Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sales is Not a Four Letter Word

Yes, technically it's a five letter word but it is often associated with other 4 letter words that won't be mentioned in this (or any other of my posts).  I find that business students become enamored with jobs with titles that include marketing and management and finance.  In fact most business schools offer degrees in those disciplines and hardly a word is mentioned about sales.

Well, I'm here to defend this honorable professional and caution college graduates NOT to  shy away from beginning their business career in sales.  Consider these statistics from the University Sales Education Foundation: more than 50% of college graduates enter a career in sales and there is a significant increase in demand for sales professionals due to the aging workforce and smaller population.  At the same time, the art and science of sales is becoming more complex and increasingly global. 
Technology advancements, product complexity and the growing education and sophistication of buyers have given rise to increasingly complex selling environments.  Emerging economies, the insatiable search for growth, globalization of corporations and other factors make sales an increasingly global endeavor.  To perform amidst this growing complexity, today’s corporations desire a more knowledgeable and educated sales professional with critical thinking and analytical skills taught. - Pat McGlynn, The Advisory Board

If you think about the root of any business, it is about satisfying needs of customers.  Whether you're selling jet engines or nuclear power plant designs for GE or food products for a grocery wholesaler, sales professionals must first understand their customers, their competition, their product line and often be involved in complex negotiations to find a solution to a specific customers needs.  Most sales are not routine as no two customers, and their needs, are alike. 

Many companies start their new employees in a sales position for a reason.  How can you design a marketing program if you don't understand your customers?  How can you develop financing options if you don't understand your customers?  How can you manage an enterprise that depends on customer revenue and loyalty if you don't understand your customers?  You see a pattern developing here?

I was fortunate to serve the ExxonMobil Fuels Marketing Company as their Global Brand Manager for the last 10 years of my career.  Brand management I picked up through working with wonderful mentors like the late Peter Kim and Jane Cavalier of BrightMark Consulting.  But my knowledge of the business came from my early years as a sales representative calling on service stations.  This was followed by increasing responsibility in roles of Sales Supervisor, Area Sales Manager, Retail Sales Manager for Esso Australia and Retail and Commercial Sales Manager for Esso Europe/Africa Services.  If you lined up all my business cards, most had the word "SALES" in the job title. 

My advice to our MSBA students, and through our career development efforts, is to look at sales as an honorable profession and the best way to learn your business from the ground up.  You want to be the Marketing Manager or the Finance Manager or the Business Development Manager, then know your customers.  That is the most assured route to success. 

I'd love to hear your success stories!

Professor Stewart McHie
Program Director, MSBA


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