Sales acumen? Here’s how to improve it (fast)
Picture a salesperson, knowledgeable in what a product does, but unable to win customers. Why? Because they don't know how to prospect, diagnose, present, overcome objections, negotiate, and close deals with clients. They need sales acumen.
A salesperson lacking sales acumen has difficulty conversing with prospects. They will ask irrelevant questions if they don't understand a client's business and won't identify opportunities and risks.
Most sales organizations teach their salespeople product knowledge, problem-solving, customer empathy, and persuasiveness, then let them loose to handle clients without a clue on sales acumen.
You may attend a prestigious school and come out with no sales acumen, but you can gain and improve it through practical means like personal experience, or learning from others.
Are you looking to improve sales acumen fast? Let's first define it.
Defining sales acumen
Sales acumen is a combination of leadership, an entrepreneurial mindset, innovative thinking, skills, and experience that make a salesperson sell excellently. Selling without it in the B2B world is a disadvantage.
It is an understanding of business situations and how they relate to each other, how to assess opportunities and risks fast, and how to take actions bearing positive outcomes.
Sales acumen is also defined as having an executive sales mindset or business sense.
Employees with business acumen are likely to stay longer at an organization, and successful companies with strong business acumen have strong leaders, managers, and B2B salespeople with strong sales cultures.
B2B salespeople with strong acumen skills are able to do the following:
- Make sound decisions that will benefit them and the company.
- See the little and big details within a business organization that holds it back.
- Determine how a business makes a profit and maintains cash flow.
- Point out market disruptions and how they affect the business.
- Appreciate the value of documents like business communications, articles of incorporation, and financial statements.
- Find out the corporate objectives and devise a way leading to the corporate goals.
- Ponder over how a business owner thinks and solves problems.
- Analyze their customers' pain points and build relationships in the process.
Customers are looking for trustworthy advisors, not sales reps who don't understand business models and trends.
If a salesperson can't see issues affecting clients, meaningful conversations will be challenging, the sales pipeline will be harder to grow, and the sales funnel will be as empty as can be.
Characteristics of sales acumen ninjas
Salespeople who have acquired true sales acumen are distinguishable from the rest. They have characteristics that make the difference between closing a deal and closing the book on their sales career.
The following characteristics distinguish ordinary salespeople from extraordinary ones:
Self-motivation equals eagerness. Eager salespeople don't wait for customers to contact them. When demotivated salespeople dread cold-calling customers, motivated salespeople can't wait to make that call.
It doesn't matter how many deals they have closed, they will keep calling and visiting prospects to maintain momentum.
A salesperson with business acumen skills does not back down due to a rejected sales pitch. They use rejection to identify where they failed or use it as motivation to pursue other customers.
Salespeople should train their minds to expect rejection, it will happen eventually. Sometimes not due to lack of acumen skills, but because the product did not suit the client or they could not afford it.
Emotional intelligence is an aspect of communication that enables salespeople to understand customers and act in a way that makes them comfortable.
The right body language from a salesperson encourages a prospect to give more information and increases their chances of acting accordingly and sealing a deal.
Critical thinking comes in handy when solving problems. When there are sales objections to closing a deal, you can find creative ways to navigate the problem and guide the client to making a final decision.
Where to apply sales acumen skills
These skills will put you at an advantage when engaging with prospects. The skills can be applied when prospecting, diagnosing, presenting, overcoming objections, negotiating, and closing deals with clients.
Sales prospecting involves identifying and reaching out to prospects. Your B2B sales prospecting skills will be tested when cold calling, sending sales emails, conducting demos, scheduling meetings, and investigating buyer pain points.
Sales diagnosis is discovering the cause of your client's problem by recognizing the symptoms, but remember, diagnosis is not prescription. A salesperson with sales acumen knows how to avoid quick conclusions and explore the problem further.
Most B2B companies use presentations to sell to other companies. How can you demonstrate presentation skills? Keep it short. No dissertations, please. Tell a story that is connected to your pitch and create conversation through questions.
Overcoming (and turning around) objections
Overcoming objections is a skill, transforming them into opportunities is a dope skill. Price objections, delaying the final decision, or fear to invest in a new innovation should be treated by the sales professional as opportunities to gain more information.
Savvy salespeople know that negotiations are more effective in person than through email, before the prospect gets a chance to craft a creative response, or before you accidentally misjudge their tone in writing. Face-to-face negotiations help you feel their energy firsthand.
Closing a deal is the cream of the sales process, that can make or break the moment. Do you know the right phrases to seal a deal? Learning sales acumen lets you know when to use traditional or modern sales closing techniques.
Having known how to apply acumen skills to the sales process, how do you learn or improve sales acumen?
How to improve sales acumen
You improve sales acumen by thinking like a customer. How do they want communication to be? What are their needs?
The good news is that sales acumen is learnable, though it's a continuous process. A high dose of motivation will push you to seek it through self-learning, formal training, networking with experts, and other means.
It starts with an interest in the customer's business, competitors, and market.
Here are several ways you can learn it:
Pay attention to situations around you. It is called situational awareness. How do things operate around you? You could identify challenges that you and your colleagues deal with and solve them. Attentiveness trains you how to identify problems and opportunities.
Staying up-to-date with current trends
In this era, it is almost unforgivable to be a salesperson and not use social media. Staying up to date using social media gives you a competitive edge because you keep learning what sales experts are doing differently and seeing results. This doesn't mean you have to become a social media marketer or hop on every trend. But it does mean that you have a good sense for where your ideal prospects gather online, how they communicate, and are able to speak their language on the platform they're familiar with.
Learn from mentors
Mentors have gone through a sales journey like yours and made it out successfully. Ask them genuine questions so you don't sound like a journalist. You may not find one who knows everything, so it is okay to have several. Careful though, choose mentors wisely. Not everyone is right for you.
Learning the business model
Knowing your company's business model is not just about how your company makes money, but other factors like the supply chain and business life cycle. Knowing positioning strategies, customer segmentation, and sales principles will improve your sales acumen.
Sign up for free or paid courses and read books on sales or listen to sales podcasts. Follow experts in their blogs and devour the useful educational material they give. Pay attention to the news, there is a lot of education you can get from them in your industry.
Practice financial literacy
Financial literacy is essential for sales professionals because you will need it when dealing with prospects. You have to get comfortable working with numbers and proving to customers the return on their investment. Financial information can be gained through:
- Continuously tracking sales metrics
- Insight from business intelligence data
- Going through financial statements
- Asking financial experts for help
Listen to customers
What do your customers want? They will give you the raw truth about what motivates them to buy from you. Talk with your customers, gather their feedback and evaluate it. You can be sure they will give you the truth about where your sales acumen needs to improve.
Yes, even when your performance is good. Start with short-term goals like how many cold calls to make per week then move to long-term goals like growing your customer base or increasing customer lifetime value.
Improve your sales acumen by focusing on one area to level up
Salespeople with abundant product knowledge skills and limited or zero sales acumen skills often find themselves at a disadvantage when selling. What they need is to improve their sales acumen.
Improving sales acumen helps sales professionals understand business situations and how they relate to each other. They also learn how to identify opportunities and risks fast, and take action.
Sales acumen gurus are set apart by characteristics such as self-motivation, good communication, and handling rejection well. They apply their skills in the initial stages of prospecting customers to closing a deal.
Improving sales acumen is a never-ending process, but learnable if self-motivated. You can involve a mentor, learn through your experiences, or take a course. The options are limitless. Lack of motivation is the only limit between you and sales acumen.