When a German senior officer was captured toward the end of World War II, he said, “General Patton is the most feared general on all fronts. The tactics of the general are daring and unpredictable. General Patton is always the main topic of conversation. Where is he? When will he attack? Where? How? With what?”
In sales, just as in war, there can be only one winner, and today’s conqueror can quickly become tomorrow’s vanquished. In this article, we examine what one of the greatest military minds in history has to teach us about defeating our enemies on the battlefield of business sales. What would U.S. Army General George C. Patton do if he was your vice president of sales?
1. He Would Know how the Enemy Thinks
General Patton outfoxed his archrival, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, known as the “Desert Fox,” in the deserts of North Africa. While the battles between these adversaries were intense, Rommel was actually defeated before they even began.
After serving in World War I, Rommel taught at military academies and published a book on strategy titled Infantry Attacks. Patton was a serious student of military history who read the memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte and carefully analyzed Julius Caesar’s battles. He was also the only World War II general who took his wartime library collection with him on the battlefield. Patton stayed up late many nights reading and rereading Rommel’s book. As a result, he possessed the ultimate advantage: he could read his opponent’s mind and anticipate his next move.
How well do you know your enemies? How much time do you spend studying their Web sites, products, and marketing collateral? Do you take the time to perform an honest win-loss analysis after each engagement? Most salespeople argue that they simply don’t have enough time for these types of activities. However, history repeats itself for those who don’t learn from it. Even though Patton’s dyslexia caused him to read far slower than average, he still found the time to study and read.
2. He Would use Different Strategies Depending on Circumstances
Every battle recorded throughout history has been unique. Battles have been fought by different armies with different plans, weapons, and troop concentrations upon different terrain in different weather and at different times of day. Similarly, every deal a salesperson works on is unique. Each deal involves different people with unique personalities, one-of-a-kind customer requirements and selection processes, and extraordinary decision-making politics. Therefore, the strategy and tactical plans to win each account should be unique as well. The salesperson who employs the same tactics for every account is making a mistake. In the words of Patton, your goal is to “make your plans to fit the circumstances, not the other way around.”
3. He Would be Consumed with Time.
The military leader breaks down time into several elements: preparation time, exposure time, and the moment of attack. Patton wrote in his letters of instruction to his commanders, “Take plenty of time to set up an attack. A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood!” and, once an attack has begun, “Inflict the maximum amount of wounds, death and destruction in the minimum time. Casualties vary directly to the amount of time you are exposed to effective fire. Rapidity of attack shortens the time of exposure.”
Another special moment, the moment to attack, is more important than all others. Recognizing and acting at that moment is key. Action is hesitation’s enemy. Among military leaders there is an adage that a 70 percent solution acted on immediately is always better than a perfect solution acted on later. A general considers time a real enemy.
Time is a salesperson’s enemy because time is finite. On average, there are thirty days in a month and ninety days in a quarter. Time is the governor that determines how many deals can be worked and where effort should be focused. The relentless march of time creates artificial deadlines by which deals must be won. Time is a precious resource that must be conserved, respected, and above all, used to one’s advantage. To a military man, the old saying “time is money” is actually wrong. Time is much more valuable than money. It is actually life and the difference between the living and the dead.
4. He Would Frighten Enemies.
“Battles are won by frightening the enemy,” according to Patton. Frightening the enemy is an important concept in business as well. Most companies don’t realize that one of marketing’s most important objectives is to scare the competition. While a company’s advertising, its press announcements, and the depth and breadth of its Web site are directed at customers, they serve another very important purpose: they frighten the competition’s salespeople in the field. Patton would make sure the web site and other marketing collateral scares the competition and deflates their spirits.
5. He Would Slap the Cowards.
During a visit to a hospital full of wounded GIs in Sicily, General Patton slapped a soldier suffering from battle fatigue and accused him of cowardice. Patton was infuriated that the “yellow belly” was disgracing the honor of the other brave men who had sacrificed for their country. Obviously, the lesson here isn’t to slap people in your workplace. Rather, sales is Darwinian “survival of the fittest” environment where non-performers, naysayers, and hanger on’rs must be washed out before they ruin the morale of the entire team.
An old military saying is that blunders can be forgiven, but a lack of boldness cannot. Or in the words of Patton, “If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.” Whether on the battlefield or in the business world, you cannot gain ground or grow faster than the competition by playing it safe.
Remember, all salespeople are verbal warriors who seek to crush their enemies emotionally and psychologically. As salespeople, we want our competitors to question whether they are working for the right company, to lose faith in their sales skills, and even to second-guess themselves about whether they belong in this profession at all. Our goal is to annihilate the competition. Patton said it best, “May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t.”