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Sourcing Future Sales Leaders

by David Brock on April 5th, 2010

A few weeks ago, I got a call from Howard Stephens, Chairman and CEO of HR Chally.  He wanted to talk to me about one of his passions, sales education in our colleges and universities.  He gave me some interesting data.  (I may have the numbers off a little–if there are errors, it’s my fault).

  • For people graduating from college, 50% of them go into a first job as sales people.
  • There are only a little more than 3 dozen colleges in the country (out of over 4000) that have a formal sales program in their curriculum’s.

It’s important that our university’s and colleges offer courses on sales as part of their business school curriculum.  I think back to my own MBA.  We had lots of finance, accounting, marketing, OD, OR, and strategy courses.  But there wasn’t a single course on sales–and the marketing courses barely even touched on sales.

It’s important that colleges and universities start providing some education about the function.  How does the sales function fit into the organization, what does the function contribute to the organization, what are the critical processes, programs, capabilities high performing sales organizations put in place?  What are the different forms of selling (direct, indirect, eCommerce, telesales, etc.)?  What is the relationship between sales and buyers?  How does sales contribute to the customer’s buying process?  The list can go on.

In my opinion, it’s less important that colleges and universities try to teach a person how to sell–frankly I think company sponsored sales training, or some of the leading sales training companies can do a much better job of that.  But getting a strong foundation about the role of the sales function within an organization will accelerate the ability of new sales people to perform, and will contribute to improving the overall professional practice of selling.

Howard invited me to an upcoming meeting of the University Sales Education Foundation.  I’m interested in learning more about what they are up to.  However, as a group, sales professionals can exercise a lot of influence and persuasion.  Our companies are involved in universities, whether it’s recruiting, sponsoring programs, or other activities.  Many of us are active in our alumni associations.  We should extend the conversations we have to talking to them about how colleges and universities can contribute to the growth of the profession.

Am I off base, or does this make sense?

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  1. Dave

    It’s encouraging to see the growing number of conversations you are having with people about the sales process. I’m a firm believer in collaboration as a multiplier of wisdom in business.

    As you engage Howard and staff to collaborate on ideas for sales training in academia you pass along not only the benefit of experience but also another very important element: fellowship. One of the most important things we who have been at it a while can provide to those beginning careers is a sense that we are behind them; that we believe in them and we are willing to engage them to help them find their way to success.

    Good Form!

    Don F Perkins

    • Don, thanks for the comment. As sales professionals, we need to invest in ourselves and the future of our profession. What better way than getting involved with programs in our colleges and universities? Additionally, if my experience is anything, working with students, new to sales is refreshing—causes me to learn more than they do.

      As always, your thoughts are greatly valued!

  2. Dave,

    You make a series of good points. In my view, universities should be focused on sales research using analytics data produced by CRM systems. This would provide empirical evidence regarding efficacy of various sales processes and their component sales best practices.

    It frustrates me to no end that the only data I can get about sales and the sales process is that which my own company produces. We’d all benefit HUGE to have a “national data base of sales process statistics.” Maybe a few folks like you and me should collaborate to pull it off???


    • Thanks for the comments Todd, as always very provocative. I’m not sure I am in a position to suggest research, just including courses on selling in the curriculum’s would be a major step forward. It’ amazing when you look at the business curriculum’s. Lot’s of marketing courses, nothing in sales. Regards, Dave

  3. Hi Dave

    You are absolutely right, same over this side of the world. MBA’s and 3rd level post graduate programmes have very little reference to professional selling.

    There is however a really good programme run by the DIT over here: You may have come across it.

    As you said it is incumbent on us to develop the conversations and help the Universities.

    Hope all is well


    • John, thanks for the comment, the Irish have always been a little ahead of us! In the US, we don’t even have good sales courses at the undergraduate level. It seems with so many college graduates going into sales and the importance of the function in all our organizations, that the academic community would recognize an opportunity and respond.

      As you suggest, it is incumbent on us to start engaging the Universities in a discussion about this.

  4. Shane Mooney permalink


    I fully agree, over 75% of people’s first job is in sales, without any or very little formal training or understanding of the fundamentals of the job. I am constantly amazed when giving sales management lectures at the number of students who are good sales people, but do not understand the fundamentals of their role. This is an area which needs to be addressed.

    Being a graduate of DIT in Dublin I agree with John that the DIT are very proactive in the sales area, and Sales Management was a stream in my MBA final year. It is however predominantly private colleges in Ireland which have an active Sales Agenda, the main Academic Universities do not. An area to be broached!

    • I’m always amazed at how few universities offer any courses in sales, yet it is so fundamental to organizations. Thanks for the comment Shane.

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