Business Acumen Supersedes Sales Acumen
By Ton Verleg
How do you change a prospect’s perspective about their situation and challenges? In modern selling, we need to become better at this. Watch out for the key actions you can take today. This is a re-post article from 2020.
You need strong sales acumen.
For years Salespeople have been working on their product knowledge, their selling skills, and sales processes so they are optimally equipped to connect with prospective customers, winning their business over. In those days, customers were quite happy to meet with salespeople because they were good sources of information and had solutions they sought for their business. Customers make decisions based on value creation in terms of what capabilities like products, services, brands, and prices can do for their business.
Sales organizations recognized that the better their sales force was trained, the more likely they could close opportunities. But, until today, Strong sales acumen is required to be your team’s sales champion. You need to possess product knowledge, features, and benefits knowledge, great relationship building, and a master in overcoming objections.
But you need business acumen even more.
Things have changed. The buyer and the way they are buying has changed. You are no longer the source of information and possible solutions. Buyers prefer to figure out their next moves without contacting sales. You are called in halfway through their buying process, and before you know it, you are part of a spreadsheet and being drilled on price. Sales acumen is no longer the primary attribute that indicates that a salesperson will succeed.
To be successful now in sales, you need to deliver a different type of value to the customer’s table. The role of value creation has required a new set of skills. You need to have a good general understanding of business principles, how business works, how companies make money and what comes with it to stay ahead of the competition. You need to understand how you can help customers achieve their budgets and profit targets while keeping their staff happy and engaged. You need to have Business Acumen.
In the new way of selling, great salespeople leverage their business acumen to identify areas where value can be created. They develop ideas and insights relevant to prospective customers’ objectives and how a change can impact their growth and bottom line.
So how can you improve your Business Acumen? It seems there is a bit of a mystery around this. True, business acumen takes time and effort to acquire, but it doesn’t mean that without an MBA, you cannot possess good Business Acumen. The opposite is true. Although you need to be comfortable with numbers and understand basic financial metrics, in many cases, street smart wins from book smart.
Here are some suggestions on how you can improve your Business Acumen:
Read (and listen to) the right stuff. …
Buy a book that covers how financial statements work, balance sheets and why cash flow is king for many businesses. You need to understand what ROI means for a business owner. Plenty of books on the market can explain this in less than 150 pages. Pick up a copy of the Harvard Business Review, Business Week, Forbes, or Fortune; even better, read these online, listen to some videos or podcasts in these magazines, write down what interests you and discuss these in sales team meetings. This will give you a basic understanding of business concepts and the accompanying vocabulary.
Use your own company’s resources.
Invite your peer in the finance or accounting department to lunch. Ask them to walk you through a profit and loss statement (your company or customer) and tell you what they see. Public companies provide annual reports containing P&L statements you can find online. Ensure you keep fit because why not invite procurement, marketing, and operations to your lunches? If you feel comfortable enough, ask a senior management team member to give you some insight on topics they discuss in the boardroom on how to grow and generate more profit.
Learn how your customers make and spend money. …
One of the best ways to learn how businesses work is to ask your customers. Once they understand your intention (helping them to grow their business and make more profit), they are more than happy to share with you how they compete in their markets (strategy, marketing), the challenges they receive from their customers (operations, customer service), their financial results and plans for the next period or year (accounting, finance, strategy). Talk to as many customer stakeholders as you can. They all have different knowledge, insights, and views on their part of the business.
Share your experiences in team meetings
Start talking about the big pink elephant in the room: if everyone is already a Business Acumen expert, they would have been selling differently. Don’t worry, you and your sales colleagues are all in the same boat. Everyone has to improve at Business Acumen, and what better way to learn from each other? Share business cases where your customers are pressuring you on a better price, and you need to figure out how to help your customer in cost savings, revenue growth, or both.
In the past, success in sales depended very heavily on the salesperson’s sales acumen. Although Sales Acumen is still needed, you must be able to talk business to make a difference and add value to the customer conversation. To be a top salesperson now, your Business Acumen supersedes your Sales Acumen.