What Does Sales Certification Certify?

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Training Certificate

I recently got involved in a LinkedIn group thread that led me to rant a little on college and university sales education – specifically on the lack of any respect by sales professionals for a college degree. That, in turn, led the CEO of the Institute of Sales & Marketing in the UK, Stephen Wright, to contact me. He told me they are a UK-based professional and government-approved awarding body that develops qualifications for professional certification under the regulation of the UK government.

He went on to tell me that their qualifications have been adopted by a number of organizations in different countries and asked about such qualifications here. My answer could have been delivered by Sergeant Schultz in the old Hogan’s Heroes television show – I know nothing.

It was an interesting question, so I set out to find some answers. I did a Google search for sales certification and here are the top five hits for getting yourself certified:

I’ll use these organizations as proxies for what I expect are lots of opportunities to get “certified” from many other sources lower down on the Google organic search results.

Your first question will be “where is the Institute of Sales & Marketing”? Well, they don’t actually award certifications – they qualify groups that do to make sure they are up to government-approved standards.

As a first step, I decided to look at six criteria: the type of organization awarding the certification; the type of certification awarded; the cost for getting that certification; the requirements to qualify for the certification; the resources and materials provided for your investment; and any accreditation providing validation for the certificate. Here’s the raw data:

SMEI MRERF NASP Sales Board AMA
Type of organization Professional association, non-profit. Sales training organization, non-profit. Professional association, non-profit but not registered with the IRS. Sales training company; for profit. Professional association, non-profit
Type of certification Certified Marketing Executive; Certified Sales Executive; SMEI Certified Sales Professional Certified Professional Manufacturer’s Representative; Certified Sales Professional Certified Professional Salesperson Action Selling Certified AMA Sales Certificate
Cost CME – $795; CSE – $795; SCPS – $595 CPRM – $1,895 + travel; CSP – $1,695 + travel $295 $895 – $1,295 $6,085 – $7,335 + travel
Requirements Current employment as whatever you’re trying to be certified for. CPRM- One-week course with exam; CSP – 3-day course with exam 7-week on-line course with daily requirements; complete course summary exam. Prep on-line, reading and by phone (~2 days); workshop (2 days). 3 qualifying seminars in 24 months. 6 to 9 days of classroom training.
Resources & materials PDF of materials included; Hardcopy $50 extra. Included On-line materials included. Included Included
Accreditation “Independent” governing board exclusive to SMEI. None None None None
Notes Stable financials; mostly unpaid volunteer staff. Stable financials; mostly unpaid volunteer staff. No financial data available. No financial data available. Scary-strong financials; CEO paid over $1.5 million; paid staff.

And here are some initial conclusions.

Certification by a reputable, non-profit professional association is the closest thing I found to certification by a formally accredited organization like a college, and the cost/benefit is clearly the highest. You’ll spend less, probably get some useful training, and the certification isn’t simply a gilt-edged document you bought at Office Depot or Staples.

Certification by a non-profit-in-name-only organization is likely to be valuable in both the quality of training that you get and the value it adds to your resume/business card. However, if the AMA is an accurate proxy for this category, it will cost you a lot on money. Probably more than you’ll recover in the quality of training and the distinction of the brand.

Certification by a sales training company is totally useless except for the value of the training itself, so pick a company that will train you well, not give you a certificate. The only people who will care that you are “Action Selling Certified” are other certificate holders. And as an aside, I’m a little leery of any training company that doesn’t give you some idea of the cost involved on their web site.

This is an interesting topic, and one that bumps up against some of our thinking on sales training and qualifications. I’ll be drilling down into some for the questions this raises in future articles.

Join in on the discussion on our SalesWays Professional Network.

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  • benturner1

    John,
    Really interesting post, Stephen Wright passed it on to me,
    A very important point that many certifying businesses offer certification, a scenario that doesn’t sit well with me.
    Having an independent body also has the added benefit of driving standards, so as new thought leadership arises, this can be sent through to the approved centres to help drive development and improvement,
    Excellent post though and hopefully a good way of bringing together excellence on both sides of the pond!
    Ben Turner, ISMM

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