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Summer Reading to Build Business Acumen

A sales professional I know landed one of the biggest deals of his career when he least expected it: while vacationing in Hawaii with his family. He was sitting poolside, watching the kids, when an executive he’d met briefly at a trade show sat nearby. He struck up a conversation and before everyone left to get ready for dinner, they’d agreed to meet again to discuss a strategic partnership that remains firmly in place years later.

Those chance encounters may be rare, but they reflect the reality in today’s sales world that we should always be ready when an opportunity appears. A major part of that readiness is continually building business acumen so you can pick up a conversation that shows you understand someone else’s business, not just your own.

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Gaining greater awareness of business—yours and theirs

Regardless of where you work, a major hurdle all sales team members must overcome is gaining access to decision-makers with increasingly limited time to spare. Preparation is crucial, even to get that appointment. That’s why developing and demonstrating strong business acumen is critical. As I’ve said before, oftentimes we only get one shot to have that executive conversation, and we want to be prepared for that as much as possible.

When we talk about business acumen, we’re really talking about having the keenness, quickness, good judgment and ability to execute. That requires greater understanding of both trends and changes in an industry as well as how someone’s business works and operates. We typically do well at understanding our own industries and businesses, but how well do we understand how a target company makes money? Spends money? Handles cash flowing through their organization? Deals with regulatory constraints?  

Needless to say, such deep dives take work. Those who take the time to truly understand what makes another organization tick not only gain greater business literacy, they establish credibility that distinguishes them from others vying for the same customers or clients.

A three-step process to boost your business literacy

At ValueSelling we have a three-step process to gain specific literacy for the specific target accounts.

  • The first step is to investigate. You must understand and research what is important to know about the companies that you are calling on.
  • Armed with that information, you can now predict who you should talk to that would benefit from the research, analysis and insights you’ve discovered.
  • Then prepare for a call with key executives, both to get that call and execute once it is made with good, relevant questions that help them see or confirm conclusions and suggest specific solutions.
Ongoing learning is key

We take the above steps to discover where a target organization is and what issues or challenges are impeding its growth. These are issues that weigh heavily on the executives we’re trying to reach, and if you can demonstrate a greater understanding of those problems, you are in a better position to be seen as a credible partner to help resolve them.

But first, you must grasp what is happening in a specific industry, then hone in on what is happening within a specific company. Most of us now begin deep dives using online search engines. We can also leverage email digests, Google alerts and social networks, such as LinkedIn, to learn more on a topic or company. Be sure to consider the following resources while searching for recent, most relevant information:

Industry perspective:

  • Trade associations typically have a wealth of resources that address current trends and issues that impact members
  • Industry-specific blogs not only provide different perspectives but they are also apt to aggregate information

Company perspective:

  • Local business journals and business sites that reflect where a company operates within a territory
  • The business section of a local newspaper for executives moving positions and new companies moving into the area
  • If they are a public company, comb through their financial filings.

Pay close attention not just to the information but how it’s conveyed. This helps when calling on a company because you’ll need to adapt to their language to have credible, relevant conversations with their executives. Some clients might talk about ‘bookings’ or they might talk about ‘revenue recognition’ or ‘contract value increase’ or ‘wallet share.’ Know what these individual terms mean so you not only understand them but can accurately use them in conversations.

Granted, these publications may not qualify as quick summer reads, but including them in your summer reading will pay dividends when everyone is competing for the same executives’ attentions once vacation season ends. Or even while everyone is relaxing around a resort pool.

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