This book review originally appeared in Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia SmartCEO Magazine.
I’m often asked what I believe is the most important trait to succeed in sales or business. Anyone who knows me knows my answer – business acumen. Today, more than ever, those individuals who possess business acumen have a tremendous advantage over those that don’t.
This is especially true in sales. It’s funny (sad really), but if you were Rip Van Winkle having just awakened from a 50-year sleep, and you walked into most small and mid-market sales organizations, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
All too often, sales reps are making the same boring phone calls and making the same mindless pitches chasing fewer and fewer dollars. Sales managers track the same activity numbers that have absolutely no correlation to sales success whatsoever.
Sales training budgets have increased much, and, what’s worse the focus of that training is still primarily on product knowledge and some version of sales skills. But, ask yourself this: Have the trillions of dollars that companies have invested in sales training, salesforce automation and marketing really paid off?
The results of the last four years clearly answer that question – they haven’t! If you look at any meaningful measure of business success, the news is bad. Profit margins, return on equity, and assets are down. Sales costs are rising, and price pressure is at an all time high as procurement departments have seized unprecedented power in buying decisions.
As an executive, you should remember two quotes that should be at the top of your mind when you look at your sales efforts:
- The problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them – Albert Einstein
- The definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again, and expect a different result – Thomas Edison
It is crucial that you stop, and ask yourself what are the critical components that will allow your salespeople to be insanely successful? Don’t stop at the clichés like personality or persistence. Sure, those characteristics are important, but they do not cause success. There are just as many (or more) personable, persistent salespeople that fail as those that succeed.
If your products and services require a meaningful investment from your customers or you claim to make a significant impact on customer’s results, there are two critical pieces that absolutely must be present: business acumen and judgment. These characteristics are really flip sides of the same coin, as good judgment comes from business acumen. If you want to break free from the commoditized treadmill, where so many small and mid-market companies find themselves, you must develop business acumen in your salespeople.
Kevin Cope, author of Seeing The Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career and Company and founder of Acumen Learning, defines business acumen as the “keen, fundamental street-smart insight into how your business operates and how it makes money and sustains profitable growth, now and in the future.”
Businesses are complex, and the issues they’re dealing with face greater and greater complexity. One small problem or change can have a ripple effect through the entire company. The only way you can successfully cut through this complexity is to understand the critical drivers of a business. Cope point out five: cash, profits, assets, growth and people.
To get the action (and margin) that you most likely want for your products and services, your salespeople must be able to influence real decision makers in organizations. Seeing the Big Picture, accurately points out five abilities needed to do this:
- See the “big picture” of the organization – how the key drivers of a business relate to each other, work together and produce profitable growth, and relate to the “job” your product/service does.
- Understand important company communication and data, including (and I’d add, especially) financial statements.
- Use your knowledge to make good decisions.
- Understand how your products/services impact key company measures and objectives.
- Effectively communicate your ideas to employees, managers and executives.
While Cope’s book is written for the reader within a company, the book is a tremendous resource for developing business acumen for any application. It’s a book you should give to every salesperson.