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The Sales Transformation program has been awarded the Best Training Award by a prestigious industry body. When people talk about Business Acumen for sales people they tend to cover a wide range of skills, knowledge and behaviours that they would like sales people to demonstrate in front of a customer. If you were asked to design a 2-day workshop to cover business acumen, the question for you is “How would you allocate the time between each of the above subjects and also ensure that behavioural change happens back in the real world?” This was the challenge that a large software company recently gave to me and they were especially keen, and quite rightly, to focus on applying Business Acumen with their real customers.
From previous posts, you will know that I am a keen advocate of the sales manager as coach being the ley reason that any sales person changes their behaviour in the long term (so I won’t re-iterate my thoughts here). As I created my initial design ideas, I spoke to a friend who had been through the excellent 2 year IBM sales school, and he suggested that the major issue today was a lack of knowledge around business and how businesses actually operate. But the key question is “What does a sales person actually need to do their job?” Once you start to strip away the unnecessary jargon and get to the key points that sales need to grasp the whole knowledge transfer becomes easier.
From there we can think about the customer’s buying process and how they evaluate your offer, not only against the competition, but also against other potential purchases in other areas of the business, sometimes known as the competition for capital. It’s very satisfying to take sales people without this knowledge and take them through the learning process that allows them to come up with new ideas on how to position themselves as offering true value to their customers.
The learning I took away from this design was to go back to asking basic questions around what sales people need to know to do their jobs rather than trying to make them accountants.
I speak to many Heads of Sales and Sales Managers and ask the question “What is it that your sales people are missing that would make them much more effective?” It may not surprise you to find out that they never answer a CRM system! This was the task that I was recently set by a global software company, how do we give our sales people the fundamental business knowledge and the skills to have executive discussions while allowing them to adapt their approach to create long-term behavioural change. In the next article I will look at the design approach to the Business Acumen workshop and how the customer challenged me to change the way I thought about these issues. Those of you who follow my work will know that as well as working with my own clients I am a facilitator for CEB’s Challenger program and the various associated workshops for sales managers. When reading memos or internal documents, underline or highlight business terms that are unfamiliar to you.
A half day module for planning could have the following agenda:From this point the training developer can easily create good interactive content for the customer based on the objectives and the flow of the agenda.
The materials developed – participant workbooks, facilitator guides, slides, role plays and case studies, etc.
Once the coaching session and longer term development of the sales person is postponed, we fall back to the same old management using the order entry numbers, rather than analysing the problems earlier in the pipeline and using coaching to develop the sales person’s skill set. In our analysis of sales management behaviours, coaching is the activity that is most misunderstood and although coaching is often claimed, it is rarely seen. Coaching is often seen as “fluffy” but it can actually be very effective when used in business performance issues.  When you are diagnosing performance problems you need to look at two areas. Here are a few simple meeting invitation strategies you can implement to ensure you aren’t wasting valuable time for everyone on the invite list. You might be asking, “What’s wrong with putting this information in the message section of the meeting invite?” The answer: nothing. Including the time zones is helpful if the people you invite want to verify that their calendar program has the meeting at the right time. At the very least, make sure you include the dial-in number and passcode for conference calls. If possible, include a brief agenda or summary of the key points to be addressed in the meeting.
If you have a recurring meeting and you’re changing or canceling only one in a series, note that in the cancellation message so attendees know exactly what is being changed, updated, or cancelled. If you don’t know how to send updates or cancellations in your email calendar program, team up with another person and do some practice invitations. Open the original meeting invitation and make an update to it, such as changing the date or time.  Put a note in the message section stating what the change is.
