I first wrote about this competency in early 2010. If you are in the field selling, it isn’t difficult to determine what clients want and need from the people outside their company that they are considering making part of their team. It is also apparent that competencies that are missing cause them to look elsewhere for what they recognize by its absence. The lack of this competency is sure to destroy your sales results. That competency is business acumen.
An Absence Felt
You sound like a salesperson. You talk about the kind of things that a salesperson might want to take about, like your company, your experience, and your product. Because your agenda and things you believe to be helpful to your prospective client are not the topics for the conversation they hoped to have, your potential client feels the absence of business acumen. To have the type of meaningful conversation your dream client would find compelling, you’d have to know something about business.
When there is no conversation about your business, your client’s business, and the intersection of the two, you can look forward to a short conversation, followed by a few polite words about how much your prospect enjoyed meeting you, followed by a request for you to follow up. You may have a stack of business cards, each of which may be a version of this scenario. You might also have a CRM full of opportunities that were never opportunities—and likely never will be.
When you call on people with authority to decide to change and buy from you, you are not a salesperson. You must be willing to accept a definition beyond what the title may have meant in the past.
You Call Yourself a Salesperson
From the trader at the bazaar to the peddler roaming from town to town, to the shop owner in the small town, to the Industrial Age professional salesperson, to the 21st Century salesperson, the arc of the journey has always been towards greater value creation. At every stage of this journey, the endeavor has required more of those who sell. The evolution is still moving forward, this time leaving more people with the title salespeople behind.
The definition of the modern, business-to-business salesperson has expanded to include something that might make the salesperson more of a businessperson, a consultant, and an advisor. This definition speaks to the outcomes necessary in modern sales, and it leaves behind the idea that it is enough to know your company and your product or service. The value you create in many of the conversations salespeople are trained to have with their prospects is too insignificant to move the needle.
The value is found at increasingly higher levels, and mainly at the strategic level when you are meeting with what we might call the CEO of the Problem.
What Do You Want and What Do You Know
While traditional discovery is based on the idea that you sit down with your prospective client to ask them to share their problems. Your great hope in doing so is that your contact will disclose the kind of dissatisfaction that is already compelling them to make changes, the most important being hiring you and firing their existing partner. Your dream client may indeed want you to help them understand how you will solve their problem. But it’s more likely that in relatively large, complex, business-to-business sales, your solution isn’t going to be sufficient in creating enough value to create a strong presence to work with you.
Now, it’s essential that you know things, the trusted advisor requiring both trust and advice, neither being enough without the other.
- What do you know about your client’s business? What is your theory about the systemic challenges already causing your contacts to recognize the need to change or soon will be?
- What knowledge do you have about the root causes of their challenges? How does that knowledge create an opportunity for better results? What does your experience provide in the way of insights and situational awareness, the kind of which would provide them with new ideas, new choices, and new results?
Despite your desire to uncover dissatisfaction, without the business acumen of a good manager, the lack of understanding of business—and the concepts and vocabulary—will kill sales.
What You Do Speaks So Loudly
I was recently shown a program from a popular sales training program that suggested that a salesperson open a sales call with rapport-building. This is a disconcerting thought for anyone who has suffered through a salesperson trying to create rapport too long, failing because the contact had hoped for a business agenda. I share this with the full disclosure that I believe that relationships matter—more than most know, and a lot more than some want to accept. Of late, I have observed that businesspeople often build rapport by talking about business. You can be polite and still get to business, judging how much rapport you might build after your agenda.
Things like seeking rapport for too long, spending too much time talking about your company, trying to build credibility by sharing your tenure with the company, or in your role all subtract from relevance. So does sharing all the many details about your company that prove uninteresting to most inhabitants with whom you share this planet.
What you do with your client’s time is how they define you and your potential value to them now and in the future. As Emerson wrote, “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.”
If you want to improve your sales results, spend your time studying business, developing your business acumen, and situational awareness. In the future, if you are going to be your dream client’s trusted advisor, their second brain, you are going to have look and sound like the kind of person from whom they can trust to provide them with competent counsel.