It’s time to academically legitimatize Sales

College Students and Sales

It’s time for an informal poll of all those 2011 college graduates out there.  “Would all those who took jobs in sales please stand up.”  Now, for all of you who are standing, please “raise your right hand if you took one or more courses in sales while in college.”

It’s hard to estimate the percentage of 2011 graduates that found employment in sales because no definitive research has been done on that specific question.  And the second question is even harder to answer. But from a recent report by the Sales Education Foundation we do know: 50% of college graduates enter a career in Sales.  So from survey reports and a review of the literature, we speculate that the percentage of 2011 college graduates that took a job in sales is a really big number and the number that took courses in sales in college is a really small number.

If our estimates are close to being right, and we think they are, there is something dramatically wrong with that picture.  We have a situation where there are a huge number of people going into a profession yet only a few of them are taking any courses in that profession in college.

Why is that?  We would suggest the main reason is few if any courses in Sales are available.  In most colleges, Sales is a chapter in a Marketing book.  In some, one might be able to take a course in Sales Management or maybe one course in Sales is available as an elective.  However, the bottom line is historically Sales has not been academically legitimate.

It is time to change that – Sales is a profession not just a job – it is a profession that lots and lots of college grads are selecting – and there are lots of people who know a lot about Sales best practices that can help them get a great start at being successful.

We have had the good fortunate to spend a fair amount of time in the academic environment in our early years – Janet went on to spend 20 years as a Marketing professor.  I taught at as an adjunct professor or lecturer in executive education programs at several universities. So we both like and respect the academic – and know a little about how it works.

We believe students, universities, and corporate employers would all benefit if Sales was given a seat at the academic table.  And since that is a journey that is likely to take a long time to accomplish, we need to get started.  In that regard, let’s review what has been accomplished in recent years and then explore why we need to continue the commitment.

First, there is good news. If you look back five years there were about two dozen colleges offering certified programs in Sales – in 2012 that number is closer to 50.  These are serious programs that require a minimum of three Sales-specific courses, sales internships, and university recognition for individuals that complete the program.

How good are these programs?  Do they represent real progress toward academic legitimacy?  The short answer – yes.  I had the pleasure to be associated with one such program at Ohio University.  The faculty was committed and the students enrolled in the program were in one word – terrific.  They knew what they wanted to do and how to get it done; they were professional, and they knew a remarkable amount about Sales for students still in college. (A short list of some other colleges offering such programs include: Florida State, Indiana, University of Connecticut, University of Alabama, University of North Carolina, University of Houston, and the University of Toledo.)

It is a fair assessment to say that a solid foundation presently exist to build the academic legitimacy of Sales.  We would suggest that students, universities, corporations, and all of us in the sales profession would greatly benefit by helping the journey continue.  Some direct payoffs include:

  • Corporations. Corporations would receive a number of benefits the most obvious of which would be an enhanced talent pool for those companies that recruit new sales people right out of college.  The recruits would have a better sense that they are making the right career choice hence reduced turnover and they would have a better knowledge base right out of the gate.
  • Sales professionals. One way to advance any discipline is to produce more and better research.  Colleges and universities can make a huge contribution in this area. Every one in sales from the account executive to the sales consultant would benefit from having access to the results from real research studies.

The arithmetic is clear and the benefits are substantial – making sales academically legitimate makes sense.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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