Going through this simple exercise a couple of times will help you become more comfortable with your calendar program, and help you master the calendar management skill! Additionally, meeting attendees who arrive at a meeting prepared makes the meeting more productive which increases the productivity of the entire team.  This is where you’ve just added significant value to the entire process by creating a meeting invitation that was complete from the start. If the meetings you coordinate don’t include attendees from outlying areas or external companies, that doesn’t mean they always won’t. Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Software Development CentersVery competitive rates due to lower-cost development centers in Argentina. Alliances & CertificationsProven knowledge and skills to perform with high standards of competence. Awards & RecognitionsInnovation and successful projects led to many prestigious awards and recognitions.

This is a key process so everyone at Hexacta participates in it performing different recruitment tasks so as to ensure that new employees are students or professionals with great potential, whose values and goals are compatible with Hexacta’s structure and culture.
Our annual training plans are developed focusing on each of the company’s profiles and their corresponding steps along the career path. The adequate assignment of our staff to the different projects is one of the fundamental pillars for their professional development.
Mentoring and coaching programs allow personal professional growth, and constitute a very important communication channel for everyone in Hexacta . At the beginning of every project, expected performance goals are set and explained to each team member. The work is sustained by the sales managers coaching their sales people on these accounts and opportunities.
How do we give them all the knowledge and skills they need while ensuring that they change their behaviour in front of customers.
This led me down the well-trodden path of most Business Acumen courses and my first design looked very much like finance for non-financial managers – with a focus on the financial statements in the accounts.
Having enough financial acumen to be able to read key parts of the accounts, for instance the CEO’s strategy and the risk analysis for their business moving forward, are essential to having valuable business discussions with executives. How do they measure success, how does the business measure the ROI of any potential investment, do they prefer capital purchases or revenue payments, is off-balance sheet important to them? At the end of day 2 they consolidate the work they have been doing in teams and present to all the sales managers around a new way of engaging with the executives in one of their customers. Most of them talk about knowing more about a customer’s business, more understanding of how business works and being able to hold a discussion with an executive about their business issues – what I would call Business Acumen. Obviously courses do exist covering these areas but they tend towards finance for non-financial people rather than focusing on what sales really need to know and how they can apply it in real customer situations. The truth is that most sales people are scarred to have these conversations because their lack of business acumen may be exposed. Many of you will have seen lots written about The Challenger model and so I thought I would give my perspective on it.  Let me say at the outset that the whole program really resonates with my sales and management experience and when compared to other programs that I have run I feel the potential for behavioural change is much greater. Take the time to look these terms up in a dictionary or ask someone to explain them to you. If “coaching” sessions are actually observed, the sales manager at worst tends to be very directive (confusing coaching with telling) and at best seems to be using clever persuasion to get the sales person to adopt their point of view.  Very little coaching that is open and non-directive is observed. The first is the sales person’s performance against the target, the second is the sales person’s performance against the key sales metrics that you need them to deliver.
It’s a resource no one can make more of, which makes time one of the most valuable resources anyone has. They can confirm the data on sight without having to dig through files, papers, or old e-mails. Use the location field for specific meeting addresses or conference bridge dial in and passcode information.
You want as much of the non-confidential and non-proprietary information about the meeting logistics and purpose to be plainly visible. If I have to update the meeting invite at all, then I put a row of equal signs (=) across the top of the original message and add my updated comments at the very top so it’s the first thing the reader sees when they open the updated invitation. Any time a follow-up phone call or email is required to verify the meeting details, it takes up your valuable time and theirs. Start using these strategies now so you already have “value added” meeting planning practices in use if and when that changes. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day.
Our staff dedicates time to both, in-company courses and self-instruction, relying on our library, Wiki, Geek Lunches and ad-hoc theme groups, all of which support these training activities. This is why we hold weekly assignment meetings in which we study the resources needs, considering the client, project requirements and everyone in the team. For us, it is extremely important to understand the interests and needs of our staff, in order to ensure their well being and implement policies and processes consecuently.
The Project Leader is responsible for setting, communicating and tracking the accomplishment of these goals through the project. Its goal is to provide each employee personal and formal feedback about the current year’s performance. This is the trap of most Business Acumen courses and why they often end up being led by an ex-accountant who says things like “Now we are going to take a set of transactions and create the income statement and balance sheet, remembering that credits are negative and debits are positive, etc.” And you may like to consider what sales people going on such a course do afterwards?
