What is commercial acumen and why is it important?

Commercial acumen is a phrase that dominates the workplace as employers look to improve their operations at all levels.

While it is an incredibly important skill for employees to possess, it can be difficult to teach, measure and sustain in the workplace, as both internal and external factors can directly impact what commercial acumen means to a specific company.

This is particularly relevant in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses worldwide to redefine their commercial goals and objectives, in line with vastly different marketplace and economic conditions.

In order to help you understand commercial acumen, we’ve put together this useful guide that defines what it is, as well as how it can be demonstrated and improved with interactive workplace training.

What is commercial acumen?

Commercial acumen can be defined as an awareness of how a business operates, as well as an understanding of the factors that determine the performance of the company. Essentially, it is a know-how of how the business is run.

The exact definition and value of commercial acumen will vary from business to business. For example, a bank will typically look towards financial acumen in the form of statements, core costs and profit margins, whereas a service-led business will be more interested in value creation, innovation and consumer experience.

While it may seem like a lot of information to take in, you can demonstrate business acumen if you take the time to look beyond your immediate role and begin to understand how the organization works as a whole, in line with specific values, targets and goals.

How can I demonstrate commercial acumen?

Although it will vary from business to business, there are a number of elements that employers and leaders will look for when trying to drive commerciality in their business, including:

  • Specific KPIs and goals
  • The impact of specific products and services
  • Organisational strategy
  • Risk management
  • How behaviour impacts profitable growth
  • Competitor analysis.

To help build your own commercial acumen, you should be taking the time to actively research your business and assess how it achieves commercial success, as well as staying up-to-date with any latest market developments including competitors.

Ultimately, employers are looking for people who can confidently display a substantial knowledge of both the business and the industry in which they work, as well as applying it to their role in order to improve.

Commercial acumen in 2020

There is no denying the fact 2020 has flipped pretty much everything related to commercial acumen and awareness on its head. What was once considered essential may now be relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of business survival.

Even now, as businesses begin to deal with the long term effects of this crisis and build recovery plans, it is crucial that employees are aware of what is important for both now and in the future.

For example, according to a report by the Office of National Statistics, 36% of the workforce in the UK is now working remotely instead of at their normal place of work. This means that sustaining productivity among the entire workforce is now much more of a priority as it is integral to maintaining operations long term.

To ensure that you are developing your acumen in relation to the latest twists and turns that coronavirus promises to bring, it is important to maintain regular communication with those in management as well as keeping an eye on the latest developments from relevant and official sources.

Financial acumen vs commercial acumen

While financial acumen and commercial acumen both relate to the wider objectives of the business, there is a significant difference between the two which employees should take note of:

Financial acumen is directly linked to making decisions based on financial statements and the monetary impact on the company.

Commercial acumen is directly linked to an awareness of how the business runs, and how decisions impact the company as a whole.
As we mentioned above, financial acumen is more related to areas of the business such as profit margins, revenue management, core costs and pricing, which is typically associated with banks and financial services.

How can you boost commercial acumen with training?

Much like anything else, commercial acumen can be developed and maintained with a dedicated workplace training programme.

At MDA Training, our experiential and insight-rich learning solutions provide employees with the commercial concepts, ideas and practical tools to drive improved commerciality. Our ‘Developing Commercial Acumen’ module focuses on understanding the marketplace in which the organisation operates, the business model and KPIs and helps participants understand how their behaviour impacts on each of these.

Delivered entirely via Zoom, WebEx or Teams, our virtual learning programmed are designed to boost acumen across an entire hierarchy. We also offer a range of optional learning tools to embed, reinforce and sustain the learning pre, during and post-event.


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