Why sales skills aren’t in the school curriculum (and why they should be)

In the post-secondary world, the spotlight is on teaching practical skills. Communications students are taught how to write a media release, engineering students learn how to program micro controllers and business students are shown how to implement a business strategy. But there is one practical skill, applicable to almost every field, that is missing from the curriculum – how to sell.

Knowing how to sell, whether it’s selling a product to a customer, selling a business proposal to an investor, or selling yourself in an interview, is a skill that is crucial to being successful at any job. Everyday, companies rely on employees to sell – to sell their ideas, to sell products and to sell to customers. It doesn’t matter how good an idea is, or if a product is the next great thing, if an idea or product isn’t sold, and isn’t sold well - it is doomed to fail. But, how to sell isn’t covered by most school programs, and surprisingly isn’t even learned by those who complete an MBA. Too many young professionals are entering the workforce with no ability to sell, to the detriment of their success and their future employers.

Selling is the universal business skill. While often unstated, the ability to sell is a requirement for success at every job.
Geoffrey James, Sales Source

Traditional sales approach vs. contemporary selling

In the past, sales wasn’t a skill or job that required a degree or diploma. Companies often trained their new hires, and selling was seen as a scripted approach to building relationships between a sales person and a customer. Sales jobs were on the front-line and customers had a single touch-point with a company when completing a transaction.

Today, selling is a multi-disciplinary, data driven, analytical function that requires sales experts to think and act across different functional boundaries. The digital world has expanded the number of customer interactions with a company from one to many. With the customer in the digital driver’s seat, they are the masters of online relationships and expect companies to be where they are, when they require support or service. Being successful in sales today requires a diverse approach and expertise in data mining, designing digital customer journeys, the psychology behind decision making and influencing as well as the interpersonal soft skills that are necessary to build and retain relationships.

Traditional sales approach Contemporary selling
  • Front-line, customer service
  • Scripted
  • A set of practiced behaviours
  • Building relationships outside of business
  • Single touch point
  • Across the functional boundaries of an organization
  • Cross-disciplinary
  • Data driven, analytical selling
  • Online
  • Multiple touch points

Invest in selling or fail

Selling is crucial to the success of any business. Sales is the department that generates revenue. If your sales force is weak, your bottom line will eventually bottom out. Companies are struggling to fill their sales positions with top talent. Employers spend an average of 41 days trying to fill sales jobs – longer than any other type of job. Across different industries – tech, finance, marketing and more – too many professionals lack the sales skills required to make successful contributions at their companies.

A career in sales can be one of the most rewarding, highest paid opportunities. But, colleges and universities need to start incorporating selling into the curriculum. If academic institutions began to teach students how to sell, they would not only be better prepared for the job hunt and success in their jobs, but companies would also have a bigger and better talent pool to choose from. There are so many different variables that affect sales success – the economy, psychology, technology and sociology, and ultimately selling directly impacts the bottom line. It can be the difference between success or failure.