Collector - May 2017 - 42
Sun Tzu and the Art of Collection Sales
How ancient military strategies can help you get and keep new business.
By Marc Trezza
he lessons of Sun Tzu's The Art of
War are thousands of years old, and
it's their time-tested wisdom and
basic simplicity that make them so valuable
to business managers today.
The book has been required reading in
institutions such as the Columbia Business
School, Harvard University and the U.S.
military, and it has been used by venture
capitalists and business leaders worldwide
The timeless advice of Sun Tzu can
also be applied to collection sales to help
owners make better, more successful
business decisions in an often-challenging
aspect of agency management.
You may wonder how a treatise on
warfare could apply to agency sales.
Keep in mind that business strategy first
evolved from military strategy. Since the
first military leader employed infantry
and cavalry together, armies have been
successfully dealing with the challenges of
truly distinguish agencies from their
competitors, who are most often taking a
Sun Tzu's advice on strategy and tactics
can be a transforming tool to build a more
productive sales effort through enriched
sales methods and management.
WIN ALL WITHOUT FIGHTING
Debt collection agencies that achieve
market dominance (major market share) are
better able to influence the industry, direct
its evolution and establish an excellent
competitive position, allowing them to set
the industry's standards and define the
Those same advantages tend to increase
revenue while lowering costs, ultimately
increasing profitability. If an agency achieves
relative market dominance properly,
prosperity will come.
That's not to say that relative market
dominance is a requirement. There are
"Sun Tzu's advice on strategy and tactics can
be a transforming tool to build a more productive
sales effort through enriched sales methods
cross-functional coordination and teams-
balancing discipline and control with
empowerment and delegation.
For many debt collection agencies, sales
is a difficult challenge. Often there is a
lack of coherent strategy and tactics-
beyond telling a salesperson to "get on
the phone and sell our services." Neither
the process nor the marketing materials
Editor's note: This is the first in
a series of seven articles
examining innovative sales
techniques based on Sun Tzu's
The Art of War.
agencies with a low market share that have
found defensible positions in our industry
along with sustained profitability. They
understand their strengths and weaknesses,
and have carved out a niche where they can
survive and prosper.
But this is often a dangerous position.
Sometimes clients go away even if we are
doing a great job. For instance, maybe a
client hires a new manager who brings
in an agency he worked with before to
replace you. Without a robust marketing
and sales effort to offset that loss of
revenue, the agency could find itself in
The only way to truly control your
agency's destiny is to build an effective sales
approach-addressing your team, tools,
policies, procedures, benchmarks and realworld achievable goals-that will protect
your future with sustainable, profitable new
This article, the first in a series of seven,
addresses one of the first steps in Sun Tzu's
writings: Laying Plans. It involves thoroughly
assessing conditions, looking for strategic
turns and comparing attributes.
Let's break each of these down.
The vision of what an agency wants to
be and where it wants to go must be
planned with an awareness of reality.
Vision components articulate purpose,
mission, guiding values and a vivid image
of the agency's future. This is necessary to
determine strategy, set strategic initiatives
and align the organization.
The more sophisticated the planning
process becomes, the harder it is to
introduce flexibility to accommodate
changes. Any football coach will tell