Have you ever set a new year's resolution? Have you ever kept one all the way through the year? In the beginning of 2017, my answers to these questions were yes and no, respectively. Now, as 2017 draws to a close, I can proudly say I have set and kept resolutions on two fronts: personal and professional. I have officially accomplished my resolution of having no soda for an entire year.
My modest professional resolution was to read six business books in 2017. I finished the sixth one, Selling to Zebras by Jeff Koser and Chad Koser, on December 20th (cutting it close, I know). I read the first five books to relate more to professionals in the training industry, our customers. Of all the books, this one was the most closely tied to my specific profession, sales. The premise is that your solutions are not right for everyone. You should focus on selling to the people and companies that are the best fit for your solutions. This simple idea is not as easy to execute on as you initially think. These perfect customers are called Zebras.
I read the book and did the work necessary to reflect on our customers. Our sales team worked together to identify Paradigm Learning’s Zebras. During chapters 1 through 8, I resigned myself to getting as much value as possible from the book and not writing about it (because nowadays, if you don’t blog about a book, did you even read it?). Selling to Zebras will definitely help me serve the right customers. When I got to Chapter 9: Operations for the Zebra Way, I changed my mind about writing this blog.
The authors wrote a section for sales managers called “Look at Your Sales Team Honestly,” which defines 10 different kinds of salespeople. The first 4 kinds should be let go. Types 5 through 8 show a lot of potential and should be mentored and taught. Salespeople 9 and 10 are the ones you’re lucky to have on your team. They establish relationships, close profitable business, hit quota, become trusted advisors, and forecast accurately. Can you guess what sets them apart from the others? It’s business acumen.
Thought leaders have told us time and again that selling has changed. We can no longer rely on our amazing products to basically sell themselves. Assume everyone is selling a great solution. It’s the salesperson that makes the difference. Furthermore, you’re not going to score a meeting with the decision-maker, only spend time with that person, and close the deal. We live in a decision-by-committee kind of world. CEB has told us that there are 5+ people on these buying committees. The salesperson is the differentiator when they possess the business acumen to “establish sales relationships” at multiple levels of the organization.
The Kosers point out that sales is “part art and part science.” “Figuring out who [the decision-maker] is, earning the right to meet at that level, and possessing the business acumen necessary to stay at that level are what comprise the art of sales execution.”
Can business acumen be learned? At Paradigm Learning, we partner with sales leaders to build the business acumen of their sales teams, so they can have better business conversations with decision-makers. The authors seem to agree there are ways to increase business acumen, since they believe the mid-level sales people (types 5-8) with potential should be “nurtured, mentored, and groomed” to ascend to the ranks of 9 and 10, the ones with excellent business acumen.
Hopefully, reading this blog has inspired you to build the business acumen of your sales force, set and keep a new year’s resolution, or both. Although I’m not planning to formally set new resolutions for 2018, I do plan to keep learning and developing as a business person and a seller, and that includes my own business acumen.
See how business acumen makes an impact - Download our eBook Business Acumen Anecdotes.