Sales:  A Formal Education?

A painfully slow-moving trend as of late has been for Colleges and Universities to introduce formal sales training programs into their business school curricula.  However, introducing sales programming is often the exception rather than the rule.  I’ve often wondered why it’s taken this long for sales to enter formal business school teaching.  Quite frankly, I’m surprised more schools haven’t started at least one sales course yet.  I’m just finishing my MBA and the closest I’ve come to sales related content were in a course on Distribution Channels (categorized under the Marketing discipline), a Venture Capital course where students pitched business ideas and a small deal making portion of a Negotiations class.  This is despite the fact that almost a quarter, if not more, of my class has been in sales at some point in their careers.  I’ve asked the question of Dean's, Professors and Classmates and the closest I’ve been able to get to an answer is just that sales is not a formal business discipline (yet...), but that still left me with the question of ‘why not’?


A simple Google search of ‘Why don’t Universities teach sales?’ revealed a plethora of articles with reasons ranging from negative sales stereotypes, sales as an individualized, situational skill, sales as simply personality and product knowledge, lack of professors wanting to teach sales, lack of funding for sales programming, etc, etc, etc.  In reality, most of these reasons relate to our traditional view of sales reps as door-to-door, used car or snake oil salesmen.  However, sales has come a long way since the 60’s (that’s when people last sold vacuum cleaners at your front-door right??…my history might be a little off...).  The buying experience has evolved from simple product, price education to one where those adept at developing whole solutions via customer integration, are successful.  So much has changed with the sales profession in the past decades, but very little has changed in how we teach it.  Personally, I think we’re behind from a causation perspective.  The internet has given rise to a more sophisticated buyer, which led to companies needing more professional level sales reps, which led them to hire more people for sales with post-secondary education.  The next logical step would be to formally educate students in a sales discipline.


Regardless of the history of why we don’t formally teach sales, I think it’s time to start.  Schools have for years been looking for more applicable skills to teach and I believe that sales is an obvious one.  I also believe that formally educating students in sales would raise the perception of sales as a profession.  Also, it’s often said that everyone has to sell something, if not a product or service, a vision, a concept, your point of view…yourself.  That, to me, is the most compelling reason sales should be taught at a post-secondary education level.  All business students at least, should not be sent into the workforce without the critical tools necessary to sell their own ideas.


So where do we start, how do we influence academic directors at prestigious Universities and Colleges to begin teaching sales?  We continue to ask the question, we have conversations and extoll the complexities and virtues of teaching sales, we let them know there is demand and that it is growing!  Essentially and somewhat ironically…we SELL...