industry and stay one foot in front of your competition?

How ‘individual ready’  are you in your ability to operate your tool of trade – whether it be a gun, a sword or in sales today your CRM, your apps, your BI tools, even your phone?

How ‘individual ready’ are you from a mental readiness perspective  – your ability to handle stress, isolation, ability to think on your feet, have the institutional fortitude to fight back, hang in there and duck and weave on the fly?


Being ‘individual’ ready’ in defence force terms is what you are assessed on before you are sent to any front line. The outcomes are a given. If you’re not ready you don’t get deployed. If you can’t fire your weapon, undergo and pass physical fitness levels and demonstrate sound mind, health and availability, you don’t go. Because in any competitive or combative situation you will have no strategic or tactical advantage and you will lose. Sun Tzu knew this and so does every leader on the planet. Some choose to train their army and some choose to not make it a priority at all.

And regardless of the title a leader carries, whether it be general, sales manager or company owner, if they are not thoroughly trained, they too, will come up short. They too, will go to market inwardly uncertain, or quail (think chicken!), lacking the necessary conviction, agility and preparation. That ill-prepared energy will be noticed by the enemy, as well as by the troops, and disadvantage you, because people smell fear and doubt and uncertainty, no matter what brave mask is being worn.

Any general needs to teach his army how to handle their weapons, become combat proficient , respond and be responsive, understand how to adapt to a shifting landscape and they, themselves need to be individual ready as well and overcome what Sun Tzu says are the five dangerous faults which may affect any general – recklessness, cowardice, a hasty temper, sensitivity to shaming and over solicitude for his men. Traits seen in many sales leaders today, as well.

If a general has no training then how can he, in turn train and mentor his men and women in how to ‘attack’ and ‘defend’.

A sales leader needs to be able to demonstrate ways to ‘attack’  for those moments you find, or could create a reason for, moving forward:

Frontal  – do you have strength in solution, price or reputation?

Flanking – can you shift the customer’s focus and move the goalposts to suit your solution?

Fragmenting – are you able to divide and conquer – to focus your customers mind on a smaller area of issues your solution can address?

As sales leaders you need to be able to ‘defend’ your territory even at times when  there is no reason to fight, or if you want to buy time or slow down a process, or if there is no opportunity to proceed the sale at this point in time:

Develop – how do you put yourself in a favorable position for future opportunities?

Defend – what do you do to protect your existing relationship and base?

If your sales team are unaccustomed to any forms of training, they are not individual ready, and they will go to the market holding back, putting up barriers, retreating, making concessions, smelling of fear, and losing. What you want them to do is continually prepare, practice, stay strong, understand the long game, fight back, stay resilient, understand the different angles, get inside the enemy’s head and win.

But this cannot happen if the general places little or no value on their army as being pivotal to success, and therefore won’t support them in becoming individual ready by training and investing in their personal and professional development.

If ranks higher than the general also place no value on training their army, least of all their generals, they will lose eventually. And a losing culture can never succeed or remain a sustainable concern.

Gratitude to the troops all around the globe who do put in the rigorous drill, training and commitment to keep their country (and their company) on the front line.

Especially proud of our daughter, Sargent Danielle McClelland who served with the RAAF from  2005 to 2015 and was deemed individually ready for deployment to the Middle East.

Is it your time to get ‘Individual Ready?‘ If it is, please contact me. It’s what I do.

Be Bold, Brave and Brilliant

The Science of Strategy - What Steve Jobs and I Have in Common

Bernadette McClelland is CEO of 3 Red Folders – a modern day saleswoman and keynote speaker on business growth, personal leadership and sales performance.

BIO: Business environments wanting to increase their revenue and profits, and differentiate themselves in a competitive market, ask for Bernadette McClelland because of her thought leadership on sales performance, her ideas on thinking beyond resilience and her fresh perspectives surrounding personal leadership skills — all designed to master the outcomes that matter.

Bernadette has proudly coached Harvard MBA students on their sales enablement curriculum, been the Master Asia Pacific coach for Anthony Robbins across twelve countries, authored five books on leadership and sales transformation, won a coveted Telstra award for Business Excellence, and continually shares her ideas around behaviour, the brain and business growth on stages in the UK, Europe, Thailand, India, NZ, Australia and North America.

Believing that sales performance is a leadership issue, you will also find her heading Melbourne’s human potential based sales performance consultancy, 3 Red Folders, as she navigates lead generation, message to market and digs deep into sales process activities with her clients in the mid-tier sector as well as founding ‘Women Who Sell’, an initiative designed to bring more women up to speed in their sales success.

Book your Conference or Sales Kick Off Meeting today!
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Image’s Courtesy of Danielle McClelland

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