Tufts’ graduation is coming up this weekend, and many of my students over the years will make the big jump from student to wage-earner. For me, my most important metric as a professor is how many of my ex-students have I directly assisted in getting jobs, and it’s very rewarding for me to see them get offers this semester from Deloitte, HubSpot, Brainshark and IBS just to name a few.
As a superb undergraduate liberal arts and engineering school, Tufts is also home to some of the top graduate schools in the world with the Fletcher School of Diplomacy plus its leading medical and dental schools. All highly acclaimed, and all producing highly degreed engineers, dentists, physicians and world-renowned diplomats, all of whom leave Tufts with newly minted, and heavily experienced skills. I always say about my students at Tufts and at MIT that they’re not going to have any difficulty finding high paying jobs.
So, what about graduating with sales degrees since 25% of all liberal arts students are going to end up working in sales or marketing jobs, and almost every person in business today has some level of customer contact? Although there are numerous universities in the U.S. that provide majors and graduate degrees in marketing, there are less than 10, that provide any degrees in the complex art and science of sales and most of those are minors, not majors.
So, who teaches sales? Mostly, it’s not really taught. It’s supposedly absorbed in some mystical manner through the osmosis of “learning on the job”, or “windshield time” spent with one’s boss. Although there are a few companies like Xerox and Salesforce, who are clearly on the top rungs of the ladder of corporate sales education, they are the 1% of the 1%, and my guess is that across corporate America, it isn’t that high a percentage.
And even if one does find means to be taught selling as a skill, that teaching process typically comes down to a few random internal skills sessions over the short period of a few months, or worse yet, by attending the dreaded half day “sales seminar” held at the local Holiday Inn. Even with all of this lack of formal training and certification, individual salespeople have it far better than their bosses, the sales managers, where the most critical metric for promotion is that the person was the top revenue producer. Typically, again with the exception of the few large corporate leaders like Xerox, they’re thrown on to the battlefield head first with a slap on the back and a warning to “call me if you have any problems”.
As a CPA, one needs strict certification, and obviously, the same applies to docs, nurses, pilots and lots of other professions. Certification is highly regarded in senior supply management positions with CPM and ASICS accreditation. Even private club managers have tough strict degreed certification programs with difficult exams taking years to complete. So, what about sales and sales management? Just as difficult, just as complex, just as highly skilled, but little formal education and zippo certification and, yet, one of the top income producing jobs anywhere. What am I missing here?
What all of us can do is to take a course or two over the period of the next year. It might be a multi day program in specific skills like our sales management boot camps reserved only for heads of sales and presidents. It might be a course at something like the Harvard Extension School or a good community college. If you feel that all of that takes too much time (even though it really doesn't), then commit yourself to studying at least two technical sales books between now and the end of the year on specific sales skills. You can also hold a one and a half day sales skills training program during the summer with lots of best practices, customized case studies and formal role playing. What you simply cannot do is "nothing".
Sales is undergoing a revolution in its concepts, skills, tactics and metrics, similar to that started 6 to 7 years ago in marketing, and it’s time to get on board, move ahead and learn new skills if you want to continue to win in this profession.
Good selling, today!