Why Don’t More MBAs Go Into Sales?
Sales: It is at the very heart of business. If you can’t close, you can’t compete, they say. Sure, most people would like to design campaigns, massage numbers, or steer a vision and culture. In the end, you need to knock on doors; build relationships; hear “no” over-and-over; and overcome lame excuses about time, budget, manpower, and authority. Sales isn’t glorious. Often, you’re treated like a leper. Even after you close the business, you’re constantly beating back scope creep (Let alone being leveraged against competitors).
Only a sadist would sock six figures into an MBA to endure all that. If you want to succeed in business, you’d better master sales. It’s that simple.
“Why don’t business schools teach sales?’ That’s the question asked by Will Price, CEO of Flite, which markets a cloud-based advertising platform. In a recent Linkedin column, Price laid out his argument for emphasizing sales in a business school curriculum:
“Sales is the lifeblood of any company. CEOs are often picked from the sales ranks (Chambers, Palmissano, Ballmer, Thompson, Morgridge). Scaling revenue helps drive enterprise value and exit outcomes. Sales management is a discipline that can easily be taught, like marketing, operations, finance…And yet, very few MBA programs offer a sales management track, let alone courses dedicated to sales forecasting, pipeline management, strategic selling best practices, quota and sales territory management, compensation best practices.
As a CEO, I spend almost all my time selling. Selling my company to recruits, selling our product to customers, selling our equity to investors. The ability to manage a sales process – first meeting to order – and to understand account dynamics (decision-makers, sponsors, technical buyers) – is vital.”
That’s quite an indictment. So why don’t more MBAs pursue a career in sales? Price offers three reasons:
“MBAs are risk-averse and don’t like leveraged (quota) comp models
MBAs view sales pejoratively as many great salespeople are not pedigreed
MBAs think sales is not strategic”
Of course, Price’s readers added some additional analysis:
“Sadly, many business schools equate sales with something like vocational job training. In an ongoing quest to appear academic and scientific they make the claim that training is different than education (and they are focused on education, or the transfer of facts and knowledge). Imagine if art departments took that stance… Learning facts about painting without ever being educated on the skill set used to produce art?” — Willy Bolander
“I think it’s a control thing. Most people take education to control risk. Advancement in sales by definition puts one’s success in the hands of others; be it your customer or your sales team.” — Kendrick Tang
“…The other side of the coin, in my opinion, is that the discipline of sales itself has not evolved fast enough to attract (and retain) MBAs. Some sales cultures are still based around the notion of heavy process, little thinking, which aside from the monetary reward offer a sense of purpose. In the current paradigm of sales where a customer is well-informed and is looking for their sales rep to deliver value and thought leadership in new ways, the skills needed to be successful in sales resemble what an MBA can bring to the table, but need to be nurtured and appreciated as part of transforming the sales culture.” — Reuven G.
“In the Uk in particular the term sales carries an element of a stigma. Hence companies using such euphemisms as “Business Development Manager” “Account Director” which will put many people off not just MBA’s The other issue I think is that you cant desk train a salesperson they need to be out in the field and most MBA’s want to get into “management” rather than confront the issues at the coal face.” — Laurence Ainsworth
“Sales is both an art and a science; the best salespeople recognize this fact which is why they are successful. The MBA may be able to teach the “science” part of it but mastering the “art” of it comes down to real-world experience, pounding the pavement, engaging clients, and learning to deal with rejection. The “art” part is something that’s hard to teach in a classroom setting.” — Ozii O.
“…The Stanford GSB does now offer at least one, if not a couple of sales management courses, and their entrepreneurship courses spend quite a bit of time talking about the importance of sales. As for the students, only a handful of us from my class went into sales, so when I was asked to present to the Sales and Entrepreneurship clubs earlier this year I was expecting 5-10 students to show up. 60+ students showed up. Clearly Stanford MBA’s are seeing the value of sales.” — David B.
What are your thoughts? Should sales training encompass a greater share of the business school curriculum? We’d like to hear from you.