When you add commercial awareness to a clear sales strategy, you have the ultimate formula for sales success.
I and my business partner had just delivered a killer sales presentation to the board of a high-tech multinational in central Europe, back in the day.
We were proud of our work and we now had the luxury of going to dinner with one of the senior board advisors and that meant a very nice meal, a few bottles of wine, and some interesting discussions…all paid for by us of course, but we were on course to develop a very profitable client relationship.
The discussions over dinner were what you would expect — a few pleasantries, a little talk about business, and the odd gallon of wine to help us through the experience.
Just as we were finishing, our guest decided it was time to take a tour around the local bars until the small hours of the next morning, and just as we were saying our somewhat drunken goodbyes, came the following:
- What were your last year’s revenues?
- What were your operating margins?
- How are you financed?
- What percentage of your total turnover is with our company?
- What is your vision for the industry?
- And why should we consider putting you on our lead supplier list?
Now, I’ve never found a cure for a hangover, but this was a cure for the sobering-up part for sure!
To say we were shell-shocked was an understatement — luckily I was able to pull together the answers, which I’m sure made little sense to our guest, who looked as if he hadn’t been out at all and was completely sober!
A Rude Awakening
The next morning my partner and I reflected on the whole experience, with blocks of ice over our heads, and realized how exposed we were and that we seriously needed to up our game if we were to be successful selling to the executive leadership level of the clients we were trying to win.
That experience changed my whole sales philosophy and I realized that having the best sales skills, tactics and strategies simply wouldn’t cut it — we were dealing with real business people who only had one goal in mind and that was to find the best products and services that will enhance their business and provide value to their own customers.
It was about a simple commercial arrangement and that is when I started to abandon the traditional methods of selling and sales training (I was also building a sales team at the time) and focus on commercial awareness.
Now, I’m not saying that you don’t need a sales structure, some workable strategies, or even a formal sales process, but for me, it is far more important to focus on the business or commercial aspects of selling.
Commercial Awareness: Definition
Here is an excerpt from a great article from Mindtools.com
“Commercial awareness is the understanding of how your business – and your industry – operate and make money. When you demonstrate commercial awareness, you’re focused on making money for your business and helping it achieve its aims. You have informed opinions on factors that affect its profitability or market share, and you understand its competitors and customers.
Commercial awareness is important when you’re applying for a job. It will also help you perform better in your current role, improve your decisions, strengthen your reputation, and increase your chances of winning a promotion.
To develop commercial awareness, learn about how your organization operates and how it makes money. Stay on top of industry news and events, and use social-networking sites like LinkedIn to reach out to other professionals in your sector, and to participate in groups and discussions.”
There is another key point that precedes the above and it reads:
“Remember, one of the advantages of developing commercial awareness is that it helps you form robust opinions, which are informed by the factors, influences, and trends that you see around you. When you get your information from reliable, objective sources, or from professionals that you trust, you help to ensure that your judgment is sound.”
So now you have an idea as to what commercial awareness is and the next question is…how it fits into sales and selling.
Sales and Commercial Awareness
I am a proponent of selling to the executive leadership level when it comes down to B2B sales.
You simply cannot get the same traction with your customers if you are selling to people who are not the ultimate decision-makers and even with key budget holders, it is not uncommon to have budgets taken away, or suddenly adjusted due to unforeseen circumstances.
When you are operating at this level, you will find that sales tactics, techniques, and strategies largely fall out of the window.
You will be far more reliant on making sure you deliver a “no brainer” value proposition to your customers that compels them to buy from you and to do this you need a high level of commercial awareness.
Having a deep understanding of your industry, its dynamics, and the impact on your customers, as well as knowing the landscape of your competitors will be a starting point.
But being able to work in anticipation, predict future trends, and stay ahead of the curve, will give you more than an edge over the competition and it will send a message to your customers that you truly understand their business.
It’s the creation of that value proposition, however, that is of the greatest importance and it is critical to make sure that it is not a “sales document,” but a well-thought-out proposition that shows you have a full understanding of your customer’s business, your market and the opportunities and risk factors associated with it.
