Warning, adult themes, strong language and violence

There are two main themes to pick up from Spartacus in this brilliant series produced by Starz and starring the fabulous but sadly lamented up and coming Welsh actor Andy Whitfield. (What a tragic waste of talent by the way, such a sad loss to his young family and all his fans)

The first lesson is another one on negotiation, and Spartacus teaches us that ultimatums are a big mistake. Not so much the ultimatum maybe, but certainly the concept of raising the stakes. It can be a powerful tactic, to bring a deal to a close for instance, or to test a prospects resolve.

In the featured episode we learn about the Romans ‘management’ of slaves. If you have watched the series, or even studied Roman history, particularly the history of the Gladiators, you may have wondered how on earth Roman families and a hand full of hired guards could have ever controlled a group of what appears to have been highly trained killers!

And further, the owners of the slaves, as the cinema and TV have taught us, treated these proud warriors terribly. And it seems the household slaves even worse. Despite the fact that the slaves in the villa far outnumber the family and guards.

Well, the rule is you see, if one slave, gladiator or normal household slave harms one of the family or indeed one of the guards, all of the slaves would be killed. Wow! Can you imagine? How extreme! But according to Blood and Sand, thats how order was ensured. Not one slave would have dared raise a hand because of the terrible injustice that would befall everyone of their fellows if  they or anyone else had ever dared to respond to the abuse that was  inflicted by the ‘masters’.

But it teaches us something else as well. If you are going to ‘raise the stakes’ to such an extent, you need to be prepared for the other party to raise them right back. OK, it’s a pretty flippant example (but good fun I hope you’ll think!) but the principle is sound. Only raise the stakes of the game you’re in when you are prepared to face the consequences. AND its so important to consider what those consequences might be. Try and second guess every step of the process and consider what the possible outcomes are. Its an old saying, but is very relevant, “plan for the worst and hope for the best!”

If you are going to insist on a rate hike, and the client refuses to resign, where do you go then? If you limit supply to try and drive demand, but no one buys, whats the next step? Anticipate embarrassing climb downs, and avoid putting yourself in that position in the first place! Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But you’d be amazed how many sales people do it all the time. They make some ridiculous demand of a client, and when the client understandably flexes his buying muscles in response they have to make a cringing about face.

Any other lessons? Well probably even more importantly, Spartacus demonstrates two of the most important aspects of the highly successful sales person. The ability  to know what its takes to win, and to come up with a plan to win. And the strength to stay on course with that plan.

Again, we see in the show, a gloriously over the top example as the slaves and gladiators finally rebel, led by Spartacus and his fellow fighters. Given that the Romans had elevated ‘the stakes’ to the extent we have already discussed, Spartacus sees the only way to win their freedom is to ‘Kill them all’. The only way to overcome the power of the Romans threat to kill every slave should even one raise a hand to their masters is to simply kill all the Romans. No witnesses to the rebellion, and in any case,  if they are all dead no one around to deliver the punishment!

It’s unlikely the Romans saw that coming. After cleverly raising the stakes to the extent they believed themselves protected from the ire of the people they were abusing, one of the abused realises there is a way out. All it takes is a plan, and the discipline to stay on plan. The final episode brilliantly shows the horror the gladiators faced and inflicted to win their freedom, but one can’t help thinking the Romans had it coming after treating the people they had enslaved so badly in the first place.

For us every day sales people, swords and heroic deeds aren’t much use, apart from as an entertaining distraction, but the lesson is there for us to see. I guarantee, if you have had more than two years of success at selling, you know what is required in order for you to be successful. The question that remains, is do you have the constancy to do it? And do it over and over. Because whats required rarely changes does it?

It amazes me that time and again I see that sales people, when up against it, will find depths and abilities to pull themselves out of all sorts of ‘sales holes’. A sudden increase in activity maybe, or the closing of a few deals, one on top of the other, or a big effort towards new business generation. Doing enough to take them back to the top of their game. And then seemingly to fade back into some sort of ‘off the pace’ mediocrity? These people don’t do bad work for sure, but they equally don’t work to the level I can see they could aspire to, that is a level commensurate with their abilities and potential.

And time and again I consider is it simply a lack of a plan? Or is it a lack of ability to stay on the plan? I know which I suspect is more likely. The plan is in place, but its the execution of the plan thats the  trick, the difficult part, and the reason not all of us can be great sales people after all.

And maybe the reason not all of us can be great heros of the arena either!