This becomes part of their coaching development plan and is a great starting point for coaching conversations with their sales managers.
However, if we go back to the Heads of Sales, they would say that these types of discussion are absolutely crucial to move their businesses forward.

CEB are a top research and advisory organization answering the big questions that their members (customers) ask them, so the research is of high quality and conducted on significant sample sizes.
Today, the Challenger model comprises skills, behaviours and organisational support that can be introduced into most companies and can sit across sales methodologies.
The program is suitable for people who are relatively new to selling, as well as more experienced people who wish to refresh their basic skills.
So when you request or schedule time on someone else’s calendar, you must do it with extreme care if you want to be recognized as a competent admin.
However, the goal of a descriptive subject line is for the recipient to not have to open the invite to understand what the meeting is about. It’s also very nice when your executive is traveling outside of his or her normal time zone and needs to verify exactly for what time and time zone the meeting is scheduled.
If there are documents that you will be distributing closer to the meeting date, note that, too. If three people call you and it takes five minutes per phone call, that’s a combined total of 15 minutes of wasted time. When the project is completed team members receive their corresponding feedback on performance and achievements. In this process people’s strengths are recognized and those areas where improvement is needed are identified. CEB studied 10,000 customers asking 50 questions together with 25,000 sales people asking 44 questions. I have always had a nagging doubt about the Relationship Builder bending over backwards to satisfy every whim of the customer. In Challenger workshops, participants are challenged to think differently about their customers, starting from a business perspective and then moving towards their solutions. New CEB research is answering the next question that Heads of Sales are asking “Is there a set of customers we should be targeting who are more likely to mobilize to drive action on our behalf?” – this is the Mobilizer research and in its own way just as powerful as Challenger.
If you don’t, it’s one of the fastest ways to lose credibility with executives and irritate people beyond belief.
Never assume that because you’re familiar with the meeting details that all executives, attendees, and their assistants are, too.
Get in the habit of asking the meeting organizer for this information as soon as they ask you to setup a meeting so you can include it with the very first invite that gets sent. Multiply that times five meetings per week, that’s a combined total of 1.25 hours of lost productivity!
In order to achieve this, we consider essencial to ensure a pleasant work environment, training, regular feedback and methodological practices. As a closure of this evaluation process, new salaries and promotion to the next level of the Career Plan are defined.
These sample sizes give datasets of 500,000 and 1,100,000 that are somewhat more significant than those of some of the counter arguments I have read with customer sample sizes of just 700. Challengers build relationships but go further, using constructive tension to drive action.
This approach stretches the sales people to learn more about the customer’s environment and deliver business value and only in the last step introduce their solution. For anyone who is working in sales this research answers the key qualification question around where I spend my time – tell me who to talk to and who to avoid.
By sending a meeting invite with complete details, you can eliminate a lot of frustration and wasted time for everyone you interact with.
The other interesting point that many people fail to realise is that CEB didn’t create the 5 sales profiles (Challenger, Relationship Builder, Hard Worker, Problem Solver and Lone Wolf) rather these were derived from the data using factor analysis. This approach of Challenging the customer’s status quo and assumptions is what customers want from sales professionals today – teach me about me, tell me what I am missing, what best practices have I failed to implement? The outputs from the workshop are action plans for key customers that can be implemented straight away and developed through coaching conversations with their managers. For me, the most fascinating insight from the research is that most sales people are avoiding the very customers who can internally drive the action necessary to win the business. Sales people with no experience of truly working in partnership with customers and pushing back against their requests can find this approach eye-opening. Interesting, when this is compared to some sales methodologies, that start with the number of profiles they want and then build the “data” around them. Yes, even challenging Government departments to think differently and rewrite the tenders to take into account the Challenger’s ideas.

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