The line from Shakespeare, "What's past is prologue" has always resonated with me. History does have a funny way of repeating itself and people who can learn from what’s happened before have an advantage over those that don’t. As we celebrate Memorial Day here in the States, I thought I’d use the time to share some useful insights about one of America’s most successful generals and how they relate to sales enablement professionals today.

General George Patton’s unparalleled ability to execute in WWII sometimes gets overshadowed by his colorful (and stupid) public relations. Because of his quick strike abilities, the Axis leaders feared him more than any other Allied general. What made him truly unique, and someone still studied in military academies throughout the world today, was his formula for success. Patton had a voracious appetite for history and believed that humanity already had a master inventory of all of the strategies and tactics for winning a battle. All one had to do was apply that knowledge to a given situation. His success can be summed up by his ability to model, map, and match.

He was able to model the various elements of a particular battle (from tactics, troop movements, level of aggression of his opponent, terrain, initiative, strengths, weather patterns, etc.) to recognize patterns from an engagement of antiquity. Having identified patterns, he was able to associate (or map) the actions of the victorious general to his situation, giving him a powerful competitive advantage — the trial-and-error wisdom of thousands of successful and failed tactics and strategies of the other generals of the ages. Armed with the best advisor (the collective wisdom of centuries of peers), Patton was able to rapidly and effectively match winning tactics from the past to his specific circumstances.

The results? During the nine months between August 1, 1944 and May 8, 1945 in which he was in France, the Third Army:

◦Liberated or captured 81,522 square miles of territory, including 12,000 cities, towns, and communities.

◦Captured 1,280,688 prisoners.

◦Inflicted 1,811,388 casualties against 139,646 of their own.

◦Destroyed 1,640 enemy planes while losing only 582.

◦Destroyed: 3,833 tanks and armored cars, 4,337 locomotives, 3,664 factories, and 2,809 gun installations.

◦Transported 2.2 million tons of supplies a total of 141 million miles and laid a total of 2,092 miles of rail to supply the Army.

Why is this relevant to today, and for sales and marketing?

Commoditization is driving competitive pressures to levels never before seen. To make matters worse, B2B sales are also becoming increasingly more complex.

Given the velocity of change in today’s business climate, messaging and sales force skill development strategies based on a standard sales presentation and basic training are antiquated tactics that must be replaced with more flexible and adaptive processes.

In addition, training programs about products are no longer suitable. The degree of discernable difference from one product set to another within an industry is so small that buyers struggle to tell products apart.

It is much more valuable to help buyers figure out:

◦What are the root cause problems, and what best practices can be leveraged to solve them.

◦How to help the customer move from where they currently are to a more desirable outcome.

◦How to build a reasonable and accurate business case (note, I did not say ROI) for the project.

◦How to scope and staff the project team.

◦What the world will look like once your products and services are installed.

The only way to provide and continuously update this information is to focus on modeling patterns in your customers; mapping those patterns with back office processes and content; and providing tools to help your sales people identify customer patterns and match them with the right information and tactics required for the specific situation.

It’s about moving marketing from a “one size fits all," mass broadcast mentality into an “our customers are unique,” mass customization orientation. By doing this in a structured way, you will be able to scale this entire ecosystem involved in providing timely, relevant, and in-context information to your targeted executives.

The lesson here of course isn’t that General Patton was “customer centric”, but that he was incredibly successful in creating a high-performance organization which operates effectively in a highly dynamic environment. Following a model, map, and match approach will help the sales people on your front line more quickly adapt to the changing conditions your customers face and be able to add a lot more value to the key executives they are targeting. In an information age, the people who bring the right subject-matter expertise to bear for customers in the most meaningful way will create a sustainable competitive advantage over their rivals. Scaling this ability is the key differentiator moving forward, and doing so requires an execution formula similar to what Patton applied during WWII.