Ever notice how sales isn’t part of the MBA core curriculum? Just look at the foundational courses of any leading business school. You’ll find finance, leadership, operations, strategy, and economics among the required courses. That doesn’t count marketing, where you’ll absorb pricing, analytics, research methods, and product development – basically anything that’s far removed from a real live customer!
Why is sales relegated to an elective in most leading MBA programs? For all the student talk about pushing their boundaries, sales is all too scary because it is all too human says Craig Wortmann, the head of the Kellogg Sales Institute at Northwestern University in a 2014 column with Inc. “It is human nature to avoid uncomfortable situations,” he explains. “Unfortunately, the selling process is chock full of them: making an approach, starting a conversation, qualifying, proposing, asking for things. Throughout my course, students realize that they – like most people – are constantly, unconsciously, avoid asking directly for what they want.”
STORYTELLING CENTRAL TO SALES
It’s a dirty job that everyone must eventually master because everything is sales. On January 1st, Wortmann can help with his MOOC, Sales Strategies: Mastering the Selling Process. Think of it as a slightly different take on the traditional sales course. Sure, you’ll learn insightful qualifying questions and strategies for overcoming objections, and closing. In fact, Wortmann will be sharing an expansive sales toolkit exclusively to students who take this course. However, he will also introduce his class to several successful strategies that stray outside the traditional sales canon.
The first is storytelling. One of the biggest turnoffs, says Wortmann, is when sales reps just spew out facts and figures and features and benefits. It simply overwhelms prospects and muddies the value proposition. Instead, he encourages students to develop succinct and image-driven narratives that show products as integral parts of the action.
“Stories take this factual, disparate information and give it context, color and meaning,” Wortmann notes in a Huffington Post interview. “If you give me a story, I am able to see so much more than when you primarily give me the facts, the details. Don’t sell me a computer with only its features. Tell me that Joe bought this laptop because it is light-weight, faster and cheaper and hence, Joe could take it along on his African safari and use it to make movies of his kids. Help me feel what it’s like to use that product. Now, I can “see and feel” it and not just understand it from an intellectual level.”
WHO YOU SELL TO MATTERS AS MUCH AS WHAT YOU SELL
Another unique course wrinkle is the concept of entrepreneurial selling. According to Wortmann, traditional selling assumes an organization markets a standard solution to a specific niche. However, he says, a startup is a work-in-progress, where entrepreneurs are often tinkering with models and features with limited resources and little room for error. As a result, entrepreneurial selling places as much emphasis on who is being sold to as what is being sold.
“An entrepreneur needs to be incredibly disciplined around the first part of your sales cycle,” he says. “You have to know if a customer can be good business for you, otherwise you could put yourself out of business. IBM won’t suffer if a salesperson has 14 meetings with the wrong client, but you will!”
Indeed, strategy lies at the heart of Wortmann’s course. Behind the bells-and-whistles, sales is a means of maximizing time by quickly identifying real targets and devoting resources and relationship capital to the best opportunities. “Without revenue, all your problems will crush you,” he adds in a 2015 interview with Medium. “With revenue, you can afford to have many other problems, and be able to take the time to solve them correctly and intelligently. If you’re not making money, you don’t have a business, you have an expensive hobby.”
HOW TO STAND UP TO ETHICAL PRESSURES
Sales headlines the January docket, a month of impressive releases in marketing, finance, management and entrepreneurship. Want to make the world a better place? You don’t have to join the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Instead, you can apply your MBA skills to social investing, a topic examined in Wharton’s Business Strategies for Social Impact. Gearing up for a blowout new year in marketing? Start with Darden’s Marketing Analytics, to get a grasp of the effectiveness of your campaigns and the value of your brand. Similarly, Emory University returns with Forecasting Models for Marketing Decisions and IE Business School unleashes Channel Management and Retailing – both starting on January 1st.
Looking to assume a leadership role in 2018? There are several courses that can boost your profile. On January 8th, Kellogg opens up another section of Scaling Operations: Linking Strategy and Execution, a big picture look at how to leverage the supply chain to cut costs and boost competitive advantage. If you’re looking to tap into your inner Jeff Bezos or Sheryl Sandberg, there is HEC’s Leading Organizations. If you want to make an impact on your company’s bottom line, Corporate Strategy starts on January 1st too. Two weeks later, the University of Virginia launches Ethical Leadership Through Giving Voice to Values, a four week exercise on effectively responding when employers or clients pressure you to act against your conscience.
To learn more about these courses — and many more — click on the links below.
MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS