Sales reps that want to be the best and make the most today have to develop a business acumen – period. There just isn’t an industry out there that can sell its products or services like it did 10 years ago. That isn’t true in the business technologies field, and I am certain it is the same across all industries.
So, what is business acumen?
You can Google many definitions of business acumen, but as I think about selling in a Business-to-Business environment, there are three basic understandings of business competencies that roll up to business acumen:
- Market space – the competitive landscape of an industry and the marketplace realities it operates in.
- Financial – how decisions impact profitability and the key metrics a business measures itself by.
- Operations – workflows within the business and how decisions in one area impact other areas (interdependency).
Why having business acumen is important
In the business technologies industry we are increasingly looking to speak with the C-level decision makers, and reaching that executive level requires business acumen. At that level those leaders are looking for solutions to business challenges, how they can be more profitable, and how they can mitigate risks just to name a few. Without a clear understanding of how their business works, a sales rep’s words will ring empty and the meeting will be over before it starts.
But, demonstrate an understanding of the unique challenges they face in their industry and how what you do can truly help them achieve their goals and you have a good chance of becoming a valued advisor and partner. Just as these businesses look for leaders in their own companies that can make the right business decisions to achieve goals, they are looking for vendor partners that can make those same contributions.
How to develop business acumen
The good news is business acumen isn’t something you are born with, it can be learned. Here are some suggestions on developing your business acumen:
- Commit to learning – Increase your knowledge about how the businesses you are targeting operate. This is particularly valid for sales reps that specialize in specific industry segments.
- Cultivate relationships – Identify individuals in the areas you want to develop knowledge in and discuss general industry realities with them.
- Cultivate your knowledge and understanding – This will naturally flow from cultivating relationships – learn about the challenges leaders face in their industry and the operating concerns they have.
- Ask your customers what they want – It may sound simple, but simple questions can provide a lot of very useful information. When you ask people what they want, they typically will tell you.
- Read – The internet provides a plethora of industry relevant information. Set aside a regular “research” time in your schedule each week and dig in.
The ability to have confident business conversations is the goal, and the way to get there is to develop business acumen. The more you focus on this, the more genuine your conversations will get. You’ll also find the conversations to be more rewarding as you’ll be stepping into a true consultative partner position. When you have it people will see it and look at you as having a sense for knowing what needs to be done in business situations.
About the Author
Keith Fierek, Sales Manager – EO Johnson Business Technologies
Keith Fierek began his career with EO Johnson in 1989 as a service technician. He moved into sales working in major accounts, as a color specialist, managing product groups, and was promoted to Wausau Sales Manager in 2007. He is actively involved in the community and is a past president for the Marathon County United Way Board of Directors.