When it comes to business acumen, how well does yours measure up to a busy executive’s expectations? Do you have a firm grasp on their industry? Their specific business issues? Such deep understanding requires deep learning, and that requires deep research—and dedication to continuously build a knowledge base.
Too often sales professionals end up improvising on a sales call, believing a few moments of online research is ample preparation. Those flubs do not go unnoticed. In a survey of 260 executive decision-makers conducted earlier this year by ValueSelling Associates and Training Industry, about one-third of respondents believed their vendors were not consistently well informed in important content areas, leaving an impression they lacked a solid command of industry-relevant knowledge. Additionally, 20% said their sales reps appeared to lack even general business competence.
It’s critical, especially when you are calling on multiple people in multiple roles at an organization, to both understand and articulate the language of business – specifically their business. After all, business value is always in the context of a business issue within their business. And to arrive at the right solutions--your solutions--you must have productive conversations about those business issues.
Preparation is key
Every sales strategy and selling technique is based on a solid foundation of information for forecasting, prospecting and engaging with decision-makers. Knowing where to start your search, or how to set aside enough time daily for such due diligence, can be overwhelming. However, making a commitment to expand your financial literacy and stay current on markets and trends is important. Your credibility as a sales professional depends on it.
Here are five ways to build your business acumen so you are prepared to both approach and engage with executives. Doing so not only makes you appear well read to peers, it also boosts your credibility and trustworthiness, which are cornerstone to gaining access to target buyers.
- Bookmark and check industry-specific websites and social media platforms dailyfor the most recent news on an industry and specific market leaders (or losses). You want to be sure you time your calls and queries to take advantage of any newsworthy events that are top of mind for a company’s leadership and management.
- Set up Google Alerts for some key clients so you can see when things change.
- Pick up business and/or trade magazines in the airport or train station, or while perusing your local bookstore or newsstand. Look also at online periodicals in a specific industry that also help you nail down a sector’s unique language and terminology.
- Consider an online course or training workshop to improve your financial literacy, perhaps as part of a broader skills-building strategy. Such e-learning opportunities designed expressly for sales professionals are especially helpful for those without much exposure to analyzing financial statements and balance sheets.
- Sign up for programs like ValueSelling Associates’ Executive Speak™ that provide the framework and interactive tools to quickly pull together a wealth of information to use in your next sales call and the overall engagement strategy.
Building stronger business acumen is about becoming more aware of the world and being able to recall and accurately articulate what you know in the context of selling value. All of the above sales tips will help you gain that greater understanding so you are prepared to talk with confidence to … anyone.
Drilling down to capture corporate data
When it comes to researching specific companies, consider it may be harder to nail down details on a privately held company. Looking up their listing in Dun & Bradstreet is a good place to start. Publicly traded companies, on the other hand, by law must make certain corporate documents publicly available on at least an annual basis. There’s a wealth of information in those files.
In addition to calling up both public and private companies’ websites, you can check the local press and business publications for the latest on a company’s executive leadership changes, regional economic impact and philanthropy.
Speaking of philanthropy, non-profits, including healthcare systems, must also publicly disclose financial information since they operate in the public’s interest or with public funding. Many upload documents, including federal tax returns, for access through clearinghouses like GuideStar and Charity Navigator.
Remember too that the more strategic your solution, the more likely a business executive will be involved in deciding on a product or service to resolve an issue. It’s important to look at what you sell and how it is positioned to gain that increasingly difficult access to these executives.
You must really think through why someone would want to do business with you. How will your solution improve a situation? Improve their industry standing? Make a bigger name for the company? These are lofty questions that require research investment to sound credible.
While we’ve talked about making time to do your homework, there also is another kind of sales professional that lacks the confidence to make a sales call and therefore spends too much time doing research. It’s important to find a balance so that time spent on research provides a boost, rather than a barrier, to actually selling. After all, knowledge is of no value unless we put it into practice.
Sell with Value!
Relevant topic? Listen to a recorded webinar session on this topic and download a PDF of the slide deck: Think Like An Executive: The Business of Knowing Their Business