Skip to content

A Virtual Sales MBA

by David Brock on January 5th, 2013

Matt Heinz came up with a very provocative idea.  He created a self-education plan for sales professionals.  A course of study or “virtual MBA.”  First, I’m flattered to be included on his list of “blogs you should be reading.”  Matt’s is certainly one I read, and you should read as well (but he is either too modest to put it on the list, or realized people had figured it out–since they were reading the post).

What would a “Virtual MBA” for sales look like?   One thing I notice about the very best people in any profession is they are committed to continual learning and improvement.  They are always reading and studying.  They attend conferences, courses, seminars.  They learn from their peers, always seeking an edge.

Undoubtedly, you are reading this article, because you have already committed to your own personal development and improvement.  (It’s the people who would never read a blog like this–or any blog, that I struggle with.  How do we reach them?).  So as you think about your own personal development program, what might it look like?

Undoubtedly, you’ve already found a list of books, bloggers, and other resources.  If you haven’t, Matt’s list of books, bloggers, sites, and other resources is a great start.  Every sales professional should put together their own list of books, bloggers, and related resources.

You will get great ideas, you will learn different approaches, you will tweak the things you do, adding to your repertoire of skills.

But it is dangerous to restrict your reading to just sales.  However, good these resources, you will be missing a huge amount.  Over time, you will get “stale.”

First, look at different types of selling.  Most of my work is in B2B sales.  However, a number of years ago, the top sales exec of a large consumer packaged goods company taught me a great lesson.  He hired me to help re-engineer their whole approach to their markets.  It was a B2C environment (also, B2 Retailer).  I asked him, “Jerry, why did you hire us, we don’t know anything about B2C?”  His response was, “We are experts at that.  We’ve hired the best experts on B2C in the world, but we aren’t learning anything new.  You are exposing us to things we never would have considered.  It allows us to improve in ways that were unimaginable.”

That lesson stuck with me.  In fact in that series of projects, I learned a lot of “new” things that I could bring to my B2B clients.  So if you are in B2B sales, study B2C and see what things you might apply.  If you are a field direct sales person, study inside sales, see what you can learn and apply.

What else?

Perhaps the most important thing is to study outside of sales.  One of the most critical things to top performance is exploring outside your profession.  Learn what top performers in other disciplines are doing.  See how you might apply them to selling.  For example, I read a lot about marketing and customer service.  Those are natural extensions for sales people.  I also read a lot about product development and manufacturing.  There are huge lessons we can learn from studying different disciplines.

One area that has given me great insight, recently, is the profession of teaching.  I’m fortunate to have several clients who provide services to schools and teachers.  I’ve learned a lot about “great teaching.”  What’s interesting is there is much in “great teaching” that can be applied to “great selling.”

Also, look at critical new skills.  At the top of my list for skills for sales excellence in the future are:  Decision-making/Problem solving, leadership, change management, project management, and lean.  More and more, sales is not about selling, but it is about these other disciplines.  If you aren’t mastering these disciplines, you aren’t acquiring the skills you need to be a top performer.

But read more broadly.  Read history, economics, biographies.  There are great ideas, from great thinkers that broaden our view of the world.  It’s by broadening our view that causes us to think differently, to create value for our customers in ways they have never imagined.  It also makes us much more well-rounded and better informed.

Seek to be well-informed and well-rounded.  Have a daily reading routine that extends beyond just selling.  Everyday, for example, I read (skim) a bunch of newspapers.  I read the English versions of newspapers from around the world.  And, I don’t stay with just serious stuff–I read “trashy stuff,”  things like the Onion and others.  It helps me lighten up and not take myself too seriously.  It also gives me great stuff to “lighten up” conversations with peers and customers.

Stretch yourself even further.  Seek to learn/master a new skill completely outside selling.  For example, I’m trying to learn a new language.

Finally, the most important source of learning—your customers.  I know, we’re supposed to be teaching our customers.  Frankly I think that’s terribly short sighted.  We can and should be teaching our customers, but we have so much to learn from them.  One of the principles we’ve established in our company is that we seek to learn something in every engagement we undertake.  It keeps us fresh, it gives us ideas, it helps us come up with new things we can share with (teach) our customers.

So that’s my start to developing a “Sales MBA” or even a “PhD.”  Now I’d like to turn the tables and ask for your help.

Clearly, you are reading this article because of your personal commitment to improving and learning.  So can you help me learn:

1.  What are your recommendations for learning?  What are some of the great resources you’ve found that I should leverage?

2.  How do I, we, reach those who would never read a blog, who don’t realize what they are missing in terms of their own performance and potential?

