Game of Thrones, the hit TV show from HBO, has become a huge part of the cultural zeitgeist – and with good reason! Featuring dragons, knights, exotic locales, zombies and healthy amounts of sex and violence – not to mention gratuitous development of flawed characters – it’s easy to see why the show (based on the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin) has captured the imaginations of fans.
But what really makes both the show and the book series so popular with an eclectic, wide-ranging demographic is that their themes are timeless and grounded in reality; power, ambition, conflict and leadership. Just because the story is set in a medieval time and in the mythical land of Westeros doesn’t mean that its themes don’t resonate with today’s audiences.
We’re huge fans of the show for precisely this reason (OK, fire-breathing dragons are pretty badass too). Just in time for the highly anticipated season premiere this Sunday, here are 12 lessons in sales management from the most memorable Game of Thrones quotes.
Any man who must say, ‘I am the king,’ is no true king.
- Tywin Lannister
Similarly, any sales leader or C-level executive who goes around beating their chest and looking for opportunities to proclaim their power is one that is not deserving of any real authority. Your reps should recognize and respect your leadership without having to be told to do so. As a CEO or VP of Sales, look to lead your team by setting the right example, not by trumpeting your authority or abusing your power.
The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.
- Ned Stark
Ned Stark was a bastion of honor and accountability, two traits that every great leader should have. While we don’t expect Sales VPs to “swing the sword” (unless you’re firing a deserving sales rep), all great ones should always be accountable – after all, how can they expect their reps to behave in a certain way if they don’t practice what they themselves preach? A good example of this is in transparency. If you want your reps to be honest in their data entry and with their performances, you have to be similarly diligent and open yourself up for such scrutiny as well.
A Lannister always pays his debts.
- Lannister (unofficial) House words
One of the most oft-repeated lines from Game of Thrones, this is another great lesson in accountability (albeit with less vindictiveness and retribution than the Lannisters believe in). Sales managers should always keep their promises, both to their reps and to prospects they sell to. Sales reps would do well to remember this lesson when talking to prospects – if you promise to call back at the same time tomorrow, do so! If you pledge to follow-up with an email in 6 months when the timing is better for the prospect, keep your word.
Yes, [Stannis Baratheon] is a good soldier. Everyone knows that. So was Robert. Tell me something: Do you still believe good soldiers make good kings?
- Renly Baratheon
In the War of the Five Kings, many would-be rulers vied for the Iron Throne, including Stannis Baratheon, a great soldier and commander with a decorated military history. Unfortunately, Stannis was also ill-suited to rule – he lacked empathy, didn’t garner the respect of his peers and failed to see the big picture.
There is a world of difference between being good at sales and being good at sales management. Sales reps are largely focused on themselves and their own day-to-day performances. Sales executives have to see the big picture, think more than just one step ahead, be empathetic to different personalities and, most importantly, earn respect. It would be a mistake to simply promote your best-performing reps to sales management positions.
You know what I learnt losing that duel? I learnt that I’ll never win – not that way. That’s their game, their rules.
- Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish
Looking to break into an already established market that houses some of your key competitors? Take a lesson from Petyr Baelish, one of the most conniving characters in all of Westeros. You can’t simply do the same thing as your competitors – playing “their game, their rules” – and expect to win. What you must do is look for inefficiencies in the marketplace that you can exploit. Littlefinger found the inefficiencies of the ruling elite in Westeros and used them to his gain.
When soldiers lack discipline, the fault lies with their commander.
- Tywin Lannister
The lesson here isn’t just about instilling discipline in the sales reps you manage, as important as that may be. No, the key takeaway from the Lannister patriarch should be that the best leaders fall on their sword. Great Sales VPs know that in victories, reps should get the credit; in losses, managers should accept the blame.
Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.
- Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion has had to face a hard truth his whole life, shunned as a dwarf. Instead of wallowing or shirking from it, Tyrion embraced this fact, and then figured out how to make the best of his situation and station in life.
VPs of Sales have to face many hard truths in their day-to-day – maybe they don’t have enough pipeline, or have to figure out what to do with an underperforming rep, or worst of all: they’re not going to hit their number. Instead of denying these truths or attempting to cover them up, the best Sales VPs acknowledge them (as well as their role in creating these hard truths), figure out what they can learn from them and then come up with solutions.
You know nothing, Jon Snow.
Poor Jon Snow, constantly reminded of his naivete and ignorance, born of a sheltered upbringing. Yet, taking such slights can produce a hunger that can carry one to greater heights (assuming Jon Snow gets there – this is a spoiler-free post).
The best Sales VPs are also the hungriest, never resting on their laurels, constantly reminding themselves that they ultimately don’t know everything (or maybe nothing at all!). A constant yearning for knowledge and improvement is what separates the best sales executives.
A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.
- Tyrion Lannister
One great way to keep stoking that hunger for knowledge and improvement? Read a book! There is a wealth of great literature on sales management out there; VPs of Sales could learn something new, or simply refresh old lessons. We’ve helped them out by putting together a comprehensive list of the 12 best sales management books ever written.
You can’t hammer tin into iron, but that doesn’t mean tin is useless.
- Jon Snow
Sales managers who attempt to mold all of their reps into the same image – with the same tactics and work habits – will come to realize that sales coaching is most effective when it is individually tailored to each rep. Coaching with a one-size-fits-all approach is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Just because some reps don’t display the same characteristics as you or your best rep doesn’t mean that they are useless tin and should be discarded; find ways to mold each rep into a unique piece of sturdy iron.
What is dead may never die.
- Theon Greyjoy
Here’s a good lesson for your sales reps and closers – just because an opportunity has been “lost” doesn’t mean its dead forever. If there is limited pipeline growth or a last-minute scramble to try and hit the monthly goal, consider running a Closed-Lost campaign to revive opportunities that were previously “dead”.
Winter is coming.
- Stark House words
The Starks have used the lesson from their house words to gird their resilience and prepare for the worst – after all, when winter comes it could last for several miserable decades. While sales executives might enjoy the fruits of summer (many deals closed, a robust pipeline), there will inevitably come a time when winter arrives, bringing with it many closed-lost deals and a more barren pipeline. The best Sales VPs will prepare for this and be ready. It might seem a long way away but rest assured; winter is coming.