The college admissions scandal raises a lot of questions about the ROI of higher education. While that discussion is ongoing, the benefits of education for sales reps are clear. Smarter reps are more successful reps. But the definition of what it means to be "smart" is rapidly changing. Beyond basic selling skills, reps with strong business knowledge – specifically financial and operational acumen – have a huge advantage over competitors.
More than ever, reps must demonstrate broader business skills to get deals closed. As we have discussed in prior blogs, the traditional economic buyer is gone and team selling is becoming the norm. These trends mean sales people must navigate a complex deal environment and have more conversations that go well beyond product features and benefits.
This is where sales enablement can make a huge difference. Training designed to help reps have real business conversations will keep buyers engaged. Today’s business problems are multi-faceted, and the best reps need to see issues with different lens. These different perspectives are key to diagnosing the right problem and communicating the value of the solution. When reps speak financial language to finance teams, operations language to operations teams, and marketing language to marketing teams, the rep builds buyer alignment and moves the deal forward.
One of our clients sells HRIS software. For years, their reps "made coin" selling to the one or two HR buyers in a company. However, over the past five years these conversations have shifted from the tactical to the strategic. They’ve expanded from HR to include IT, finance, operations, and even legal. The sales rep’s role has transitioned from a one-person act to The Greatest Showman ring leader. Yes, the product knowledge required to address the HR audience certainly expanded. But now the rep must also understand how the software impacts a company’s business strategy, operations, and risks.
The hard truth is, too many reps can’t have business issue discussions. Most have only been trained to deliver product pitches or manage a linear buying process using a one-size-fits-all sales process. They might have mastered the story of their solution, but they can’t facilitate business conversations.
Improving the business acumen of sales teams should be a priority for sales and sales enablement leaders. There are seven business modules that need to be part of every sales training program. Together, these topics equip sales teams with the acumen, terminology, and confidence to connect their solution to their customer’s business.
1. Accounting. If anyone has ever taken an accounting class, terms like LIFO and FIFO come flashing back. Unless you are working exclusively with CPAs, the focus of this track should be on the basics of reading balance sheets and income statements as well as computing basic ratios. Understanding financial statements is critical for sales reps, especially if they are selling to publicly traded companies.
2. Finance. How knowledgeable are your reps around concepts like ROI, TCO, NPV, IRR, and Payback Periods? Yet, these are the pain points for finance and smart business leaders. What will spending a dollar with you generate? Modern reps must understand these principles so they can communicate the value of their solution in a way that resonates.
3. Leadership. Having a leadership title doesn’t make someone a leader. Reps need to appreciate the human dimension of work and the importance of leading and managing people in uncertain business environments. Basic leadership training will help sales reps think like a leader. Instead of asking the hackneyed “What keeps you up at night?” they can have a more insightful conversation. Training in leadership topics allows reps to position themselves as peers and advisors to senior buyers.
4. Strategy. The word “strategy” in a sales meeting is similar to the word “like” in a teenager’s conversation: overused with little meaning. However, the fundamentals of strategy are critical to sales conversations today. Reps are no longer pitching their product or solution. Instead, they’re learning about the prospect’s business issues. Sales reps needs to understand the impact of external and internal factors on their customer’s profitability, success, and market position.
5. Operations Management. The majority of sales people we work with despise processes. (Self-confession: this was the class I got the worse grade in a decade ago.) However, understanding the basics of process flow, analyzing inefficiencies, and enhancing effectiveness – it’s all critical. Reps sitting with operations leaders need to think with this mindset as they identify root causes and position their solution.
6. Marketing. Too often, sales and marketing are like divorced parents at a dinner – they need to get along, but don’t understand each other. To be successful internally and with customers, sales teams need to understand the marketing process and function. This is especially true given the massive changes in digital lead gen and workflow.
7. Change Management. We all know the mantra, “The only thing constant is change.” No matter what you’re selling, it requires some degree of change management in your prospect’s organization. Reps need the skills to help others manage change in a constructive, not destructive, manner.
A program on business acumen won’t magically turn your reps into Warren Buffett. The best business training for sales includes on-going simulations and hands-on practice. Integrating the classroom and real-life will help reps better apply their business knowledge in ways that are practical.
At Brevet, we work with sales organizations to expand their teams’ business knowledge, both inside and outside of the classroom. The global business environment is changing rapidly. It’s critical that reps understand Business 101 and beyond. Contact us to benchmark your sales training and to learn more about The Brevet Group’s Growth Academy, our approach to rep business acumen training.
About The Author
Carrie is an experienced consultant specializing in sales analytics, organizational design, and sales process optimization. She is the co-author of The Sales Compensation Handbook as well as numerous sales research studies.