I remember in one of my early career sales jobs (prior to computers being on every desk, I reluctantly admit) taking my folder of potential prospects with me to the toilet for fear of one of my colleagues stealing my leads. It was every (wo)man for themselves, you existed for your next sales target and would do whatever it took to make sure you hit it.
Prospects had little choice but to deal with you if they wanted to purchase your products. Sales were in control.
Thankfully, the role of Sales has changed unprecedentedly over the past 10-20 years. Sales no longer exist in a vacuum.
Buyers are hyper-connected, and as such are better educated and informed. According to David J.P. Fisher, writing for HubSpot, the key to being a great sales leader in today's climate is good business acumen.
Why Do Salespeople Need Business Acumen?
Better internal collaboration
A good salesperson needs to have a good understanding of company strategy and be able to consider the longer-term implications of their actions.
For example, if a Salesperson regularly offers a heavy discount to hit their targets, it puts the finance department in a difficult position further down the line when delivering the product or service for a lower cost.
Sales need to be able to foresee the implications of their actions on their colleagues, but also their customers. Over-promising and under-delivering are no longer an option in a world of online reviews and social media messaging.
Understand complex prospect situations
Potential customers don't want to be preached to about the features and benefits of your product. They can do their own research for that. What they need from Sales is guidance or assistance.
To be consultative, Sales must understand their prospect's business and understand how it solves the pain points of everyone involved in the buying decision.
Sales need to be able to dig deep into what are the key issues and potential barriers to closing the business.
They then need to be able to communicate these internally and find solutions to problems. For example, if your customer needs a lead time of 2 weeks, but your SLA is three weeks. How could Sales collaborate with customer service to help overcome this objection?
In the article below, Fisher outlines five business acumen skills and how to go about developing them.
Business acumen does not come naturally to everyone, but if you are willing to be self-aware and put in the effort, you can be taught.
Business acumen is the ability to combine experience, knowledge, perspective, and awareness to make sound business decisions. It's the practice of good judgment and the capacity to consider a holistic, long-term view of organizational needs.