If you want your sales team to be effective,

focus on business acumen

Published on: June 2020

Written by: Barbara Adey

This article was originally published in Sales & Marketing Management here.

It’s not enough to prepare for a sales call with general industry knowledge. Sellers need business acumen: a customer-specific grasp of business objectives and the metrics a customer uses to measure success.


Sellers need these insights in order to be agile in conversation and adjust their talking points as needed to address the motivations of different executives. That’s how they can position themselves — and the companies they work for — as true partners in success.

As it stands, only 20% of salespeople are prepared to offer any real value during a sales call. For sales leaders, it’s essential to develop their teams’ business acumen so that sellers are equipped to develop ongoing relationships with customers.

Customer-Centric Sales

Business acumen brings credibility. A seller who can range around in a conversation, listening for cues to shift to different business priorities and genuinely landing on the executive’s radar, will be invited back for further meetings.

This savvy also allows sellers to engage around the entire sales cycle and open up opportunities throughout. When sellers can see things from a customer’s perspective, they become trusted advisors.

Sales leaders can build their teams’ business acumen by facilitating the following steps:

1. Gather deep industry knowledge.

It’s not enough to have company-specific information; sellers need a working knowledge of their customers’ industries as well. It goes beyond “show me you know me” to being able to demonstrate exactly how a product or service will benefit a business — or, more to the point, the person seated across the table or fielding the call.

Sellers need to gather in-depth information about prospects and customers. Hit up social channels, read their 10-Ks, and keep up with industry press to know what’s going on right now: What are prospects’ recent struggles? Successes? Competitors? Customers they serve? What are the personas and demographics? All this information can provide context, allowing the seller to speak directly to prospects’ pain points and develop custom solutions for their businesses.

2. Develop the skills to secure a meeting.

Of all the skills to master as salespeople, getting introductions tops the list. In fact, 70% of customers value “connected processes” — contextualized engagements. Think of it as a seamless hand-off between a person in the seller’s network and a decision maker at a company.

Introductions entail more than the introduction itself. They also involve a strong point of view and the right questions to ask so that the customer executives open up about their businesses. It’s all about being relevant and bringing value to the conversation.

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3. Understand customers’ metrics.

Many salespeople enter the room with some understanding of a customer’s business challenges. Not as many come in with knowledge around the financials, initiatives, and KPIs used to measure success. Knowing how an executive will measure success lets a seller speak to those points specifically.

The seller must focus on the customer by offering assistance, following up regularly, and even helping to strategize next steps. The goal here is to ensure that the customers adopt the company’s products or services and see its business value. After all, their success will encourage additional purchases and a stream of revenue over time.

Related Post: How to Lead High Value Meetings with Senior Executives

4. Pair the offer with the value proposition.

Sellers need to have an offer that’s helpful or valuable. They need to know the products or services that will address the customer’s business challenges.

These discussions should carry over into training and enablement. One way to prepare sellers is through simulations, which let customer-facing teams immerse themselves in a customer’s challenges. Being on the inside of a business allows sellers to become more intuitive and develop custom solutions for current customers. And practice, whether with a seller’s manager or a professional coach, helps sellers to develop confidence in a safe environment.

Business acumen opens up the playing field for sellers, whether that’s through a new opportunity, greater customer success, or increased influence with a different executive within the customer’s business. Conversational agility and opportunity will give sellers the consultative skills that foster successful relationships.