Sales is being heralded as a profession, not a job extroverts happened to stumble into. The proof? These eight institutions of higher learning are offering programs specifically for graduates headed into sales.
Though the first entrepreneurship program is nearly two centuries old (thank you, University of Michigan), the field didn’t take off until the tech boom of the 1990s: According to the Princeton Review, the number of structured entrepreneurship degrees quadrupled in the last quarter of the 20th century and has continued to grow each year since. But it wasn’t until more recently that the country’s best schools acknowledged that being good at selling an invention, software or a ballistic missile is critical to success.
According to Harvard Business Review, more than half of American college graduates, regardless of their majors, are likely to work in sales at some point. Yet less than 100 U.S. schools have sales programs or even sales courses—and of the more than 170,000 students who earn MBAs annually, only a tiny fraction learn about sales. This is ludicrous, says Danny Warshay, executive director of the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship at Brown University. “If you don’t ultimately make a sale, the other work you’ve done in creating your business model doesn’t mean much,” the professor warns. “Selling is the way you translate the value of what you’re doing to the people who need it.”
Warshay contends that sales didn’t earn the respect it deserves in academic circles until Bill Sahlman, a guru of entrepreneurship at Harvard University, started telling his grad students to get a sales job in their preferred industry straight out of school. Sales, he argued, is where an entrepreneur would talk to prospective consumers, understand their needs and recognize that a businessperson sells something to almost any person with whom he or she engages — the board, the banker, the investor.
“Few people took Sahlman’s advice, but the ones who did were glad they did,” Warshay says. “Most students say, ‘What are you talking about? What am I going to tell my parents?’ But the smart students will reflect back on their course work, see all the cases we looked at and see how valuable selling is to the entrepreneurial process. Salespeople are on the front lines of any business.”
Finally, educators are agreeing. The founders of DePaul University Center for Sales Leadership hoped to enroll 90 students a year when the program debuted in 2004. Today about 700 students each quarter enroll in DePaul’s sales courses. But the university isn’t alone in offering a stellar sales program.
The following programs are at the leading edge of sales education, training the next generation of sellers to be as professional, skilled and respected as their peers in medicine and law.
C.V. Starr Program in Business, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations (BEO)
Brown’s broad-spectrum undergraduate program prepares students to be creative and flexible leaders in a number of careers. Through the School of Engineering, undergraduates can sign up for a class with professor Howard Anderson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and co-partner at the venture capital firm Battery Ventures, in which he’ll teach a version of his highly popular MIT course “Selling and Sales Leadership in the Entrepreneurial Environment” through the engineering school.
The goals are threefold: to teach how to sell; to outline the job of management of the sales force; and to understand the theory and recent research into making sales and marketing part and parcel of any corporation’s goals.
“The objective of the course is to demystify the process,” says Anderson. “Very few people succeed in business without knowing how to sell.”
University of Michigan
Stephen M. Ross School of Business Cappo Sales Track
The first university to offer a full-fledged entrepreneurial degree has evolved to include four sales management tracks at its Stephen M. Ross School of Business, including a retail focus that emphasizes the consumer space with classes on merchandising, consumer service and even seasonality.
Challenging modules give students (yes, undergraduates, too) the opportunity to overcome obstacles to success, such as high employee turnover, the fast pace of daily sales and managing a diverse workforce. Another track explores the psychology, economics and sociology of consumer behavior while providing tools to implement that knowledge in the workplace.
Florida State University
The Sales Institute at Florida State University enrolls more than 400 students each semester, making it one of the largest sales programs in the nation.
The undergraduate professional sales major develops skills necessary for future business leaders by honing in on sales strategies, management using computer simulations, training in modern technologies and real-world experience through internships.
FSU also offers a Ph.D. in marketing, with a sales and sales management focus.
University of Texas at Dallas
Professional Sales Concentration at the Naveen Jindal School of Management
Four intensive professional selling classes provide simulated and live sales events, and most major courses end in competitions judged by industry executives and hiring managers.
Students who become certified through the University Sales Center Alliance get the benefit of affiliation with the Naveen Jindal School of Management as well as experience with sales leaders from companies in the Dallas–Fort Worth area such as Intel Security and Lennox Corporation. Graduates typically receive multiple offers prior to graduation and get higher base and on-target pay packages.
“Everybody sells,” says Howard F. Dover, Ph.D., director of the UT Dallas Center for Professional Sales. “The question is: Have they invested the time to learn how to sell in today’s environment?”
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Center for Professional Selling
The first bona fide sales center in the country, founded in 1985, is recognized annually as one of the nation’s top sales programs.
Students in the Professional Selling program enjoy class sizes of no more than 20, all of which expand the boundaries of sales knowledge through academic research. ProSales students are encouraged to participate in the many competitions offered and must attend a Top Gun training program twice a year — which includes a retreat with sessions on sales improvisation, business conversations and even dining etiquette and professional attire — to ensure they are market-ready when they graduate.
Driehaus College of Business Center for Sales Leadership
DePaul relies on curricular input from industry partners such as 3M to keep instruction relevant for graduates in the fast-paced world of professional selling.
Courses are taught through a combination of lecture settings, group projects, in-class presentations by business leaders, case studies, technology immersions and field trips.
Experienced faculty members teach seven different classes (students are required to take //at least// five, including strategy technology and social impact sales), bringing together expertise in sales, sales technology, leadership, organization development, strategic planning and consulting.
Professional Sales Degree
Bentley’s Professional Sales major develops critical knowledge and perspective in the realm of revenue generation, business development and sales management — all while cultivating an understanding of the role sales plays within any organization.
Majors are required to take eight sales-specific courses, and undergraduate students choosing to dip their toes in professional sales can sign up for courses that cover the basics, like effective selling, negotiating and interpersonal relations in management.
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University of Connecticut at Storrs
School of Business Professional Sales Leadership Concentration
The No. 1 ranked undergraduate public business program in New England allows marketing majors to concentrate on sales, giving them access to major corporations such as ADP, Xerox and the Hershey Company to provide practical experience (including an internship).
The goal is to integrate sales efforts into general business practices. Students learn how to prioritize sales opportunities, plan account strategies and collaborate as part of a sales team to deliver customer value. The program emphasizes critical thinking and data-driven analytical approaches to sales strategies, making graduates highly prepared for today’s sales force.