Resolve to Boost Your Competence (and Career) in 2012

December 22, 2011 0 Comments Best Practices by Jack Dean

Karen DeanThis is a guest blog post from Karen Dean, CEO and co-founder of FASTpartners LLC, a sales training firm that specializes in helping sales professionals improve their business/financial competence and executive selling skills.

I’m not a big fan of the proverbial New Year’s resolutions.  That said, I do take an opportunity at year-end to assess what I need to do in the new year to make progress on personal and professional goals.   Whether you’re making resolutions or just planning ahead to better yourself in 2012, now is the time to start that process.  It’s much more fun going into the holidays with a clear mind and a solid plan to execute in the new year.

Broadening Skills

Throughout my professional career, I’ve searched for ways to broaden my skills and differentiate myself.  I started out as a financial analyst but was always a “marketing wannabe”.  In the early years, my “personal improvement plan” involved getting exposure to the marketing side of the business.  As part of the finance group, I rallied for opportunities to assist our marketing department in their pricing and investment analyses.  While working on these projects, I observed that some of the most brilliant marketing minds had a solid grounding in finance and used it to their advantage.  These folks were the ones who understood what levers to pull to get a new product launched or an expensive marketing campaign funded.

Over time, I was able to parlay my finance background into a variety of marketing and sales positions.  I believe I got these opportunities because my financial competence differentiated me from others and enabled me to execute differently from many of my counterparts.  I used my financial competence to communicate financial value to my “customers”, both internal and external to my company.

Financial Competence is a Differentiator

In our sales training business, we are seeing a surge in interest from companies who want their sales and marketing professionals to broaden skills and develop differentiated financial acumen competencies.  Many companies have invested in “soft” skills training, but their sales people continue to struggle articulating the business and financial value of their solutions. They’re worried that their sales professionals are avoiding the solution financial value subject altogether and sounding just like the competition. 

In a sales environment where customers are consolidating vendors and choosing suppliers based upon the “business and financial value impact” of solutions, sales people need to be perceived as business savvy and different.

If you are in a sales or marketing position, I believe you have a window of opportunity to differentiate yourself by improving your financial competence.  The cards are stacked in your favor for several reasons:

  1. Most sales and marketing professionals lack even the most fundamental financial acumen skills (as evidenced by assessments we administer to prospective clients).  An incremental improvement in your financial competence will get noticed.
  2. It takes discipline and a commitment to improve your financial competence.  Many of your colleagues aren’t willing to make this investment. 
  3. Your customers are looking for business advisors who are capable of understanding their financial performance and proposing solutions to impact their business results.  The customer-side demand for financial competence has never been higher.

To reinforce point #3, it’s important to keep in mind that the reason for improving financial acumen skills is to make a difference for your customer.  It’s not about being able to recite what’s on an income statement or balance sheet. It’s about understanding how your solutions can impact the income statement and balance sheet to improve the financial performance of your customers.

Getting Started

Although a formalized learning experience will “jump-start” your financial competence, there are a number of self-help steps you can take to improve your skills.  One idea is to select one of your customers that publish annual reports (publicly-traded are best, but some private companies also publish annual reports) and download it from the customer’s website.  Go to the financial statements and start exploring the income statement and balance sheet.  Look at what line items are included in Cost of Sales and SG&A (selling, general, and administrative) expenses.  Calculate some growth rates to see if these expenses are growing in line with revenues.  If you find that expenses are rising faster than revenues, dig deeper into these areas as they may provide opportunities for your solutions. Use the MD&A (Management Discussion & Analysis) section within the annual report to learn what management is saying about their revenues and expenses.

You don’t have to be a financial expert to gain credibility with your customers.  Based on my experience, I think most customers will be impressed to know that you’ve “studied” their financial statements and are incorporating some of your observations into your conversations with them.  If you want to be viewed as a “business advisor” rather than a vendor, take some initiative in gaining an understanding of your customer’s financial performance and what key performance indicators (KPIs) are top-of-mind with customer executives.

Happy holidays to you and your family.  And get started on those personal improvement plans for 2012!