Look around the job market today and you’ll notice a pattern: around 60 percent of the job postings on any given day are for positions that involve sales. Yet many of our educational institutions don’t offer classes that give students from any majors the skills they will need to compete in sales careers. That’s why, at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), we’ve started the Center for Sales Leadership and Education (CSLE).
It’s All Sales
Before teaching at CEHD, I spent 30 years in the private sector. I was fortunate to have success in a variety of fields: five years as the VP of business development at Homebanc Mortgage, 12 years running PGA Tour tournament events as president of Sports Mark, Inc., and 11 years building golf course communities as CEO of Prestwick Golf Development.
These were all very different positions, but they had one thing in common: the key to my success was my ability to sell. It’s important to understand how to develop real estate; it’s even more important to know how to sell it after you build it. At Sports Mark, we ran 15 PGA tournaments in 12 years, and those tournaments were basically small corporations with anywhere from $6 million to $12 million in sales a year.
A lot of students realize how much of the job market involves sales. According to government statistics, there are more than 11.5 million jobs in the category of “professional sales” (which excludes entry level sales positions like retail). In fact, there are more U.S. jobs in sales that pay $100,000 or more per year in sales than in any other profession. Given the facts, it behooves a student in any discipline to hone his or her sales skills before leaving college.
Sales are Teachable
Traditionally, higher learning institutions in the United States have been resistant to teaching sales. As late as 2007, there were only 44 colleges and universities that had some sort of sales program (major, minor, emphasis or certification). Part of this was due to a commonly held belief that success in sales is a personality trait and not a teachable skill. How often have you heard the phrase “born salesman?” While it’s true – like any other skill – some people are more naturally adept at sales than others, sales are absolutely teachable with a proper curriculum and program. I know this is a fact because I’ve seen it work here at CEHD.
Thankfully, this outdated view of sales education is changing rapidly. As graduates enter the job market, they are realizing how many opportunities there are in sales and educational leaders are coming around to my thinking and embracing sales education. In 2013, there were 100 colleges and universities with sales programs, a 250% increase in just six years. In the next tally of sales education programs, conducted by DePaul University and set to be released soon, there will be more than 150.
CEHD’s Center for Sales Leadership and Education at CEHD
I’m proud to say that the University of Minnesota CEHD has been a part of this rapid growth of sales education programs. When I came to the University eight years ago, I had been hired to teach Sports Management and various classes in Business and Marketing Education (BME) undergraduate studies. I eventually became part of an effort to make major changes in the BME program. Knowing that about 60% of our 400 students would end up in sales careers, I approached Dean Jean Quam with the idea of creating CEHD’s Center for Sales Leadership and Education. She believed that it had the potential to be highly beneficial to students, and we moved ahead with a few goals in mind:
- CSLE provides knowledge and practical sales experience to students.
- The center is open to every student at the University of Minnesota, no matter which major they choose.
- We wanted to create a sales education certificate students can earn based on meeting specific criteria to make them more attractive job candidates once they graduate.
- Our goal is that eventually 70% of all activities at CSLE will be run by students. Right now, more than 45% of activities are student-run, and that percentage is increasing each semester.
- Most importantly, the center is self-funded and offers its classes and services to students at no cost. We’re able to do this thanks to our corporate sponsors: Microsoft, Northwestern Mutual, the Minnesota Independent Insurance Agents Association, Federated Insurance, CH Robinson Worldwide, Enterprise Holdings, Comcast/NBCUniversal, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, York Solutions, Aerotek, College Pro Painters, and Taylor Corp.
We’re extremely grateful for the monetary support our sponsors provide, but even more for their real involvement with our students: judging competitions, providing coaching and helping teach our seminars. The sales training we provide students at the Center for Sales Leadership and Education is an invaluable resource for our students and the real-world business perspective provided by our sponsors is a big part of that.
With their help, we’re going to continue to expand our mission to give students the sales skills they need to succeed. This May, we’ll have our first students graduating with a Certificate in Professional Sales. Because of the training they’ve received here at CSLE, I know they’ll be more marketable job candidates – and better equipped to succeed in their chosen field.
Tips for a Successful Career in Sales
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot of about what it takes to succeed in sales. This list is no substitute for the in-depth training our students receive at CSLE, but these principles will serve students well in any sales-oriented career.
Get involved. This is something I tell my students every year. The people who are successful after they leave school are not necessarily the ones with the highest grades; it’s the students who got the most out of the four years they are here at the University. The activities, clubs and organizations you get involved with outside of the classroom are just as important as what you do inside the classroom.
Get practical experience. We tell every student who wants to go into sales that they need to get some practical experience before they leave the University. That experience could come in the form of an internship, getting involved in the Sales Center or getting a job with a company while you are at school. These activities will set you apart as a job candidate and convince prospective employers that you can hit the ground running without extensive training – something that’s extremely important to companies today.
Learn to be a problem solver. Sales are evolving; it’s not just about going in and selling products and services. Today’s sales professional needs to think like a doctor. When you go see a doctor, the first thing they do is start asking questions to figure out what is wrong with you, then give you the best solution to your problem. That’s what today’s salesperson needs to do for their clients. It’s about building a relationship, asking the right questions and providing solutions.
Be able to handle rejection. In any sales job, you’re going to get rejected far more often than you get a sale. You must learn to deal with rejection and not take it personal.
Customer service is everything. I can’t emphasize enough how important good, responsive customer service is to an effective sales strategy. That’s how you can earn the lifetime customer relationships that are the foundation of your company’s growth.
Take advantage of technology. Here’s one area in which my students are far more advanced than I am. New technologies are developing at a rapid pace and, if utilized correctly, can be a huge advantage in prospecting. A lot of companies have learned effective ways to use their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software and website together as a powerful prospecting tool.
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