Sales: the world’s oldest profession

The saw about the world's oldest profession being prostitution is arguably false given that sales of any number of essential human needs from basic food to clothing certainly preceded it. Yet the idea of teaching sales is greeted with almost as much opprobrium as that accorded for peddlers of vice particularly in business schools. One MBA program that sets itself apart with sales at its core is the Acton School of Business in Austin, Texas.

Inc. magazine recently profiled Acton's in a feature headlined "Texas Business School Teaching Door-to-Door Sales". While the highly regarded one year MBA program is focused on entrepreneurship every year following winter break there is a "Sales Challenge–a three-day competition in which students go door to door to see which team can sell the most children's dictionaries." It is a task that the students quickly find out to be anything but child's play with one student describing the assignment as "frightening".  Unhelpfully, the books are 50% higher than on Amazon and in a digital age and viewed by most as obsolescent.  Yet the school's focus is the pitch, figuring that the ability to sell to total strangers lies is a core skill for successful business folks.

Along the foregoing lines, the Financial Times also ran a two-part series on Sales with the first entitled Selling deserves a corner office followed by Portrait of a perfect salesman. The first part laments the absence of sales in curricula in B-schools and points out how many "well-educated" business people are clueless about one of the most vital functions of a business: the means by which revenue is generated. The author notes that the US seems to have a bipolar approach to sales regarding it either as virtuous or vile. Among the leading examples of the former is Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric who started life as a salesman while the latter is the fictitious Willy Loman from Arthur Miller's play "the death of a salesman".

In the second part, the FT article exemplifies a perfect salesman with his/her attributes. These include humility and flexibility (the ability to change gears depending on the customer) besides perserverance using a combinaton of charm and bullying. The piece also cites the example of legendary salesforce.com where by "applying new technology to old-fashioned sales problems and not forgetting that this remains a human activity" the company "represents a new kind of sales culture. Neither hard nor soft, it (Salesforce) relies on transparent information and co-operation." It closes with Apple as an example of how a firm uses teachers instead of sharks in sales. Most importantly, Apple recognized that their "geniuses" (retail employees) who all were converts sold out of enthusiasm, not just for commission.

 

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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