Stop Selling and Start Influencing
When you are operating at the right level, you need to forget the idea of “selling” as such and focus more on trying to influence your customers to make the right decisions.
Selling is very much like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle — only you have the advantage in selling because you know all of the component pieces in advance, rather than having to sit down and work out how each piece is interconnected.
This will mean talking to many other contacts in your target client to gain the background information you need to prepare the proposition and this is where so many salespeople are one-dimensional and simply focus on one contact.
You start at the top of the company and then you work wide and deep, to gain the full picture — imagine how many useful contacts you will make during this process!
Your value proposition will already have demonstrated a high degree of commercial awareness because you will have demonstrated that you fully understand your customer’s business and will have aligned your products and/or services accordingly.
You will also focus intently on the outcome of your offering, rather than ramble on about the endless features and benefits that are often so miscommunicated in many such documents.
In this way, you will be able to walk your customer through each step and in a way, “educate” them as to how to buy from you.
It’s a process that is far removed from traditional selling models and one that takes away the endless presentations and objection-handling cycles that I see in so many.
How To Become More Commercially Aware
Now we come to the crucial part — how do you gain more commercial awareness and what if I am not a great learner or that academic?
I struggled massively at school, and it was down to being intimidated by the learning environment — I believe that it was truly a reflection of coming from a broken marriage and when getting divorced was uncommon.
I didn’t have a father to help instill confidence in me and therefore I can’t blame the teachers, only myself.
The reason I am sharing this part of my story is that I now have the luxury of being able to look back over my life and I can see where the roadblocks were, not that I had any clue at the time.
Maybe you have your own and I can say from my own experience that it wasn’t down to a lack of ability or intelligence, just a lack of confidence, so don’t give up!
But this roadblock stayed with me for all of my teenage years until I left college and started my own business.
Then I developed a passion and thirst for or knowledge, that was unstoppable and if I can do it, then I believe anyone can.
If you have had a formal business education, then you will have a distinct advantage — having an MBA, will definitely help you in business as it will teach you the language of business and its component parts…but be warned, it still doesn’t give you a license for success.
I have seen many formally educated business people and people who have left fantastic corporate careers fail in business, just as I have seen entrepreneurs fail.
Take a look at the related article I’ve linked below to get an idea of the differences between an entrepreneur and a businessman.
Immerse Yourself in The Business World
The best advice I can give anyone is to plunge deep into the world of business — read and learn everything you can and make sure you stay current with world events, global stock markets, and look back through history as to how some of the world’s leading companies were founded and grown.
It’s amazing what you can learn from history.
My daughter is training to become a classical singer and although she loves the latest pop songs, she is absolutely committed to the classical world and simply cannot listen enough to some of the greatest classical singers past and present.
My two sons are the same when it comes to realizing their dreams to become professional soccer players — they simply cannot get enough knowledge about soccer and that doesn’t stop at the game.
They are obsessed with how their favorite players live, eat, and how they conduct their lives, plus they are both walking encyclopedias when it comes down to soccer facts and knowledge.
I know it sounds obvious, but you have to do the same with business and make sure you are passionate about it.
I would say that commercial awareness is one of the most overlooked skills in sales and selling — it is, for me, the missing piece of the secret to sales success.
The first part of the sales success formula for me is to actually stop trying to sell to your audience and learn how to influence them by creating a simple and compelling value proposition…but to do this you will have to be commercially aware!
So, they go hand-in-hand and that is the key point.
To begin your sales life as an influencer, throw out all of the outdated and outmoded sales techniques and strong-arm closing strategies — they may work for the short term, but they have no place when it comes to working at the executive leadership level, which is the only level you should be connecting and working with…at least at the start.
Learn to have meaningful and concise discussions that focus intently on your customer, their business, the industry as a whole…and most importantly, learn to form opinions and to articulate them.
To have those discussions, you must have the relevant knowledge in the first place and it doesn’t matter how little you think you know, because you have to start somewhere and even if you have a great deal of knowledge, it can always be improved.
But knowledge itself is not enough…it has to be applied and that is the difference between good salespeople and great ones!
Last modified: June 16, 2021