School’s out. Time to start thinking about going back?
  • sales
  • Blog post

School’s out. Time to start thinking about going back?

As all those bright-eyed college grads stream into the workforce this month, far too few of them will be considering a career in sales.

I’ve blogged before about the perception problem that affects the sales profession, especially among younger workers just starting out in their careers. There are many potential contributing factors, ranging from pop-culture stereotypes to clueless professors to a desire among job hunters for a predictable, if small, paycheck.

And — let’s not kid ourselves — there are reasons for job hunters to be suspicious. There are plenty of shady boiler-room operations that talk big, pay little and treat new sales hires like cannon fodder.

What’s a company to do?
All that being said, a good sales job in a good company offers tremendous opportunity for a new grad. And not just in terms of money. The skills acquired in sales will help promote success in just about any field. Salespeople must know how to communicate effectively, identify needs and propose solutions, establish trust, work with high-level decision makers and learn how they view the world.

So what can sales organizations do to get that message across?

SalesSlumpsWebinar_WebsiteAdA study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin suggests a simple yet powerful step. Not only will it benefit the profession as a whole, but also it can help your organization build a pipeline of new recruits.

The study looked at what sorts of educational practices had a positive impact on student perceptions of sales as a career. It tested six different approaches on 1,355 students at three universities.

The most effective intervention, in the words of the researchers, was “utilization of experienced salespeople to present classroom materials and to discuss their sales career.”

Makes sense, if you think about it. For students whose perception of selling comes from cultural stereotypes and, perhaps, some bad experiences on the wrong end of inept salespeople, these encounters can be transformational. They learn that professional salespeople aren’t fast-talking slimeballs after all, but smart, thoughtful people who know their craft. And seeing that, students (especially the clever ones) will be able to see themselves in such a role, and conclude that it might be a pretty cool way to make a living after all.

So for readers of this blog who are involved in talent recruitment, I offer this challenge. Reach out to a business school near you. Offer to make a rep available to speak to a class in marketing, sales or strategy. Or, if you have the resources and a professor is willing, suggest that you or one of your reps teach a topic, judge a competition, or create an in-depth project for students.

It’ll be good for the kids and good for you. Students get a realistic view of what sales is all about. Many reps will likely jump at the chance to share what they know. And you get a first look at top students — a big plus when it’s time to recruit new talent.

The time to reach out is now, when profs have the last semester behind them and are just starting to think about their classes for the fall.

Source: Cummins, S., Peltier, J.W., Pomirleanu, N., et al. (2015). Evaluating educational practices for a positively affecting student perceptions of a sales career. Journal of Marketing Education 37(1):25-35.

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