Business Acumen Is Needed To Sell To the C‑Level

BY Jessica Helinski
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Business acumen, not just sales savvy, is a must for any rep who wants to sell to C‑level executives. As discussed in last week’s post, an understanding of business and finance will give reps both the knowledge and credibility needed to be confident in discussions with these prospects. “CXO decision makers want to understand the business value of a solution, and this is why it’s imperative to learn to speak the language of business and communicate business value in every sales meeting,” Julie Thomas explains in an article for LinkedIn. Thomas shares three steps that reps should tackle before meeting with a member of the C‑suite. We will discuss the other two in this second part of our article series.

  1. Investigate
  2. Prepare
  3. Predict

Business Acumen: Two More Steps to Get It

While the first step is to investigate, the following is to prepare. Now, salespeople shouldn’t be any stranger to preparation. According to SalesFuel’s Voice of the Sales Rep survey, common pre-​call research activities include reviewing a prospect’s website and social media feed. But, when dealing with C‑level execs, reps need to take their preparation a bit further. “Your job as a qualified salesperson is to add value both to the individual buyer as well as to their organization,” Thomas says. “To add value, you need to understand that person's world.” She gives examples of questions that a salesperson with business acumen should be able to answer:

  • What is going on in this industry?
  • What types of companies am I selling to?
  • How do they make money?
  • Who are their customers?
  • What stage is the company in?
  • Are they profitable?
  • Who runs the show?

These may seem like basic simple questions, but they are actually more complex. Finding valuable answers to each will take some digging on your part. While you may be able to glean some insight from their website and social media, checking out other resources, like annual reports and corporate blogs, can be very helpful. “Beyond the website and social channels — where of course the message is controlled by the company — conduct online research by setting up Google Alerts on the company, key executives, industry terms, and competitors,” Thomas suggests. Also, industry trade journals and business magazines can help build business acumen as well.


Once you’ve gathered insights about the executive’s company, industry, financials, etc., and you understand those findings, it’s time to predict. What should their business expect in the near future? How will current trends affect them? Where will opportunities specific to their industry be? To use your business acumen and make your conversation a valuable one, you need to tie your investigation and preparation together. “In the context of thinking like an executive, the research and the conclusions we draw from it are extremely deliberate and purposeful to understand if there is a potential opportunity for your products and services,” adds Thomas.

Now What?

So, you’ve built up your business acumen and have a meeting scheduled with a C‑level executive. Even if your time together is short, you can make the most of it. Jeffrey Gitomer suggests that salespeople do the following for the big meeting:

  • Be ready with a proposal in writing.
  • Have notes on everything you want to cover.
  • Have a list of anticipated questions and answers.
  • Be prepared with samples or something to demonstrate.
  • Show credibility builders — your best letter, something in print.
  • Be early.
  • Look perfect.
  • Be knowledgeable — have the answers in terms of how it works for the buyer.
  • Be memorable — The thing that sets you apart, the thing that gets remembered is the thing that leads to the sale.
  • Deliver. You have one chance. Don't blow it by not following through.

Don’t be afraid to meet with that C‑level exec. Using Thomas’ advice, build up your business acumen to stand out, show credibility and present value. Your efforts will be appreciated and worth the extra preparation. “C‑level executives expect salespeople to demonstrate that we know them as an individual, know their organization, and can relate to the business issues and challenges they’re facing,” Thomas writes. “As you gain business acumen, you’ll be prepared to tie your objectives to the buyer’s business issues and goals, and explain the valuable impact of what you’re selling to executive buyers.”

Photo by Lukas Blazek