5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Developing Business Acumen

You have decided that to grow your business your sales force needs to improve their business acumen skills. You bring in your top sales managers, training department and your head of sales effectiveness/operations.

You ask your team to build business planning templates and put together training. After some consultation and development work your team rolls out your business acumen initiative.

Here are several pitfalls

1. Aligning Planning Processes

Marketing plans are built on strategies and tactics by product. Sales plans are built based on tactics by customer. Great thinking happens at both levels but how do you align the two?

When I was a business unit manager, I was responsible for marketing and sales plans and I can remember reading the sales plans that 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 customer centric business model with sales reps and sales managers having great decision making requires several organizational shifts. Support departments such as Medical Education, Key Accounts must understand they do not lead but support the sales team. The sales team needs to understand that they must 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 issue here? As a head of sales I think in dollars, reps think in dollars yet they must 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. Are you working in the field and speaking with your top sales reps? Much can be learned from what your top people are doing.

This is a great starting point to see what “great” looks like. What would help them be better, what suggestions do they have. Make them part of the process.

5. Finding Your Way

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

To ensure that your organization delivers upon expectations it requires some a clear vision of what you would like to achieve. What concerns me is that many organizations are moving forward with different initiatives without a clear destination where they want to get to.


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 some of the potential pitfalls to ensure that their initiatives have the desired outcome.

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