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5 Steps to Build Commercial Expertise

March 5, 2019

There’s a lot of conversation about building commercial competence within organizations. Sometimes it is referred to as ‘business acumen’. The reason it is so important is that decisions need to be made faster, but they must take account of risks. So there is growing investment in programs that help the workforce operate with better judgment.

However, while these programs for overall competence are of great value and importance, they don’t replace the need for true commercial experts. Ultimately, you may be able to help the workforce better identify risks and thereby avoid dumb decisions – but where are the people to whom those tough situations can be handed for resolution?

Right now, many organizations are struggling to develop those experts. So what should they be doing?

  1. Appoint the right leadership. Surveys by the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management have consistently shown a tendency for functional leaders to be drawn from the ranks of high-performing practitioners. These ‘hands=on’ individuals are often not natural leaders. They may be great problem-solvers, but don’t invest time in people development, knowledge transfer or strategic thinking. This is inhibiting the progress and relevance of many commercial teams, whether in contract management, procurement or legal. Managers today need to be selected for their ability to develop their people and ensure the value of their contribution to business goals.
  2. Coping with change. Change feels endless and people become wearied by it – unless it can be transformed into an area of excitement. A good commercial expert must be an enthusiast for change, yet many today are more focused and oriented on compliance – the opposite end of the spectrum. Commercial expertise depends on shifting thinking and behavior, to recognize that ‘compliance’ is a baseline and that commercial work is to constantly test that baseline and move it forward, such that business capabilities are aligned with business and market needs. Commercial teams must embrace disruption, not resist it.
  3. Digital enablement. Commercial groups are typically either lacking in technology, or lacking in the right technology. That’s in part because of the challenge of finding systems that can deal with volatility and in part because of the traditional view that ‘commercial judgment’ is an individual capability born out of personal experience. Digital tools can be transformational in commercial decision-making. They can empower the workforce with commercial awareness and they can equip the experts with powerful data and analytics that moves a commercial function to the very heart of the business. Developing a digital strategy is fundamental to coping with the present and preparing for the future.
  4. Motivating performance. Commercial staff must be objective. Their judgment should not be clouded by motivation or reward systems that distort behavior. Focus on measurements that look at the quality of decisions over time. Introduce mentoring programs that assist personal growth and team activities that result in sharing of experience and knowledge. Develop people who gain satisfaction from the enthusiasm of the business to engage their services and seek their advice.
  5. Competency appraisals. High-performance commercial teams are key to maintaining competitiveness and promoting innovation. Too often, they lose sight of key business goals and strategies or lack critical external knowledge and benchmarks. Undertake regular competency assessments that evaluate commercial capabilities and provide benchmarks against market norms and standards.

As a not-for-profit association, IACCM undertakes extensive research and benchmarks, equipping it to help member companies build and test commercial expertise. For example, corporate members qualify for an annual commercial capability assessment at no charge, offering the sort of insights and market comparisons that drive continuous improvement.

For more information about IACCM services, visit or contact

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One Comment
  1. Erik Nordling permalink

    Good thing, Tim!
    A leader with ’guts’, ’proper executive anchoring’ and a talent and interest in building a diverse and complementary team is number 1 in my view. Number 2 is execute and communicate progress. Focus on quality of people rather than quantity.

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