Many experts agree that selling with perspective/insight improves selling performance, but most ignore the role played by business acumen. Business expertise is foundational to perspective selling success. Ignoring it is a mistake; best case, you can win some more opportunities, but at suboptimal margins. Worst case: your insight selling investment won’t get you anywhere.
Perspective selling can be a huge difference maker. CSO Insights found that companies who incorporated perspective into their approach had 12% higher win rates. This rose to 23% higher win rates for companies who master perspective. The data was conspicuously silent on profit margins of those won deals. Thus, selling with perspective can be powerful, but your mileage can vary widely, depending on how you implement.
Unfortunately, some sales training companies cover business expertise with little more than a vague hand wave. Their treatment: “Take your business acumen…you know, that business acumen that you have (right?)…and use it to provide some valued perspective”. Apparently, hope is a strategy.
Others tell us to apply our business acumen to expose an unrecognized problem, unrecognized solution, unforeseen opportunity, or to bring a third party’s capability to bear. Those are great suggestions for how to use already-established business acumen.
Business Acumen is a Serious Discipline, not Some Buzz Word
I’ve heard business acumen (for sellers) described as “understanding how your customers make money”. That’s a great start. Adding “to the point you know how your offer can help them make even more” should become the standard for every customer-facing person in your organization.
SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis is better than nothing, but doesn’t help a seller develop very meaningful insights. It doesn’t help your people meet the standard above.
“Understanding growth drivers” sounds helpful, but don’t you need business acumen too for that level of understanding?
Sellers need a set of tools which help them understand how business works well enough to look at a prospect company with a “mechanic’s eye”: ability to diagnose what’s working well, what’s not, and how their offer can help. My business acumen framework covers a business in enough depth to help sellers do just that. Here’s a diagram of the major parts of a customer’s world: What elements of their environment shape a business, internal elements that shape their world view. On the right, is a list of some of the major outcomes you might be able to help them change.
Because this framework is about your customer’s world, it works with any sales training system or methodology. Contact me if you’d like to learn more about this overview.
Business Acumen Shapes an Entire Pursuit, it isn’t Just a Process Step
I’ve seen leveraging business insights to “provide perspective” and “provide insight” as one step in the selling process. I reject this; such a suggestion shows a fundamental misunderstanding of business perspective.
Business acumen helps a seller throughout the arc of the customer experience:
- Secure an initial appointment by showing that the seller has valuable business advice to give.
- Shape discovery by uncovering new value and expanding known ones.
- Expand the decision ecosystem by connecting unanticipated outcomes with your offer.
- Expand the total value of your offer by adding outcomes all over the company.
- Earn executive meetings by connecting to executive-level concerns.
- Negotiate win-win pricing by walking your customer through the monetary value of all of the outcomes you help them achieve.
- Explore even more outcomes as all of your people engage with a customer post-sale.
- Capturing all of these value insights helps your marketing team produce content that targets the customer outcomes that win most of your deals, generating leads that self-qualify for your differentiation.
That’s why I promote a company-wide “value culture”. In a value-focused culture, a lot of roles participate and several loops get closed.
How Business Acumen Fits into a World Class Sales Culture
Business acumen is a backdrop to a phased process, each phase of which blends into the next. Thus, Business acumen is foundational to the professional selling.
Initially, a seller should uncover needs, value gaps, and potential customer outcomes. I have a tool called value networks which helps guide this process more efficiently (these are company-specific). In this phase, sellers need to envision all of the parts of a customer organization the selling company’s offer might impact. As customers have become more siloed, this job has become more challenging. My value networks help make this easier, and work with any sales training system or methodology.
During this process, a seller should be able to develop value (build the desirability of various outcomes) in the mind of various buying personas. The diagram in this middle circle reminds sellers that they need to develop value early, widely, and deeply.
Once a prospect has decided you’re on the shortlist, it gets increasingly difficult to “sell value”.
To begin the closing process, a seller needs to connect their solution to customer-validated outcomes, recap the value of those outcomes, and then position the solution based on that value. Pricing – even premium pricing– should reflect the value of those outcomes and share a win-win philosophy. I have often experienced higher customer preference at premium prices once customer-validated value is used alongside the price for context.
Selling with Perspective is Good. Selling with Value Perspective is Profitable.
Perspective selling is powerful. It increases close rates and strengthens customer relationships. With a few simple additions, it can do all of those things more effectively…and more profitably. That is, you can close more deals at a higher – and more customer-appreciated – price. Since pricing power is profit power, those small adjustments make a huge difference.
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To your success!