How A Little Known Concept From Sun Tzu’s Art Of War You’ve Never Heard Can Apply To Your Sales Pipeline


Anyone who has ever been involved in selling something knows that there are so many things that can influence the deal.  Experienced sales teams use formal gates and stages to communicate the progress in their pipelines.  Ultimately these forecasts are reported to Wall Street.  Public companies ask sales teams to not only forecast the size of all of their deals, but also their close dates.  That’s hard.

One tool that we use at LCG is deploy lessons from the military in areas that are helpful.  SunTzu has a terrific concept that we use in assisting with our forecsasts: the “Shih”.  If you’re not familiar with the concept of the “shih” it is an ancient Chinese philosophy in military art, and a key concept in Sun Tzu’s teachings.  It means the “momentum of battle”, the unseen powers that influence the conflicts of war.

“To win 100 battles is not the height of skill, to subdue the enemy without fighting is.”  Sales people who convince the customer never to publish an RFP have won the war without ever fighting the first battle.  To have that kind of overwhelming fit with an organization is to have the shih. 

In two recently closed deals here at Lima Consulting Group, we closed deals that were not subjected to the normal RFP or competitive bidding processes.  The strength of our team provided the prospect with the confidence that their partnership with LCG would help them achieve advantages against their competitors.

While Sun Tzu principle of the shih goes beyond war and sales.  In today’s go-go corporate world people bounce from project to project and focus and momentum get dispersed.  The modern shih is embodied in a team all working toward a common goal, whether the team is a Fortune 500 company or an incubated startup, and that translates to vision & execution.

The Art of War states “​The skilled general knows shih so well that he or she can use it to achieve effortless victories. For example,


One who uses shih sets people to battle as if rolling trees and rocks.

As for the nature of trees and rocks —

When still, they are at rest.

When agitated, they move.

When square, they stop.

When round, they go.”


Similar to a band of warriors that would be leading the charge downhill against the Chu army in Sun Tzu’s time, the shih binds together in today’s Macbook using, coffee drinking battalion of analysts, managers, engineers, and CEOs.

To have the shih, people need to be the best trained, the processes need to be flexible yet tested and the “combat power” of the team has to be so great that no enemy dares to attack it, so apparent that adversaries become partners, and so observable that prospects become clients. In short, you need to be the best.

To achieve the shih I believe that organizations should provide tremendous value for their customers and have a clear vision to attract and retain the best people.

In short, “Value attracts customers, Vision attracts talent.”

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