Can Sales Be Taught in School?

kid on phone

At Ideal Candidate we have a great position on our sales team for an intern or co-op position. Last week I had an exchange with a local Toronto university (who shall remain nameless) that told me that a position in sales was not appropriate for a work term for a 4th year business student. Their response was along the lines of, “Something more analytical would be more fitting.” I’m not even sure what “more analytical” means, but okay.

This got me thinking. Should more schools be teaching sales? There are sales and marketing programs in (community) colleges that are fantastic but it seems to be that in universities, sales can still be looked down upon as a profession.

I believe that the sales profession has slowly but surely been shaking off its “used car salesperson” image. Just one recent example: a great article from Salesforce talks about why it’s such a great career choice for young people.  That being said, from a quick glance it seems that higher education is not really embracing this change in sales as a career.

Can you study sales?

A 2012 article by the Harvard Business Review cites a study that discovered that 39% of B2B buyers select a vendor according to the skills of the salesperson rather than price, quality, or service features. Even though sales professionals play such an important role in a business’s success, the profession of sales continues to get no love from many business schools. From the Harvard Business Review article:

Take a look at the curricula of the world’s top-ranked business schools, and you might come away with the impression that sales is unimportant. Most MBA programs offer no sales-related courses at all, and those that do offer only a single course in sales management. Even at the undergraduate level of business instruction, sales courses are sparse.

It’s no surprise then that Harvard Business School graduates who became entrepreneurs said their biggest skills gap was, “a lack of sales experience.”


Isn’t sales an art, not a science?

It’s a common belief that sales is more of an art, not a science. While I would argue that sales has a component that you could describe as an art, I personally manage a small sales team and we’re all driven very hard by process, metrics, and of course skill (which is the piece people refer to as art). Anyone who believes sales can’t be taught in higher education is basically saying that sales process, training, and development doesn’t matter either. Also, the argument that because something is too much of an art, it can’t be taught at the college level doesn’t even make sense: “It can’t be because Sales is an “art” and therefore not appropriate for colleges to teach. After all, during the same period of time, colleges awarded 73,882 masters degrees in English Literature and 30,118 in Liberal Arts, a major that encompasses sculpting and oil painting.”

3 out of the 4 schools I registered our sales intern position with were welcoming, so perhaps things are changing. But the fact that a top notch university looked down upon a sales role for its business undergrads is a sign to me that things still need to change.

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Shaun Ricci

COO at Ideal
Shaun Ricci is a Canadian entrepreneur and the Co-Founder of Ideal. Shaun served as Co-Founder and COO of Field ID until it was acquired in December 2012. Shaun’s accomplishments include spots on the Profit Hot 50 and Deloitte Fast 50 Companies-to-Watch lists as well as the 2012 Ontario Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Shaun is also an active writer, documenting his wins and losses while building his startup sales team.