A highly tuned sales function is vital to business success

Thought Leadership

20th November 2012

Why no Ivy League sales programmes?

no sales courses at Harvard

Prompted by a recent meeting with 3 Harvard MBAs I began to wonder why “sales” was not included in many MBA, or indeed, undergraduate programmes .

Most people appreciate that a highly tuned sales function is vital to business success.

The findings of a series of studies conducted since 1988 by the sales force consultancy Chally Group are fascinating. Analysing data from more than 100,000 business decision makers, Chally discovered that 39% of B2B buyers select a vendor according to the skills of the salesperson rather than price, quality, or service features. So you might think that business schools, or undergraduate programmes offering “marketing” must spend a lot (or even some) of time teaching sales skills?

Wrong. Take a look at the curricula of the world’s top-ranked business schools, and you might come away with the impression that sales is unimportant. Most MBA programmes offer no sales-related courses at all, and those that do offer only a single course in sales management. Even at the undergraduate level of business instruction, sales courses are sparse.

Why? Probably the myth of the “personality salesman”. We talk about this a lot when we work with our clients in training programmes and workshops. The moustachioed, sharp suited sales man, with the gift of the gab and a personality to match, the “natural” sales person.

Given this prevailing myth business education might have been perfectly justified in skipping over sales.

Sales was easy, right?

The model salesperson was two parts personality and one part product knowledge.

The job was to carry a bag, get a foot in the door, and talk up your offering’s features (and benefits – if you were lucky). Perhaps a formal sales education couldn’t add much to that. Product knowledge was unique to a company and therefore handled by internal training. People skills weren’t considered teachable in any conventional sense. Selling was something to be learned by doing.

I guess the boom in MBA programmes coincided with the rise of marketing as a discipline, and mass producers relied on heavy advertising and strong brands to control the sale and distribution of goods. Sales, in contrast, got little respect.

Selling and sales management have come a long way since the days when most business school curricula were designed—so far that the term Sales 2.0 is now quite commonly used by people who have spent their careers watching the world of revenue generation. That term borrows from Web 2.0, or the idea that the real power of the internet is not to enable traditional content producers to publish more cheaply but to give users a hand in creating content. In the realm of selling, it’s the buyer who is newly empowered. Customers no longer need a salesperson to learn about a company’s offering, much less to place an order. As a result, sales has become more about helping customers define the problem they are trying to solve and assemble a complete solution to meet it.

Most people we call on behalf of our clients don’t know they have a “need” until we call them and help establish it! And that’s when our skills set comes in.

When we are running training courses with clients we talk about the sales tool kit they need to maximise business development. Simply, now that sales tool kit has has advanced dramatically. It now includes sophisticated analytics to identify opportunities, software to discipline processes and produce forecasts, and negotiation expertise to broker complex deals.

As sales careers have moved beyond the days of glad-handing and door-opening, a whole realm of knowledge has come to separate the best-performing professionals from their peers. A great salesperson today can assess multiple customer needs and motivations, analyse and forecast market trends, use sophisticated automation tools, and develop value-driven solutions in partnership with clients. Critical thinking, analytical skills, and the ability to negotiate have become more important than just an outgoing personality.

When our clients outsource their new business development to Broadley Speaking, this is what they are outsourcing – not “process”. It’s professional sales advocacy they are after, not number crunching.

It’s why,17 years ago, Broadley Speaking redefined the vocabulary around the term “telemarketing” and why the term “Intelligent Sales” was born.

Read our Telemarketing and Sales page or call us to find out about or canon of work and how you can plug into our skills set to build new sales channels for your business

B2B Sales, Telemarketing