Sales goes to school

Just one week ago SmartCompany ran a fascinating article from the Harvard Business Review entitled Teaching sales: Why is it being swept under the rug?

The premise of the article was simple: If sales is so important to the success or organisations, why aren’t more universities and business schools specifically teaching students.

“Selling and sales management have come a long way since the days when most business school curricula were designed. In the realm of selling, it’s the buyer who is newly empowered. Customers no longer need a salesperson to learn about a company’s offering, much less to place an order,” the HBR article said.

“As a result, sales has become more about helping customers define the problem they are trying to solve and assemble a complete solution. The sales tool kit has advanced dramatically: It now includes sophisticated analytics to identify opportunities, software to discipline processes and produce forecasts, and negotiation expertise to broker complex deals.”

The HBR article was referring mainly to the situation in the United States, but it’s a similar picture in Australia, with no universities offering formal sales training.

Until now – and it’s taken a member of SmartCompany’s extended family to do it.

I was very excited last night to head down to Swinburne University’s Melbourne CBD campus for a very special announcement from one of our founding bloggers, sales guru Sue Barrett.

Sue’s business, Barrett Group, has been providing B2B sales training to companies for more than 17 years, but yesterday she unveiled a very different expansion move. Barrett has partnered with Swinburne to launch Australia’s first – and only – university endorsed sales training and development course, with a Diploma of Business and a Certificate IV in Business Sales to be offered.

Government funding is even available under Federal Government apprentice and trainee programs.

It’s a fine achievement for Sue, who has spent her career lifting the profile of sales and the skills of salespeople.

It is, Sue will tell you, no small task.

Sue and her team, including sales expert Peter Finkelstein, would argue that in many organisations sales people are both looked down on and, in some instances, almost ashamed to be seen as sellers.

Finkelstein says this is best demonstrated by the titles salespeople give themselves to disguise themselves – account manager, business development manager or, his favourite example (which he swears is real), the pre-purchase commitment executive.

For Sue, the new courses are not only a way of building the skills of participants, but a way of lifting the profile and appreciation of the sales function.

I’ve got to say I have nothing but admiration for our fantastic sales team at Private Media and indeed salespeople everywhere. Having been on a lot of sales call this year, I can see that selling takes a mix of deep product knowledge, deep industry knowledge, great listening skills, an ability to innovate and improvise, confidence, energy and more than a little instinct.

I’d also say that salespeople are brilliant at continually honing their craft and learning new ways of getting results. A lot of that comes with on-the-job experience, but I am sure salespeople everywhere will jump at the chance to enhance their skills with the sort of high-level, accredited training that Sue Barrett has finally brought to the market.

James Thomson is a former editor of BRW’s Rich 200 and the publisher of SmartCompany and LeadingCompany.

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