Sales Education 101

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Graduation

Originally published December 14, 2012.

We’re re-publishing it now because it’s New Year’s Eve, and how many of you are really paying attention? For those who are, consider this a refresher because the second installment in our Sales Education series is coming up on Friday.

There will be more than 1.7 million students receiving a college degree in the U.S. this year. According to the Institute for Sales Education, more of them will enter sales than all other professions combined.

Wow.

There are about 4,500 accredited colleges and universities in the U.S. offering the degrees those students will earn. Sixteen of them offer a degree with a major in sales.

Again, WOW.

How do we reconcile these figures? Did those sixteen schools graduate the over 850,000 students who went into sales as a profession, awarding them a Bachelor of Sales degree? Is there even such a thing? I imagine the 4,000 plus schools that don’t even offer sales courses think that sales is a BS profession.

Or, more likely, did all those English majors and philosophy majors and even the math and engineering majors find there were no other jobs, and a lot of them are renting cars for Enterprise? (Not a bad place to start, actually. They hire over 8,000 college graduates each year, and I’ll bet none of them have sales degrees. And I’ll bet all of them earn more money than a newly-minted high-school English teacher.)

But it’s not only the universities and colleges who disdain formal sales training. It’s the employers. The ones who think that product training is sales training, or a computer with ACT! loaded and a list of leads from a magazine ad is sales training, or a two-hour session with some guru with a canned motivational message is sales training. And notice that as soon as I started discussing employers, the rubric changed from sales education to sales training. Most employers think of sales education as something you might find in a vocational program at a community college.

Why is this? Well, for most people, sales is disdained, and sales people are kind of low on the professional totem. You can understand why educators might feel this way – they have an elitist reputation to begin with. But employers? The very people who have the most to gain from excellent sales? Why wouldn’t they want the best, and do everything possible to make them better?

There are lots of reasons, but most of them can be summed up by a twist on an old refrain – Those that can, do. Those that can’t, sell. Too many employers think this way.

But it isn’t all on the employers. Sales people themselves often disdain education, thinking they are natural sales experts. Do you suppose they believe in natural brain surgeons? I know they believe in natural athletes, but every golf pro and designated hitter and quarterback has a trainer and a coach, and they train and study and learn every day. Athletic education.

We’ll be examining the concept of sales education in this thread. So, where did you get your sales education? On the streets, I’m guessing. And how did that work out for you?

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