Business Acumen Best Practices
According to Harvard Business Review, executives consider less than 20% of the meetings they have with salespeople to be valuable, and as purchasing decisions are more and more often made by committee, getting buy-in from the C-suite is more important than ever. Here’s the problem- while most salespeople understand the benefits of the products and services they sell, the sales targets they need to reach, and even the sales methodology their team utilizes, they often have a myopic view of business and fall back on pushing products rather than helping customers drive long-term success. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Today’s customers don’t need a sales pitch- they need a partner who can provide long-term solutions to their business challenges, and add value (not just push a product ‘til they’re blue in the face). But, traditional sales training develops traditional salespeople. Even if your team utilizes SPIN Selling, Challenger Sale, MEDDIC, Sandler, or any of the other popular sales methodologies out there, those programs won’t hit the mark if your salespeople don't have the proper foundation in business acumen. The reality is, good salespeople are good businesspeople.
What it all boils down to is developing fundamental business skills (like reading and analyzing a balance sheet or P&L statement). It’s shocking how many organizations commit resources and money to teach groups like HR, IT and other individual contributors how the business makes money, but don’t realize that the sales force needs these skills even more. Salespeople need to understand how their customers’ companies make money and how they measure success. They also need to understand what their customers’ challenges are from a business perspective, and the impact of those challenges not only on the company’s bottom line, but on a myriad of other considerations that impact purchasing decisions.
Lots of sales organizations consider their sales methodology to be their ‘special sauce,’ but, if you ordered a Big Mac® hamburger, and all you got was a bun and the sauce, you’d be pretty disappointed. It doesn’t matter how tasty your sauce is, the sandwich is incomplete without the foundation (the meat). Consider the following examples of how a business acumen foundation elevates some of the most popular sales methodologies:
SPIN selling: If your company uses SPIN, you’ll know that it focuses heavily on identifying a customer’s challenges and enabling them to come to their own solution. But with business acumen as a foundation, SPIN sellers can understand their customers’ root business challenges that impact company performance, and can help customers see how your products and services solve their business challenges and improve the bottom line.
Target Account Selling (TAS): Many sales groups use TAS, which sets itself apart from other methodologies by factoring in the customer’s internal politics and the decision-making process stakeholders go through. TAS sellers may understand that a purchasing decision is based on relationships and budgets, and has rippling effects within an organization, but with business acumen as a foundation you and put them in a boardroom full of executives, and they’ll be better able to close the deal because they understand the financial and strategic stories behind those relationships and budgets.
MEDDIC: Who doesn’t love a good sales acronym? Those who use MEDDIC like it because it helps sales teams qualify prospects, identify key stakeholders and deliver consistent messages. Or in other words, MEDDIC is all about sharing a common language to help sellers navigate and close complex deals. Another language that we’d argue is even more important to understand is the language of business. MEDDIC sellers who also speak the language of business can have the right conversations at the right time, with the person who will have the most impact on the purchasing decision.
Challenger Sale: The Challenger sale focuses on being prescriptive, or ‘challenging’ the buyer by mapping out the customer journey, and actively teaching clients how to avoid common business challenges within their industry. For this methodology to be successful, the salesperson must do a lot of research and really understand the company he or she is working with. A solid foundation in business acumen makes all the difference here, as it gives the sales leader a blueprint for understanding their customers’ industries, and what those common business challenges are. That way, their recommendations become more targeted and relevant.
Sandler Selling System: The Sandler Selling System focuses heavily on understanding people and how and why they make purchasing decisions. Sandler sellers with a foundation in business acumen don’t make the mistake of diving so far into the psychology of the person they are selling to, they fail to dive into the reasons the company is making the purchase. Instead, Sandler sellers with business acumen training understand what success looks like, and how the individual’s motivations for the purchase are influenced by the company’s needs, and vice versa.
Our firm’s research (‘Seeing the Big Picture,’ Greenleaf, 2012) has found that only one out of 10 understand the key business metrics that are important to their customers. That means that 90% lack the business acumen to hang with executives. What’s more, according to the Association for Talent Development companies spend about $20 billion on sales training each year, but the real question is, is that investment paying off? The special sauce may make a Big Mac® hamburger unique, but it’ll never pass as a hamburger without the foundation (the meat).
That’s why business acumen training is an absolute must for sales groups. When sales leaders possess business acumen, they pay attention to how their customers’ businesses make and use money, and see the big picture of their customers’ business challenges without losing sight of the details of the sale. This allows them to communicate within the context of those challenges as they utilize the organization’s sales methodology to develop lasting business partnerships, and win more sales.