The Difference Between Sales Acumen and Business Acumen

Selling is more difficult now than ever. In the past, sales acumen may have been enough to help you succeed; you now also need business acumen, something that is rarely taught or trained.
Possessing both of these skills at the highest level ensures your success. Possessing one without the other means that you will struggle.

What Is Sales Acumen

Sales acumen is made up of things like prospecting, closing (or what might be better called commitment gaining), overcoming objections, presenting, explaining features and benefits, diagnosing, and negotiating. There isn’t anything on this list that is not critical to your success in sales. You need to have the chops when it comes to sales acumen.

All of these skills have been necessary since we humans began trading with each other millions of years ago. The skills that make up sales acumen are “deep fundamentals.” The need for these skills doesn’t change much-if they change it all-over time.

A lot of sales organizations spend most of their time helping their salespeople with product knowledge, a critical need all salespeople share. They spend a little bit of time on sales acumen, but rarely enough. These skills are not as easy to develop as many people think they are, and most sales organizations hope that by hiring someone with experience they won’t have to work so hard to teach sales acumen.

What is making selling more difficult now is the decades-long trend of requiring business acumen to undergird sales acumen.

What Is Business Acumen

Business acumen is an understanding of the fundamentals of business. It goes nicely with “situational knowledge,” because one of the ways you gain an understanding of business is through your experiences, and mostly your mistakes or the mistakes of others.

Without business acumen the sales skill of prospecting falls flat. If you don’t understand your dream clients’ business well enough to be able to speak to the trends that are affecting their business, or will impact their business in the future, prospecting is difficult at best.

A lack of business acumen and situational knowledge makes diagnosis and discovery challenging. Without context, you lack the appropriate questions, as well as the necessary ideas and stories to help your prospect understand the root cause of their problem and the decisions they may need to make.

You can’t be a trusted advisor without the ability to advise. When you think about storytelling, presenting your prospect’s current state, their future state, and the necessary changes they need to make, requires that you have the vocabulary and the concepts to frame your solution in a way that is directly tied to their most strategic outcomes.

If you are not a trusted advisor because you lack the business acumen – negotiation is a much meaner feat. Without the ability to talk about the investment you are asking your prospective client to make and how that investment is going to protect them from risks and ensure their success, you’re going to end up discounting. Business acumen allows you to make a better case, your dream client’s case.

In addition to your product knowledge and your sales acumen, spend as much time developing your business acumen and your situational knowledge – those things that allow you to provide the advice your dream clients demand from their trusted advisor.

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