The change in the buyer’s journey is creating a need for salespeople to develop a higher level of business acumen. Over the last several years buyers have made the traditional sales funnel into chop suey.  A sales funnel used to start at the top with awareness, and the buyer would leave the funnel as a closed won or closed lost. The salesperson controlled the progression through the funnel starting with awareness, progressing on a linear sales path. Whereas today’s buyers enter the funnel from different avenues with different levels of knowledge.  Kennedy and Anderson have a great post regarding the changes in the buyer’s journey, with them predominantly doing their research; it is time to modify the traditional view of the sales funnel.  By altering this sales funnel, it will require salespeople to develop new assets.

There are three tiers of salespeople:

  1. Product
  2. Consultative
  3. Challenger/Trusted Advisor

For any seller to become a proficient consultative seller, and to become a challenger/Trusted advisor seller they will need to develop business acumen. According to Wikipedia, Business acumen is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a “business situation” in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome.

Now, if a prospect wants to learn about product features, pricing or packages, they access your website.  So why does a buyer engage a salesperson?  They are looking for help in solving their problem. As technology and access to information continue to grow in the selling process, a salesperson has less control over the environment. For a salesperson to be effective, they need to have a mastery of your current products, understanding of their industry, and their client’s industry.

Sellers used to go into a call or engagement knowing what the buyer knows, and where they are in the buying process.  Not anymore, therefore a seller needs to quickly ascertain the most relevant and pertinent information, establish the prospects level of knowledge and pain point.  They can now start creating a holistic view of their prospects needs, obstacles, desired outcome, and ROI.

Salespeople train on the basics of sales, the asking questions, closing statements, but they struggle in the more complex conversations with educated buyers.  They fumble when they are asked direct questions like turnaround time, usually saying a too long or too short of time frame because they are trying to win business, not understand the business need.  They fumble pricing issues or other standard concerns because they lack the emotional discipline and experience to handle those kinds of questions.

They are elevating above a product push, into a business conversation about how your products/services fit into their organization and achieve their needed goals.

How can you start developing business acumen?

  1. Start with your company:
    • Make sure they are trained not only on the different aspects of your product but also all the supporting teams. Can they discuss the billing terms, frequency, top clients, best cases, etc.?  They need to be fluent in your organization’s offering and process.
  2. Listen to each other:
    • Salespeople need to listen to other salespeople. Salespeople will get in a routine of asking the same questions, making the same statements, by working with each other and hearing, they can improve their sales approach and develop new methods in dealing with people.
  3. Emotional Discipline:
    • Make sure they treat everyone on your team as an equal and can have positive and impactful conversations with other team members. Getting what they want through a temper tantrum means they cannot control their emotions internally, which means that will happen externally.  Making them discuss their thought process will give them a better understanding of their interpersonal dynamics.
  4. Talk about business, not just sales:
    • Can they have conversations about the changes in their industry, their competition, and market? They need to be a student of what they do so they can have substantive discussions about the business.
  5. Conversations with customers –
    • Do they routinely make calls to a client to get updates on how the product is working, and how the client is utilizing the product/service. These calls will give insights into how the client uses the product and learn about the client’s internal needs on a deeper level. They need to learn about the decision-making process and obstacles.  Talking to your current clients is the best way.

These are just a handful of ways to help your salespeople develop a well-rounded approach to handling business.   It will take time, so provide support where you can, and ask them to self-study.  A salesperson needs to find ways to continue improving themselves as a person and a seller.