  1. This is great, thanks Dave. Completely agree with the diversity of topics you recommend. Are there specific books in these categories you recommend? Or, I wonder if there’s a set of “search” guidelines we could provide readers and sales professionals to identify and build their personalized Sales MBA reading list?

    Probably no right or wrong answers here, but I think it’s a worthwhile discussion. Thanks for keeping it going!

    • Matt, it’s an intriguing idea. I don’t know how to do it, but here are some thoughts.

      It seems what might be useful in the short term is some “lists of lists.” For example, I just looked at the books I’ve queued up on my IPad and will be providing those in a separate comment/post. No evaluations or even comments, just “Here’s what I’m reading, don’t know whether they will be good or bad, but here it is.” Likewise with blogs (sites, not articles), tools, etc. We can implement as a LinkedIn group or as an Evernote Shared Workspace (oops, gave away one of my tools). Later it might evolve into discussions around a book or something else. But I’d like to keep it very simple and clean.

      What do you think? Would you like to collaborate on this?

  2. Hi Dave,
    The premise Salespeople need more education is one I whole heartily agree with. In fact, I have endorsed the idea of Salespeople taking an MBA many times.

    However, there is no such thing as a “Sales” MBA, in fact any adjective before the MBA letters is meaningless. You CAN put electives which include Selling into an MBA Curriculum [instead of repeated Finance Case studies for example], but the MBA remains a Masters in “Business Administration”.

    It is a General Management taught higher degree.

    As it happens, the final part of my MBA was a Dissertation on “Sales Performance Measurement and Sales Performance Management” but the other 75% was Business, Strategic, International and Creative. I believe my Dissertation enabled me to appreciate HOW my Business studies could be applied to Selling, but I NEEDED the Business Studies to understand How to apply it.

    I support Taught Higher Degrees in Sales and Sales Management such as the Masters Degrees offered by several UK Universities in Sales.
    However, we should understand the MBA as a Generalist degree, and the Master in Sales {management} as a Functional degree (with some Business attached).

    Again, I encourage any Salesperson to continue their Personal Education to a Masters level in either an MBA or a Masters in Sales, but NOT to confuse the two!

    • Great observations Brian. They’re sending me off on two tangents that are “hot buttons.”

      1. On Universities and MBA’s. It’s appalling the lack of good courses or programs that universities offer on professional selling. I think the latest tally in the US is there are somewhere fewer than 60 universities or colleges offering a meaningful sales curriculum with either an undergraduate or graduate course of study (say a major, minor, or emphasis as you outline in your comment). A very high percentage of “first jobs” out of the university is in sales–yet most people have no grounding in it. Or for the professional that wants to build their capabilities, say a MBA or PhD with an emphasis on sales.
      2. On the continuous personal education side–whether one chooses to pursue an academic degree or is doing it as a matter of professionalism and staying relevant and competitive. It is absolutely critical. as top performers recognize, to continue to upgrade skills and knowledge–both by being very deep within a chosen discipline, as well as being well rounded on a range of topics. Both are critical, or one becomes unbalanced (perhaps literally as well as figuratively).

      Thanks so much for the great observations!

  3. Dave, great, inspiring blog post as always!
    You already added a number of the most important and activities to learn more and more broadly.
    In my opinion, the inner attitude and how we are learning is key to success.
    First of all – and that’s true for all great sales people and certainly for reader’s of your blog – people need to have an inner desire to grow, to learn more and to improve and extend their skills constantly.
    Let me share a Native American Proverb, I like very much:
    “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.”
    Involving – that’s a big challenge, Knowledge can be learned, wisdom – and that’s what makes all the difference in my opinion, how to connect the knowledge with wisdom

    • … Sorry, I was too quick with the submit botton 😉

      Involving happens, when people work (and live) not only in other industries, but also in other cultures, it helps regarding their involvement, how to apply knowledge and how to achieve wisdom. What you mentioned, learning other languages and experiencing the differences between languages and also the common ground – things, we need to collaborate effectively .

      Additionally, I think connecting the dots between assumed different worlds, between the corporate world and the spiritual world with a much closer connectedness to nature, to planet Earth. There is so much wisdom to understand and to learn. Involving here should happen if people participate in ceremonies and rituals – wisdom that helps us to create a better world for all of us.
      Regarding the challenges of the 21st century, I truly believe that we have to connect these dots to create more responsible, sustainable business models for all of us – because things and living beings are all connected.

      Last but not least, there is one company I’d love to recommend to you: Barrett Consulting in Australia. I met these people when I was in Melbourne last year. In the meantime, they introduced the “Barrett Sales Essential Program”, worth watching to get a first impression:

      I hope that adds some value to the discussion!
      Best, Tamara

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. A Virtual Sales MBA Part 2 | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS