Consider building salespeople's business analysis skills

Business analysis skills are lacking at many organizations. BA training and certifications may be underutilized resources for supporting better sales.

Business analysts continue to be frustrated by employers that seem not to value business analysis skills. Commonly experienced indicators of not being sufficiently valued include frequent failure to provide business analysts with suitable skills development training and support. In turn, that can be both cause and effect of failing to involve business analysts in projects.

Professional associations, such as the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), have emerged largely to enhance business analyst recognition and status. IIBA and many other associations emulate the Project Management Institute, which has been pre-eminently successful in promoting the project manager role and especially PMI's several certifications. PMI recently announced it will offer its own business analyst certification in competition with IIBA's.

PMI's entry into the business analysis skills market suggests PMI sees plenty of opportunity among un- and underserved business analysts. To its credit, IIBA has been the main contributor to increasing recognition of the terms business analysis and business analyst, and IIBA has awarded more than 3,500 certifications. Yet many business analysts still feel their organizations do not sufficiently value them.

Low valuation may simply be a communications issue. Employers may feel that certified business analysts are not appreciably more effective, or there may be increased business analyst effectiveness that's not sufficiently communicated. So far, few business analyst job descriptions mention, let alone require, IIBA certifications. In contrast, although it's questionable whether PMI certifications actually improve project management performance, many organizations do require PMI certification for project manager jobs.

It is not clear whether PMI thinks the business analysis skills market has room for them because it's larger than IIBA has been able to reach or because PMI sees weaknesses in IIBA's marketing or offerings. It's probably a combination, although so far PMI's business analysis models seem somewhat hard to distinguish from those promulgated by IIBA.

Regardless, both IIBA and PMI seem to overlook an additional market for promoting business analysis skills -- salespeople. Salespeople provide a larger and potentially more rewarding pool of business analysis students. Although seldom recognized as such, much of what successful salespeople do is business analysis. Like those with a business analyst title, salespeople desperately need assistance developing their business analysis skills.

Whereas organizations often skimp on supporting business analysts, practically all recognize the importance of salespeople and invest significantly in sales training. Yet in spite of (or perhaps because of) such training, sales continues to have a very low success rate. My experience suggests a main cause is that traditional sales training is weak with regard to business analysis skills. This training gap creates opportunity for those who can provide better BA training.

Conventional sales training tends to pay lip service to customers but often emphasizes product knowledge and techniques to get customers to buy things they don't want. A fraction of a fraction of salespeople generally account for most sales dollars. These precious few sell differently. Rather than pushing what they've got, top salespeople make the effort to understand the customer's real business requirements and then show how their products can meet them.

That's what business analysts are supposed to be doing too. Successful salespeople succeed because they do effective business analysis. Unfortunately, as with sales, too much of the available business analysis skills training focuses on products instead of customers. On the other hand, a big payback can come from training salespeople to be effective business analysts.

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