A Virtual Sales MBA


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Matt Heinz came up with a very provocative idea. He created a self-education plan for sales professionals. A course of study or “virtual MBA.” First, I’m flattered to be included on his list of “blogs you should be reading.” Matt’s is certainly one I read, and you should read as well (but he is either too modest to put it on the list, or realized people had figured it out–since they were reading the post).

What would a “Virtual MBA” for sales look like? One thing I notice about the very best people in any profession is they are committed to continual learning and improvement. They are always reading and studying. They attend conferences, courses, seminars. They learn from their peers, always seeking an edge.

Undoubtedly, you are reading this article, because you have already committed to your own personal development and improvement. (It’s the people who would never read a blog like this–or any blog, that I struggle with. How do we reach them?). So as you think about your own personal development program, what might it look like?

Undoubtedly, you’ve already found a list of books, bloggers, and other resources. If you haven’t, Matt’s list of books, bloggers, sites, and other resources is a great start. Every sales professional should put together their own list of books, bloggers, and related resources.

You will get great ideas, you will learn different approaches, you will tweak the things you do, adding to your repertoire of skills.

But it is dangerous to restrict your reading to just sales. However, good these resources, you will be missing a huge amount. Over time, you will get “stale.”

First, look at different types of selling. Most of my work is in B2B sales. However, a number of years ago, the top sales exec of a large consumer packaged goods company taught me a great lesson. He hired me to help re-engineer their whole approach to their markets. It was a B2C environment (also, B2 Retailer). I asked him, “Jerry, why did you hire us, we don’t know anything about B2C?” His response was, “We are experts at that. We’ve hired the best experts on B2C in the world, but we aren’t learning anything new. You are exposing us to things we never would have considered. It allows us to improve in ways that were unimaginable.”

That lesson stuck with me. In fact in that series of projects, I learned a lot of “new” things that I could bring to my B2B clients. So if you are in B2B sales, study B2C and see what things you might apply. If you are a field direct sales person, study inside sales, see what you can learn and apply.

What else?

Perhaps the most important thing is to study outside of sales. One of the most critical things to top performance is exploring outside your profession. Learn what top performers in other disciplines are doing. See how you might apply them to selling. For example, I read a lot about marketing and customer service. Those are natural extensions for sales people. I also read a lot about product development and manufacturing. There are huge lessons we can learn from studying different disciplines.

One area that has given me great insight, recently, is the profession of teaching. I’m fortunate to have several clients who provide services to schools and teachers. I’ve learned a lot about “great teaching.” What’s interesting is there is much in “great teaching” that can be applied to “great selling.”

Also, look at critical new skills. At the top of my list for skills for sales excellence in the future are: Decision-making/Problem solving, leadership, change management, project management, and lean. More and more, sales is not about selling, but it is about these other disciplines. If you aren’t mastering these disciplines, you aren’t acquiring the skills you need to be a top performer.

But read more broadly. Read history, economics, biographies. There are great ideas, from great thinkers that broaden our view of the world. It’s by broadening our view that causes us to think differently, to create value for our customers in ways they have never imagined. It also makes us much more well-rounded and better informed.

Seek to be well-informed and well-rounded. Have a daily reading routine that extends beyond just selling. Everyday, for example, I read (skim) a bunch of newspapers. I read the English versions of newspapers from around the world. And, I don’t stay with just serious stuff–I read “trashy stuff,” things like the Onion and others. It helps me lighten up and not take myself too seriously. It also gives me great stuff to “lighten up” conversations with peers and customers.

Stretch yourself even further. Seek to learn/master a new skill completely outside selling. For example, I’m trying to learn a new language.

Finally, the most important source of learning—your customers. I know, we’re supposed to be teaching our customers. Frankly I think that’s terribly short sighted. We can and should be teaching our customers, but we have so much to learn from them. One of the principles we’ve established in our company is that we seek to learn something in every engagement we undertake. It keeps us fresh, it gives us ideas, it helps us come up with new things we can share with (teach) our customers.

So that’s my start to developing a “Sales MBA” or even a “PhD.” Now I’d like to turn the tables and ask for your help.

Clearly, you are reading this article because of your personal commitment to improving and learning. So can you help me learn:

1. What are your recommendations for learning? What are some of the great resources you’ve found that I should leverage?

2. How do I, we, reach those who would never read a blog, who don’t realize what they are missing in terms of their own performance and potential?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave – like you, I have been inspired to tap a wide range of resources–some that others might consider ‘unconventional’–to broaden my insight into selling. It’s an ongoing process without an endpoint.

    Over many years in selling, I’ve learned that senior managers are conflicted about education. Some value it, others feel intimidated. I was reminded of this recently when I posted a question on LinkedIn asking whether hiring managers require a college degree for sales staff. I expected that some or many companies might not require a degree. What surprised me was how many people expressed antipathy about education. I believe this presents a major problem (and opportunity) in the sales profession–the disconnectedness between what salespeople must know and do in order to meet buyer and employer expectations, and how they are actually prepared. Your blog is a good effort to promote self-education, which is always important, but until the sales profession demands salespeople who are better educated (which doesn’t necessarily mean having a college degree), and can develop them, we will be stuck thinking tacit skills alone separate winners from losers.

    The blog I recently posted, “Do Sales Professionals Need a College Education?” can be found on CustomerThink by pasting the title in the search box. In that blog, I identified several resources that are emerging that appear promising for professional development for salespeople. Among them, free online courses from leading universities. The links for those programs are in the blog.

  2. Andy: Thanks for the great comment. I’d seen your post earlier, it has some great resources.

    More and more, “education” as well as other forms of “training” and self improvement are available through non-traditional channels. Sales people, if they want to stay at the top of their games should always be learning and improving.

    Thanks for pointing us in this direct.


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