10 Essentials: Sales Acumen vs. Business Acumen

The ninth in series of ten posts in a series titled: 10 Essential B2B Sales Rep Attributes (and their 10 Essential Opposites).

Sales Acumen

Acumen doesn’t mean knowledge. It means something more. It means having an insight, a perception, a sharpness. Great salespeople have sales acumen. They have the basic sales skill sets like overcoming buyer resistance, asking great questions, presenting solutions in the form of a dialogue, and obtaining commitment. But they also have something more than that; they know how all of these moving parts work together to make deals come together. It is something that is developed over time.

I liken it to the German word “fingerspitzengefuhl,” which translates to “finger tip feeling.” It is a sort of knowing what is happening everywhere all it once, without actually being there. It’s that sense that tells you “this isn’t working,” or “this is working,” or “I know when I leave they will discuss . . . ” This sales acumen is part of what helps the great salesperson to create deals that other sales people might not have been able to make. This skill is part of the art of sales that makes teaching others to sell so difficult.

There is nothing negative to possessing this skill, and the more the better. But by itself, it is no longer enough.

Business Acumen

Now more than ever, the salesperson is a business manager. It is no longer enough to possess the basic sales skills, even when coupled with sales acumen. Today, the salesperson is required to understand all general aspects of business.

They need a knowledge that competes with the industrial engineer in operations, the CFO in finance, and the Vice President of Human Resources in organization development and team dynamics. The great salesperson today will have the business acumen of a great general manager, and is just as comfortable using a spreadsheet to calculate the customer’s return on investment as he is orchestrating a team made up of members of both companies. This business acumen may not be as strong as their sales acumen, but he has to equal the business acumen of the general manager.


The only real dichotomy here is that a person may presently possess only one of these, sales acumen or business acumen. Both can (and must) be gained together over time. And the possession of both is the future of business-to-business sales.


  1. When selling, are you uncomfortable with any subject that is generally not in the domain of general sales?
  2. Do you rely too heavily on technical experts for even the most basic questions that your prospects ask about your product or service?
  3. Do you speak and understand the general language of business?
  4. What should you be doing to develop your business acumen?

Filed under: Sales 3.0

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