Can You Speak the Language of Business? An Essential Skill for Communicating with Executives.

“More than 50% of US college graduates, regardless of their majors, are likely to work in sales at some point,” according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. Yet, how prepared are they to effectively communicate with executives? What will separate the outstanding salespeople from those who struggle and bumble along?


Sales executives who are trying to sell the value of their solutions must be able to have peer-to-peer conversations with executives. They need to understand basic business terminology and know how the businesses they are targeting operate. Essentially, the language of business is the language of finance and accounting – topics that might make some people break out in a cold sweat. However, it’s time to bite the bullet and learn the basics so that you can be confident in your discussions. Does that require a business degree? No. It does require some effort, commitment, and a curiosity about your prospects and their businesses.

A recent LinkedIn Sales Blog article, “Mapping the Path Forward” discusses a study by Avionos. It found that 92% of B2B buyers surveyed said a qualified salesperson would be important in helping them counter the effects of a recession. How do you then, become credible as a qualified salesperson? It begins with your understanding of the prospect’s circumstances and then demonstrating your value. To do this effectively, you need to communicate in the language of business.

Business Acumen is a Skill to Develop

You only get one shot to make a good impression. When you communicate with decision-makers, executive communication training can help you make that first impression a memorable one. You must be prepared with insightful questions that make people stop, take note, and engage with you.

We designed Executive Speak™ , an interactive elearning program that will prepare you for productive and engaging conversations. It lays out a roadmap of how businesses are managed and explains the typical financial and accounting terms that businesses use to measure success. It’s a solid foundation for anybody in sales who doesn’t have a sound business background and is expected to have business conversations.

As Generation Z starts to enter the workforce on the heels of the Millennial generation, new college graduates are joining the ranks of the sales profession. Depending on their degree, some may not have taken even a basic course in finance or accounting. They may have no idea what an income statement is or what a balance sheet is or how cash moves through a business. This challenge is not limited to new college grads. Many experienced sales representatives sell based on what they’ve learned over the years, and while old school may have worked at some point, they don’t have the confidence in business fundamentals that enable them to sell at a higher level with executive connections.

7 Key Business Questions Salespeople Should Research

Your job as a qualified salesperson is to add value both to the individual as well as to the organization. Since you can’t add value if you don’t understand that person’s world, here are basic business questions to think about as you prepare to prospect:

  1. What is going on in this industry?

  2. What types of companies am I selling to?

  3. How do they make money?

  4. Who are their customers?

  5. What stage is the company in?

  6. Are they profitable?

  7. Who runs the show?

At first glance, these look like simple questions. However, write out the answers and you’ll find there are complexities to each. To really understand the company and people you are selling to, you’ll have to dig around for information and be curious about what you uncover.

Set Business Acumen Goals

How do you get this information? There are many resources. Set aside the time to do your homework and research, then sift through that information and create a plan.

I recommend you start with a company’s website. Look at their mission statement or “About Us” information – these are the carefully crafted goals and messages about the company. If they are publicly traded, review their financial reports. Specifically look at the CEO’s letter in the annual report which provides top-level commentary that ties to the numbers. Listen in on investor conference calls and hear how quarterly financial results are reported. Another great source of information on a company website is the “News” section. This typically includes press releases announcing company news as well as media coverage where the company has been featured. Read a few posts from the corporate blog, explore which events the company will be attending, or if they are hosting any informative webinars. Start following the company’s social media posts to gain insight on how they are sharing information with their customers.

Beyond the website – where of course the message is controlled by the company – conduct online research by setting up Google Alerts on the company, key executives, industry terms, and competitors. Use LinkedIn to see what company executives are reading, sharing, and commenting on. Join some industry groups and associations on LinkedIn. It’s also beneficial to sign up for electronic newsletters or digests from industry associations and trade publications. Also keep an eye on local business press. Finally, there are great podcasts out there to help you gain business acumen, including our own B2B Revenue Executive Experience podcast hosted by Chad Sanderson, ValueSelling Associates Managing Partner.

In conclusion, be curious about what’s going on with your prospect companies and their industries. As you gain business acumen, you’ll be able to tie your objectives to the company’s business goals and explain the valuable impact of what you’re selling to executive buyers.