Why and How to get an “A” in Business Acumen

Got Business Acumen? Business acumen reflects your ability to assimilate information from many different sources in order to make good business decisions quickly and to devise appropriate strategies. Marketers who consistently demonstrate business acumen are more likely to be considered among the “A” marketers, the marketers who regularly get high marks from their leadership team.  These marketers take a holistic view in that they can see how the decisions they make affect the rest of the organization and effectively communicate with all the functional areas within the organization. With solid business acumen they can take more easily see and take advantage of opportunities and manage potential pitfalls.

If you’re looking to rise up through the ranks, business acumen is an essential skill that you can improve.  How?  First, start by thinking of yourself as a member of the business team, not a marketer.  This means, that you may need to increase your knowledge of how your company operates and what’s top of mind for your leadership team.  Here’s a quick story to illustrate this idea. In a recent conversation, a demand generation director mentioned that they were having trouble getting the ear of the CMO.  When I asked what the CMO is focused on, “improving the customer experience” was the answer. I then asked, “What’s the business problem the company is trying to solve by addressing the customer experience. For example is there a customer churn issue or a customer reference issue that your leadership team feels is being affected by customer experience?”  The director didn’t know but promised to find out, recognizing that this is a good opportunity to demonstrate business acumen and explore how their role could address the problem, or how the team does could positively impact customer experience.

Why and How to get an “A” in Business Acumen (4)

Second, remember you are part of the whole. A marketer with business acumen understands the workings of the organization. This means, you need to cultivate relationships with people inside other departments.  Your purpose in creating these relationships is to learn more about what they do, how to work together, and how by collaborating, marketing and their department can serve the business better.  Back to my conversation. As we talked further, I asked, “Who outside of marketing do you work with and who within the company reaches out to you.”  I was informed that the company is very siloed, organized by product lines, applications, and regions.  The demand generation team crafts campaigns based on a quarterly content calendar and conversations with the marketers in the field who support the business units and regions.  It sounded to me like the team is good service provider, but not necessarily a good business contributor. What could the director do better? I suggested that it is probably time to connect directly with product line, business line, and regional managers and leaders. Concerns were raised about the time this would require and whether it would mean “stepping outside” the lines.  I said, “You are investing the company’s time and resources. How do you know you are making the right investments?”  Developing and honing your business acumen isn’t something you do when you have a “few extra minutes.”  You have to make a conscious decision to dedicate time to develop this skill. There are lots of great courses and books focused on business acumen skill development.

Third, read everything you can from other organizations within the company and everything you can about your market, customers, products, competitors and industry.  Why? Because you need context for your decisions. People perceived to have business acumen are people who perform thoughtful analysis, which often entails making connections between and among various data sets. This means they acquire as much relevant information as possible and that they use this information to make sense of the complexity associated with most industries. This type of information help you begin to see potential patterns and how the future might unfold. Armed with this information you are in a better position to anticipate and make strategic recommendation.

And last but not least, manage performance from the perspective of the business – not the function.  Most marketers have an extensive number of tools at hand to measure the “work of marketing.”  They can measure website, email, digital, and content marketing activity.  There’s a wealth of measurement data and ways to capture and report these measures. Marketers with business acumen understand what metrics are meaningful and relevant to business performance and how to translate this information into action.  They implement processes and tools that enable them to communicate more than just marketing’s performance, they are able to communicate marketing’s impact on business performance.

Marketers who can combine business acumen capabilities with marketing, change management, time management, and people management skills are valued for more than their marketing talent. They are considered valued members of the decision-making team. So move business acumen to the top of your skills development list and you will move up the career ladder.