Bright New Crop of Sales Graduates


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Last month I presented at Ohio University’s 10th annual Sales Symposium. The event was hosted by OU’s Sales Centre (, one of just a few dozen colleges/universities to offer a degree or certificate in sales. That’s right. You CAN now receive a degree or cross-disciplinary certificate in sales from an acredited institution. But it’s uncommon.

Of the 4,158 colleges, junior colleges and universities in the U.S., fewer than three dozen (35 to be exact) offer certification.

Coming from the old school, I’ve been inclined to think this is just fine. Sales remains one of the last areas where an individual can succeed purely on merit, effort, individual performance improvement–without someone needing to certify him or her. In fact, many of the early “Certification” programs were generally offered by associations that were: a) looking to bolster their membership and credibility; and b) corner the market on certifying sales “professionals.” With predictable results these efforts were largely ignored to death by sales (non-certified) professionals.

Who cares?

Well, Howard Stevens, Chairman of HR Challey for one. Howard is full of statistics, many eye-opening. For example, although majoring in something else, within nine months of graduation 50% of all college graduates will go into sales. Anong the F500 companies, none (zero, nada) have another firm’s top sales person on their Board. Also among the F500, only 16 CEOs have been responsible for sales before.

Further, although I’ve not been a fan of certification, I’ve absolutely been a proponent of sales mastery. That is, the lifelong learning and continuous growth in sales skills and knowledge (check out the first in CustomerThink’s Mastery series). This has long been my view of professionalizing sales. But points out Stevens, three things are requisite for professional certification:
1) Minimum standard requirements
2) Certification
3) Specialization

To make the point on the first of these criteria: What do you call the guy that graduates last in class from medical school? Answer: “Doctor.”

Certification tests for competence and many professions now routinely also require continuing education and renewed certification. Specializaiton could take many paths in sales as it has in medicine (e.g., cardiologist, neurologist, internist, etc). Sales could be differentiated by inside versus field, enterprise, retail, CPG, etc.

Beyond all the discussion though is the product itself. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of OU’s sales students. They were bright, energetic, focused on getting started and grounded in basic sales skills (e.g., SPIN Selling, presnetation skills, etc).

As I sat listening to them it was clear to me I was looking at the future. Of course, this is always true. Whenever you attend a high school or college graduation you’re looking at the future. But this was the future of selling and the sales profession. These graduates weren’t goig to “wind up” in sales; they were “going” into sales!

My absolute sense of it all was that it was a good thing. That we could all use a little more professionalism and with a twenty-five year head start and a little luck, hopefully you and I will be able to out run this new crop of sales reps. Certainly we’ll be pressured to keep improving our level of play.

As Enzo Ferrari said: “Racing improves the breed.” And improved competition and sales education improves our profession.

Sell well.

Barry Trailer
Barry has been involved in complex B2B sales for over 30 years and is intrigued with how it's changed/changing and what this means to Sales as a Profession (SaaP). Salesware, the analytics company he co-founded, was acquired by Goldmine Software in 2000 and his next company, CSO Insights with Jim Dickie, was acquired by Miller Heiman Group in 2015. He has twice been published by, and been a keynote for, Harvard Business Review, and is author of Sales Mastery, a novel.


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