I believe the #1 missing ingredient in B2B sales and marketing success is business acumen. (More thoughts on this.) What do I mean when I say this? Let’s consider the definition:

Business Acumen is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation (risks and opportunities) in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome. Wikipedia

To get more insight, let’s unpack this definition. We’ll work backward from the goal: a good outcome.

“Leading To a Good Outcome”

The goal of a business leader is to drive outcomes. Thus, the “product” that every smart B2B sales rep sells is not their actual product, but the outcomes the product delivers.

To sell outcomes, you need to know your prospect’s business goals:

  1. Goals: What is success to them?
  2. Measurement: How do they keep score?
  3. Problems: What’s standing in the way?

Smart sales and marketing professionals know that the key to winning a prospect’s business is to get inside their heart. It’s critical to understand what they want to accomplish and the frustrations that stand in their way.

In Donald Miller’s Story Brand framework, the prospect is the hero, not you. It’s all about their business, their goals, their scorecard, and their frustrations. You are the guide. As the guide, you need to have a deep understanding of their desired outcomes. Then, sell the outcome.

“Dealing With a Business Situation”

In order to see the path to the outcome, B2B sales professionals need to be able to understand the current situation. Then, they need to be able to bring insights to bear to help improve the situation.

From a business context, there are three components to this: risk, problems, and opportunities.

1. Driving Opportunities

What will it take for your prospect to achieve their goals? As a sales professional, you need to be able to quickly see a vision for how the prospect could get to their preferred destination. Business acumen includes the ability to see a path to the future.

2. Solving Problems

Every business has problems. Most of these problems are related to the two P’s: people and processes. My specialty is in helping salespeople understand business processes. Most business processes are a mess. When you understand the process, the problems reveal themselves. Business acumen includes the ability to recognize problems.

3. Reducing Risks

Every aspect of business carries some risk. Risk comes in many forms such as legal risk (risk of getting sued and losing the business), natural disaster (risk of losing the business to a disaster), and theft (risk of having critical assets stolen.) The job of a sales professional is to recognize the risks inherent in any situation. Some aspect of the outcome you propose should reduce risk. Business acumen includes the ability to see the risk.

Keenness and Quickness

Sales reps need to be able to recognize things quickly. This is a “think on your feet” profession. You need to be able to understand the prospect’s goals, see a path to the future, recognize the problems, and visualize a good solution. This needs to happen quickly.

How do you develop keenness and quickness? The same way a professional athlete develops their skills: training and practice.

Sales reps need to continually develop their business skills:

  • Read good books about business processes
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Learn about the industries they serve
  • Take current clients to lunch and ask lots of questions
  • Enroll in some business classes online

Marketers can help:

  • Write content from the perspective of the prospect, addressing their goals, challenges, and risks. (Check out StoryBrand by Donald Miller.)
  • Create case studies–lots of them–to give sales reps concrete examples to use in the field
  • Be avid readers. Don’t just learn about the products you sell, understand the outcomes your prospects want and demonstrate how the products can be applied to deliver outcomes

The more we can understand and develop business acumen in our sales and marketing teams, the more success we will enjoy!

Larry Levine

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