Somme-Inspired Selling

Learning about the First World War at school captured my imagination.   At The Somme, senseless slaughter along 40ks of frontline.  Almost one million combatants cut down.  One of the turning points in warfare.

Many sales texts historically feature hints from military strategies.  Indeed, the very word ‘campaign’, orignally from the French for ‘open field’ where most battles were fought in the middle ages, is a central one in sales thinking nowadays.  So many lessons come out of what happened from 1st July, 1916.

Whilst thinking of the leadership mistakes, and their subsequent rectification, I realised there were a couple of sales campaigns I’m involved with right now that could take a leaf out of the Somme tactics book, and with a clever rethink I reckon we could prevail.

Somme Mistakes

Excessive reliance on one initial tactic – The heavy artillery bombardment was meant to soften up the enemy German positions before our boys went over the top.  Yet the Germans built deep underground bomb-proof bunkers.  As soon as the whistles sounded, they took up their positions and cut down all that advanced.  Ever got the feeling your chosen initial tactic was not generating the required results?

Poor intelligence – The commanders didn’t have a proper view of what was going on.  How often have you clamoured for intel on exactly how a campaign is going?  Where can you get it from?

Unwillingness to alter the plan despite events – Commander Lieutenant-General Sir TLN Morland sat up an observation post 3 miles from the front with Reserves at his disposal.  He had several chances to send his men to build on initial success, but failed, wrongly thinking repeated assaults would win back the French town of Thiepval.  How often have you thought about re-sending the same old email just once more, and then lost the initiative on a deal to a competitor?

Somme Success

Decisions made as events unfolded – Captain TF Tweed of the Salford Pals was too intimidated to make a decision without recourse to HQ first time around.  Later leaders at the front line, under Herbert Shoebridge, had no such fears.  They could adapt to events, can you in the face of HQ meddling?

New tactic evolution – With the previously favoured softening up not working, the  “creeping barrage” artillery attack was developed.  This new use of weaponry meant soldiers could walk across No Mans Land behind a shield of shells landing in front of them as they progressed.  What evolution of a sales ploy can you think of?

The Tank’s first appearance – Fascinating one this, the tank was originally dissed as an idea by the top brass, yet Churchill (the legend) decided it must be developed so took it into the arms of the Admiralty (a ‘land-ship’, you see!) and it changed history.  The Germans had never seen anything like it, and although inevitable breakdowns and confusion occured, the brand new tank worked wonders.  A brand new arrow for your quiver exists somewhere….

Air observation – the problems of not knowing fully what was going on were eradicated by using planes to send back accurate reports.  How else can you gather vital intel?

Adapting lessons learned can certainly be applied to altering course in current sales campaigns.


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