There is an ongoing debate as to whether business acumen can be taught or if it is an intuitive savvy that one inherently possesses.  Either way, it is critical for organizations to develop and implement an integrated strategy for developing customer-facing roles’ business acumen to meet the evolving marketplace demands.
This strategy must:

  • Impart the importance of effective business and account planning with clearly defined planning and review processes
  • Develop business acumen skills and related competencies such as decision making, strategic thinking, problem solving, planning, resource allocation, and team collaboration skills
  • Create a culture that values and practices ongoing coaching and feedback
  • Leverage the learning and development function to create blended learning solutions which enhance account management knowledge and skill
  • Focus development planning efforts to include the identification of knowledge and skill gaps related to the evolving healthcare marketplace

Building Business Acumen Skills Requires a Blended Approach

As with other development initiatives, no one learning activity provides the “quick answer.” Organizations must leverage different methods and on-the-job experiences coupled with ongoing coaching and feedback to improve skill development.  Programs and tools must:

  • Turn generalities such as “business acumen” or “strategic thinking” into tangible behaviors and practices for sales professionals to execute
  • Maximize participants’ time together during on-site sessions for experiential learning and provide feedback that increases competence and confidence to apply skills back on-the-job
  • Leverage the collective knowledge and experience of participants to share lessons learned and practical approaches
  • Include pre-, during, and post-program assessment

When the commitment is made to take customer-facing roles out of the field for a training workshop, the program needs to leverage adult learning principles and include interactive exercises.

Organizations also need to design sustainability tools that support customer-facing roles.  It is important to include a variety of learning and coaching tools, such as:

  1. Ongoing distance learning webinars that reinforce critical concepts and provide skill development.
  2. Performance toolkits that bring together all of the required content, process models, templates, and skill development.
  3. “Leader-led Learning Modules” to be used by leaders and account managers to help their teams practice, apply, and continuously improve processes and skills over time.
  4. Coaching Guides for managers that include “Instant Assessments” or questions that help determine the level of knowledge and behaviors typically performed in the field.
Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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