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Sales Strategies
Transform Yourself from a Salesperson into a Businessperson
By Dave Stein, CEO, ES Research Group

If I told you that one of the most important characteristics of sales excellence in today's hypercompetitive business environment was not to be a salesperson, would you think you subscribed to the wrong magazine?

If I told you that one of the most important characteristics of sales excellence in today's hypercompetitive business environment was not to be a salesperson, would you think you subscribed to the wrong magazine? Well, I have a good reason for saying it.

I'm not really saying you shouldn't be a salesperson. I'm saying that to be a top sales professional, you have to be a businessperson - because businesspeople make the most effective salespeople. And why is that true? Because what you are really selling is business improvement.

In terms of selling, what do I mean by "businessperson"? A businessperson is someone who can transcend the product or service she is selling to reach higher ground - the ability to understand, articulate, and drive the contribution her business can make to the client's business.

What is the business value of your product or service? To communicate this to your prospect convincingly, you must be more than a sales rep. You have to be a businessperson and, using business competencies, view and present your offering as platform upon which your prospect can achieve their business plan going forward.

Characteristics of a Businessperson

Being a businessperson not only means developing these business skills, such as the ability to read and interpret financial statements, but it also involves a way of thinking and being. Here are some of the behaviors and traits I have observed in sales winners - people I would also consider businesspeople:

  • They know that if they give their customer what he needs, they will then get what they need.
  • They make rational decisions, rather than allowing emotion to guide them.
  • They follow orderly procedures and processes, rather than taking random actions.
  • They plan for the future and have the discipline and motivation to execute that plan.
  • They seek out the truth through insightful, probing questions, rather than blindly accepting what they are told.
  • They accept responsibility for their own actions and for those who work on their behalf.
  • They know how to use technology to improve not only their own but their customer's business position.
They work for a win-win solution, knowing that anything else will ultimately be lose-lose.

If you don't want your client to treat your product or service as a commodity, you have to differentiate your offering from your competitor's. It comes down to perception. If your clients see you as just a salesperson, they won't respect you the way they would someone they viewed as a businessperson. Here's how they think: A businessperson is a professional; a businessperson is there for the long haul. Salespeople are all the same, interchangeable; they're just after a quick buck. This perception, common among top executives, is unfair, but it's a fact of life. That's why people who sell for a living adopt titles such as Marketing Representative, Business Development Manager, and Client Acquisition Executive on their business cards.

Take a good look at yourself. Read the list of behaviors again. Can you identify areas where you need to improve? What should you do?

First, accept the fact that you, and you alone, are responsible for your own personal and professional growth. No one is going to barge through your door and change you. You've already recognized that a change is needed. That's the toughest step.

Expand Your General Business Knowledge

How much do you know about business in general? Do you know how businesses operate? What about your company? What about your three best clients? Can you articulate their visions? Can you identify their short- and long-term strategies?

To survive and thrive in the information economy, the most important skill you'll need is good, old-fashioned business know-how. You should know how businesses operate, especially in the marketplace into which you sell. Become familiar with concepts and current practices in business strategy and planning, Internet commerce, business collaboration, and change management, among other areas. One of my clients, bidding to replace a company's decade-old software with a new product that would let independent agents enter orders, asked how the company proposed to get the agents to accept the changeover. There was a stunned silence. Nobody in the company had imagined that the independents might resist the idea. My client, having uncovered an unidentified risk, locked up the deal by adding management services to the proposal.

Financial Statements Revisited

The most important element of business know-how is understanding how financial statements represent a company's financial position and how that company compares with others in its market. If you can't read and interpret an income statement, cash flow statement, or balance sheet, learn to do so right away. There are no shortcuts. Those financial statements are as revealing of business health as CAT scans, EKGs, and blood tests are of your physical health. You don't need to become a CPA, but a solid knowledge of financial concepts and an ability to compare clients are key.

If you believe, as I do, that effective selling at the executive level is about quantifying and proving the business value you can contribute, then having business know-how is a vital component of that approach. If you don't have it, how do you get it? Here are a few ideas:

  • Take a course in reading and interpreting financial statements at your local college, at night school, or (in the United States) with the American Management Association. In Europe, try Management Centre Europe.
  • Read a book on the subject. Do the exercises.
  • Ask your brokerage firm for guides to reading and interpreting financial statements. Most large brokerage houses have either a book or a comprehensive document on the subject.
  • Spend some time with your own company's CFO, controller, or accountant. If you aren't well versed in finance, do you know someone who can interpret a financial report for you in a pinch?
  • If you have a close relationship with a client, ask his CFO, controller, or accountant to walk you through the company's financials. This is a very powerful way to understand how your client's business operates. If you sell into a vertical market, this approach will give you real insight into that industry, which can be used when selling to other companies. We're not talking about sharing proprietary information, of course, but industry norms - median profit margins, sales costs, revenues per employee, anything that will help you show how your offering contributes to their business plan.

I submit to you that the timeless truth about sales is, "It's all about money" So if you can't show your clients and customers how your offering will earn or save them big money, you'll never consistently win the big sale.

Dave Stein, after 25 years in sales leadership positions and delivering his own sales training and consulting worldwide, founded ES Research Inc. ESR offers independent, authoritative advice on Sales Training and Consulting and the Companies that provide it through weekly briefs, in-depth reports, online seminars and advisory services. For more information go to or call 508.313.9585

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