9 years ago
January 7, 2015

How to be Successful in Sales Part 2: The Importance of Business Acumen

Last week I shared a story about my daughter’s skating lessons that helped to highlight three characteristics found in successful salespeople

Rhys Metler

Chess PiecesLast week I shared a story about my daughter’s skating lessons that helped to highlight three characteristics found in successful salespeople: Fearlessness, Fundamentals, Focus.

This week I’d like to shift to a critical skill that all sales leaders must possess: Business Acumen.

You can search out many definitions of this phrase but here’s a simple explanation: business acumen is an ability to quickly understand and deal with a business situation. The better your business acumen the greater chance of closing the deal. When used correctly, you’ve understood your client’s business better than your competition and offered a solution that solves a real business problem.

Feature v benefit: what’s the difference?

We interview sales candidates all day, every day and one of the key parts of our process is to uncover whether or not a candidate can clearly articulate their current value proposition. Here’s an example of some that I have heard recently: We are globally recognized. We have the fastest response time. Our system is proprietary, and so on…

What’s the problem with these? These are all features that a client may not care about. And worse, if lead with, make the buyer feel they are being sold to; and we’ve been beaten over the head that once we do this we’re probably being shown the preverbal door. By themselves they carry very little significance. If you conduct the “so what” test, you can soon position the features as a direct benefit to your customer. For example: “We are globally recognized (so what), what that means for you Mr. Customer is we can support your European locations with the same ease and service as your North American locations with one single source for billing saving you…” Now you’ve provided a benefit. BUT before you get here, you have to know what your customer cares about… and more importantly what business issue they are trying to solve.


Whether you’re selling software, communication systems, or recruitment services, to be successful in sales you must make yourself relevant to your customer and identify their business problem. Sometimes it’s on the surface and can be uncovered with a single question. Other times it’ll take a series of questions and meetings with multiple stakeholders to truly uncover why they may be considering you. This is such an important step of mastering your sales cycle that it often is the lengthiest part of it. Top successful salespeople use a document such as a qualifying checklist or a series of questions to identify the client’s business problem, realize the consequence of not fixing the problem and discuss how their service can help.

Knowing your audience

If your solution solves a business issue for one business unit of your customer, you’re on the right path. If your solution can serve multiple functions or solve multiple problems for your customer, you’ve got it made. Successful sales people are able to understand the business of their client (and if applicable, multiple business units such as accounting, HR, sales, marketing). Having business acumen across these units can help grow your opportunity, secure trusted advisor status and set you up for future success, all things that successful sales people strive for.

Next week I’ll wrap up this three part series of “How to be Successful in Sales” through continuous improvement, including ways to increase your business acumen. 

Rhys Metler

Rhys is a tenacious, top performing Senior Sales Recruiter with 15+ years of focused experience in the Digital Media, Mobile, Software, Technology and B2B verticals. He has a successful track record of headhunting top performing sales candidates for some of the most exciting brands in North America. He is a Certified Recruitment Specialist (CRS) and has expert experience in prospecting new business, client retention/renewals and managing top performing sales and recruitment teams. Rhys enjoys spending quality time with his wife, son, and daughters, BBQing on a hot summer day and tropical vacations.