Why is it that you can get a PhD in engineering, finance, marketing and human resources, but not sales?
More interestingly, why can’t you get a Master’s in sales either? For other business disciplines, the MBA is the terminal degree for applied practice, as opposed to research. Why not have an MBA with a sales concentration?
Furqan, this one line blog speaks volumes. We’ve talked about this live before, but I’ll recap here. Fall of my second year of business school, I went to a dozen CEOs and Venture Capitalists I knew well and asked a simple question – if I wanted to build businesses for the rest of my career, what direction should I take post-graduation. A dozen smart, accomplished people with very diverse backgrounds all had the same answer. They said either go into sales or product management (which is as close to ‘making it’ as you can get in the software field without knowing how to code). I took the sales route, and I’ll say I learned more in my three years selling software than I did in my two years at Harvard studying for my MBA. That’s not to say Harvard was in any way lacking. My two years there was amazing. But selling enterprise software to Wall Street firms in 2002, a difficult selling environment to be sure, was an eye opening experience. Since that time, I’ve transitioned back into a more typical MBA career – that of a private equity investor. The perspective, and maybe more importantly the empathy for entrepreneurs I gained in my three years carrying a bag are priceless. Several years ago, I was asked back to Harvard to speak on a panel on the topic of sales. One of the professors in the MBA program has been pioneering a sales curriculum at Harvard, and there are similar efforts taking root at MIT as well. It’s long overdue. Sales from an academic perspective is a deep, rich topic. It’s not about charismatic personalities, and flashy clothes. It’s about empathy, persuasion, discipline, strategy, creativity, and for the best in the business, it’s about being genuine. In fact, during that same sales seminar, a sociologist profiled the 100 or so MBA students on hand and compared their profiles to those of top sales people. Here’s an interesting insight. For nearly all the characteristics (some of which I note above) MBA students’ and top sales people’s scores were aligned. The one area where MBAs and top sales people diverged dramatically was ego resilience. In other words, top sales people have thick skin. Top MBA students do not.
I also asked this question on LinkedIN and the responses there are interesting as well.
Think back on how much practical, actionable material you learned in school. Would you really want to learn sales from college professors? What would an advanced degree in sales be worth? I suspect the answer is “significantly less than your first six months of experience”. And you’d have to pay for the degree – tuition, AND lost wages, AND opportunity costs!