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The Missing Piece in the Development of Sales Professionals
By John Barrows | October 19, 2016

To this day, Sales is the least formally educated role in business. There are over 4000 colleges in the United States and you can still only get your degree in Sales in less than a handful of them. Most people get their degree in something else, realize how useless it is or that they can’t make enough money, and then get into Sales. Unfortunately, when they get into Sales their training has historically been trial by fire with limited direction other than a list of names, a poorly crafted elevator pitch, and a phone. Thankfully Sales Training and Enablement has recently become a strategic part of many successful growth organizations. But something is still missing.

Most Sales Enablement focuses on product knowledge, skills, process and methodology but they don’t focus enough on overall business acumen. Reps get spoon fed information without any context of why it matters to the people they’re reaching out to. Without the context, their outreach and engagement tends to fall flat. I have broad business knowledge and my acumen comes mostly from experience, but I think this aspect of training needs to be jumpstarted and highlighted as a more critical part of success in sales.

Everyone talks about being a “thought leader” which I think is a little ridiculous to expect or even attempt if you’re new to business, your company or your industry. Like Gary V. said, you can’t be a life coach at 22 years old. Similarly, you can’t be a thought leader if you don’t have the experience. However, I think we can and should move in that direction and keep these as goals. The way I do this is by looking for ways to educate myself on my industry, my client’s industries and certain business personas I want to engage with.

Here are a few examples of things I do to educate myself and improve my business acumen:

  • Read books or the summaries of books that executives read
  • Set up a Feedly account, create folders based on specific industries and personas and follow the thought leaders in each of them
  • Join Linkedin groups for specific industries or personas, not to troll for leads, but to listen to the conversations they’re having
  • Review job postings for personas I’m focused on to understand what their KPIs are and what they’re being held accountable for
  • Meet with executives and people within my own company who are in the roles of the people I’m trying to reach out to and ask them what their priorities are and what they care about
  • Do a Google search for “{Title} {industry} priorities 201X”

The more you understand about business, the more you can relate to the people you’re reaching out to. I don’t want to pretend like I know everything about their role or exactly what they do but I want to know enough to be able to create specific value messaging and ask more thoughtful questions. This approach tends to get me much better responses, insight and engagement throughout the sales process.

This approach has also helped me with one very important aspect of social selling – personal brand building. If we’re just tweeting and posting information without putting any context around it then we’re no different than Marketing. I personally try to read things with a focus on educating myself on my industry, personas, business trends, etc. Then when I find something interesting, I take the extra two seconds to put some context around it and share it out through the various social channels. This way I’ve killed two birds with one stone – educated myself and increased my business acumen while building my own personal brand.

Elevate yourself from being a simple sales rep going through the motions to a Business Professional that happens to be in Sales.


P.S. Check out my Resource Library for a bunch of info I’ve found to be useful and help improve my business acumen.

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