What “Game of Thrones” Can Teach Salespeople About Relationships

May 16, 2019

Sales and Game of Thrones

“I did warn you not to trust me.” — Littlefinger

Relationships matter. In life. At work. Even at your local Starbucks where a regular interaction with the spunky green-haired barista can ensure your venti extra hot latte is crafted just right.

For relationships to work and have longevity, trust is crucial. And as the latest LinkedIn State of Sales report showed us, trust is the most important consideration for business decision makers when weighing a purchase.

 In short, sales is about trust and relationships. And, with the finale of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” looming this Sunday, we’ll make the case that an important thread in this landmark program is also about trust and relationships. What’s more, salespeople can learn a thing or two about our profession by analyzing the relationships between a few central “Game of Thrones” characters.

Read on to discover a bit about three key relationships in “Game of Thrones” and a lot about its hidden lessons for salespeople.

Cersei and Jaime Lannister

This powerful pair are brother and sister — twins, in fact — and the intricacies of this sibling relationship are, shall we say, unique. As Cersei herself has described it, “Jaime and I are more than brother and sister. We are one person in two bodies. We shared a womb together.”

Cersei, a queen, and Jaime, the Kingslayer, whose murder of a previous king paved the path for his sister to ascend to the Iron Throne, are more than brother and sister. They are lovers. (“Game of Thrones” shattering expectations. Who knew?) They are also the kind of lovers who would kill for each other. And have. Jamie, for instance, has perpetrated shocking acts, like heaving a small child from a castle tower, solely to protect Cersei’s honor.

In the end, their unnaturally tangled bond appears to have been their undoing. In the penultimate episode of “Game of Thrones,” just before Jaime and Cersei are crushed to death by the crumbling Red Keep, he says his final tender words to her, “Nothing else matters. Only us.”  

Lessons for Salespeople: Here’s the thing: Jaime, while he had other relationships — such as with his brother, Tyrion, and with Brienne of Tarth — he was not truly multi-threaded. He focused almost entirely on Cersei. Salespeople should learn from Jaime not to rely too much on a single decision-maker but strive to be close to as many people in the buyer’s circle as possible. Otherwise, your deal (and not your quota) could get crushed.

Arya Stark and The Hound

This implausible alliance began when young Arya Stark, Lady of one of the great houses of Westeros and a child at the time, was taken captive by an indiscriminate killer, known throughout the land as The Hound. He fathomed she could fetch a healthy ransom from one of her well-heeled relatives in the north.

The long road changed their relationship, and they became traveling companions of sorts, getting to know each other and (of necessity) having one another’s back. The pair ultimately established a shared respect, almost affection; yet there remained an air of suspicion between these two warriors. The tale is longer than can be told here, but after months of arduous travel, The Hound was near mortally wounded. He asked Arya, begged her, to end it for him, kill him as to quell his suffering. Instead, she stole his gold and left him to die. Or perhaps, to live.

They met again, years later, on the cusp of a pending battle with an existential foe, both serving in the same army. Arya had evolved into a formidable assassin, and The Hound had somehow become more human. Even through their awkward reunion, there appeared a spark of camaraderie, an easy familiarity between them.

After triumphing in the battle against the Night King’s Army, The Hound and Arya ride off to another ominous fight. “If I get hurt, you going to leave me to die again?” he asked her.

“Probably,” she said, a slight smile crossing her face.

When the showdown that The Hound has been waiting for, a fight to the death with his hated brother, The Mountain, was imminent—The Hound turns to his traveling companion and makes it clear if she continues with him toward this battle, she will die. Because of their long, complicated relationship and the respect they have for each other’s fighting skills, Arya understands that The Hound is speaking the truth. Also, she realizes The Hound’s fight with his brother is not her fight. She heeds his advice — and lives. At least long enough to take part in the series finale.

Lessons for Salespeople: Trust must be earned over the long term. Great salespeople will have given their customers enough good advice during the course  of the relationship that they can feel secure telling the client when they’re about to straight up make a mistake, just like The Hound warned Arya from risking it all  in a battle that wasn’t hers to fight. Successful relationships are based on honesty, the desire to create mutual wins, and the willingness to never behave in solely self-serving ways. When we do this, we can fail and still be trusted.

Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen

Loathed by his father, Tyrion is the black sheep of the Lannister clan. He hated his sister and sought a new queen from across the narrow sea, one Daenerys Targaryen. Sensing her gentle heart, he accepted her offer to be Hand of the Queen (her principal advisor) and worked to architect a plan to overthrow Cersei.

Early on, Tyrion faced a ruthlessness in Daenerys that troubled him. Still, he felt his wise counsel would be enough to allay her worst impulses.

As the strategy played out, it became clear that Tyrion’s influence was (at best) limited. Time and again, he warned Daenerys against rash and brutal acts, and she chose otherwise; committing merciless deeds like crucifying a hundred slave masters and burning alive a father and son by dragon fire. Tyrion’s worries increased.

His associates noticed as well, and questioned him on her worthiness, but he stood by his queen, even as her hard-heartedness grew.

In last week’s episode, Daenerys and her army laid siege to King’s Landing with fire and blood. Surrender was swift, as verified by the piercing knell of the tower bells. But the dragon queen’s rage overtook her, and surrender or not, she burned the city to smoldering ash, killing many in her wake.

Tyrion had desired so deeply that she be what he imagined, that he failed to see what she was. He lacked trust in what he saw and what he knew, and ultimately, in himself.

Lessons for Salespeople: Trust is currency, flowing both ways. If you feel a client is sharing short of the truth, don’t disregard it. Dig deep to get to the crux of things. And heed what your eyes, ears and instincts reveal. Learn from Tyrion, learn when to abandon a coveted deal — even if you’ve chased it for months or years — that’s not going to happen. Create strategies based on real things, not on what you hope for.

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