Within five years of graduation, over 50 percent of U.S. college graduates end up in a role that requires sales skills. The formal titles may not have “sales” in them, but the job descriptions do. A few examples include business development, financial advisor, business analyst, consultant and even customer service.
According to Forbes, in 2016, the top career for college graduates was account management. Guess what? Successful account management requires a level of sales skill and activity.
To be successful in sales, you must know how to add value to the customers you are working with. Sales has evolved from pushing products to selling value. To sell value, it is critical to know what is valuable and how that value will be measured.
Today, business and financial acumen are no longer ancillary skills. They are an imperative set of competencies that high-performing sales professionals must have.
Business acumen is defined as a keenness and quickness in understanding and responding to a business situation. It is the ability to understand how a business—any business—operates and measures their results. Because accounting is the language of business, a basic knowledge of accounting terms constitutes financial acumen.
The good news is that you doesn’t have to be a financial analyst or study finance to gain mastery. Instead, focus on the top three areas of business and financial acumen by helping sales professionals develop the following competencies regarding your customers.
Most industries have their own language. For example, key terms in a health care organization will be very different than those in a manufacturing company. While they may both reference the words “quality and safety,” those terms could have very different meanings. It is imperative that front line employees who interact with your customers adopt and use the same vocabulary.
A general principle for any business is that they have a profit motive. In other words, they exist to generate profits for their owners and/or shareholders. It is important to understand how a business makes money and how it measures its financial performance.
There are key three statements that all publicly traded companies are required to generate and publish:
- The income statement, which measures what a company earns and spends in a given period of time
- The balance sheet, which measures what a company owns and owes at a specific point in time
- The statement of cash flows, which measures the incoming and outgoing cash flowing through an organization during a period of time
Again, each of these documents uses unique language such as revenue, expenses, assets and liabilities. Sales reps should be versed in the terminology found on these statements as well as how to interpret them for a basic understanding of how companies make money.
Every company has executives, managers and employees. Each person has a defined role and span of responsibility. Some companies have a very hierarchical organization with many layers of management, while others are “flat” and may have only a few layers of management. Understanding how companies are organized gives salespeople insight into how decisions will be made and who is likely to be involved in any changes brought about by a purchase.
As you provide training to individuals in various customer-facing roles, facilitate their ability to add value throughout each customer touchpoint and interaction. Give them the foundational knowledge to add value to the people to whom they are selling.
Understanding a customer’s needs is a critical skill. But at the end of the day, business decisions are based on financial acumen. That skill can only be demonstrated if you speak the same language as the executives you call and if you view the world from their perspective.