5 pitfalls to developing strong business acumen

Sales leaders need to be clear on the obstacles to business acumen

The head of sales of your organization has decided that business acumen is a critical skill to help the organization meet its objectives in 2012.

So a team of top sales managers, training and sales effectiveness are assembled to develop a plan.

The team comes back with new business planning templates and training. 

After some consultation and development work, your team rolls out your business acumen initiative. Here are the pitfalls:

1. Aligning planning processes

Marketing plans are built on strategies and tactics on a per product basis.

Sales plans are built based on tactics on a per customer basis.

Great thinking happens at both levels but how do you align the two?

When I was a business unit manager, I was responsible for the marketing and sales plans but I remember reading the sales plans and realizing that they had no relevance to the sales manager’s plan or the brand plans.

2. Changing mindsets

In order to move any change initiative forward, it is critical to get buy-in.

Moving to a customer-centric business model with sales reps and managers making important brand decisions requires several organizational shifts.

Support departments such as Medical Education and Key Accounts must understand they do not lead but support the sales team.

The sales team, in turn, must understand that they should be making strategic decisions and need to step up and drive the business.

3. Using apples to deliver oranges

Sales reps objectives are set in dollars, yet the customer level data they receive is in scripts. Do you see the pitfall here?

As a head of sales, I think in dollars. Reps think in dollars and yet they are provided information that makes them look at customers based on scripts.

How can they really understand where their business is coming from and where their greatest opportunities for growth are?

How do they ascertain the growth potential for each physician?

How can they make strong business decisions if the data and their objectives are based on different criteria?

4. Knowing what “great” looks like

Your top sales reps already have a keen sense of business acumen.

Is your business acumen team riding in the field and speaking with your top sales reps?

Much can be learned from what your top people are doing.

They are the starting point to see what “great” looks like.

Then you can determine what would help them be better and listen to their suggestions.

5. Finding your way

Have you identified to your sales force the definition of business acumen? Are you clear on what it will look like in practice?

To ensure that your organization delivers on expectations, it requires a clear vision of achievement.

What concerns me, is that many organizations are moving forward with different initiatives without a clear destination of where they want to be.

Business acumen is becoming an important skill for pharmaceutical sales reps and managers.

Companies have or will be launching initiatives to improve the level of business acumen in their respective organizations.

Sales leaders need to be clear on the potential pitfalls to ensure that their initiatives achieve the desired outcome.

Steven Rosen is executive sales coach with Star Results.

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