The perception of selling has long been in need of improvement.
Long marred by the slick-talking used car salesman image, the profession of selling has finally begun to shed this negative perception and come of age.
Not only has it emerged as a field that attracts some of the brightest and most goal-oriented among us, the skills necessary to foster and create these professionals are finally being recognized as being appropriate and necessary to teach at some of our nation's most prestigious universities. It is a place of respect which I have always believed sales training rightfully deserves.
I have long been an advocate of professional salespeople choosing to invest in themselves and their careers by continuing to educate themselves in any way that they can.
Whether it be through self-study, formalized training, keeping current on industry trends, etc., I have encouraged salespeople to spend a significant portion of their work time (10 percent or more) furthering their sales education.
I believe the definition of a professional is someone who is committed to a calling, and who takes the time to obtain the education, training and expertise necessary to do the job in an outstanding manner. Thus I have always encouraged those who truly desire to become sales professionals to work toward this goal.
In fact, I spent five years working with a major university in New York state, trying to show them that sales training was relevant and critical to business education and should be part of their senior curriculum. It was an arduous process, to say the least, but I finally got them to agree and to take action.
That action came in the form of two graduate students who were appointed to develop a sales curriculum for the university. Unfortunately, they had no experience and created a somewhat disjointed program that confusedly drew from nearly every sales methodology on the market. In the end, the results were predictably mixed.
In a later conversation I had with the dean, he admitted to me, "We educate; we don't teach skills," suggesting that the latter were better taught at the community college level or in technical and trade schools.
Universities such as Harvard, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology might disagree. Having incorporated MBA-level sales courses into their curriculum, they are proof positive that skills training is not merely the domain of the community colleges or technical schools.
The application of sales skills and techniques is relevant to students studying at every level and is every bit as valuable to students at the university level and beyond.
In fact, Harvard and other schools have reported having such great student interest in these increasingly popular courses that they have had to turn away students for lack of space. Clearly there is growing student interest in learning these valuable skills. Today's students are more informed than ever before and they understand that they must do everything possible to give themselves a competitive edge in an ever-changing, ever-outsourcing marketplace.
Mainstream collegiate education, while inarguably valuable, does not cover all of the necessary bases when it comes to training sales professionals.
Without being able to acquire the applicable skills by which that education can be fully utilized, students will end up wasting time and money trying to get up to speed to prepare themselves for the reality of the workplace after graduation.
It's no wonder that savvy students are looking to make an investment in themselves and their future while they are still in school. It is in the best interest of every college and university to create new ways to meet this need.
It is also in the best interest of corporations and of our marketplace in general that these skills be taught at the college level. Not only does it help to relieve companies of some of the sales training burden, it also offers them a better crop of smarter, more educated and well-trained salespeople who have already learned and developed selling skills from which to choose and build their organization. Applicants would be more qualified, better prepared for work in the "real" world and thus better able to deliver more quickly and more effectively the results corporations are seeking.
Sales skills education, however, is not merely for the salesperson.
It is useful regardless of whether a graduate actually seeks a career in selling, because the need for these skills is not limited to the sales department.
From the CEO to the receptionist, everyone in every company is selling every hour of every day whether they are aware of this fact or not.
To effectively communicate an idea, to serve the needs of your customers more effectively and to be competitive in the marketplace, learning effective selling skills is essential for everyone.
We are in a new era of selling today.
We are living in a time when groundbreaking ideas that have taken years to develop are taking hold and finally coming to fruition.
With the desire of some of the nation's most prestigious universities to teach selling and the unparalleled interest of so many students in learning what it takes to become true sales professionals, I am ever more hopeful about the future of this great profession.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.