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By Shaun Thomson

It is believed that half of all business and MBA graduates enter a sales-related role. But how prepared are they and, indeed, how effective are they in that role?

The reality is that despite the fact that in the UK alone, 2.2m people work in sales – 10 per cent of the overall workforce, (globally this figure is rising to approximately 300m), the preparation many receive is non-existent. So why are business schools dedicating such little time and resources to preparing the majority of their students for their future career?

The answer to this is twofold. Firstly, there is the clear issue with sales as an industry being poorly perceived and not viewed as a “real” profession – with staff stereotypically seen as junior and transient. As such, business schools tend to teach the subject within marketing modules.

The knock-on effect of this is that sales is then bolted into an academic framework and consequently taught in a largely theoretical and passive way. Sales in practice is largely about communication and persuasion. But in business schools it is taught theoretically – strategically and mathematically – in stark contrast to the real-life scenario that a sales person will face, which will involve human interaction, often face-to-face.

A second problem is that business schools often do not have any collateral such as research on sales to share with their classes, let alone pedagogy. First hand experience or case study scenarios are integral to preparing students for the situations they will encounter on a day-to-day basis.

What does this mean for business schools and their prospective employers? Ultimately, business school students are not graduating with the right “communications” tools to become quickly useful in sales. Crudely this leads to businesses not receiving any bottom line benefits. And, for the sales people themselves, the vast majority will rapidly feel disillusioned and as a result become transient between businesses as they are perceived to be delivering little value.

Some businesses try to combat this by setting ambitious targets, which will usually only result in a demoralised sales force. The crux of the matter is that many employees within the sales team simply never develop the right skills to be successful. Perhaps worse still, the business school graduates will then go on to propagate the sales stereotype – that sales people do not stay at one job for long and are often not worth their salt.

Of course, there will always be people that naturally possess the right skills. But for the few “natural” sales people, who quickly become a premium within the industry, the future isn’t always rosy. They will soon suffer the disadvantage of a lack of preparation once they are promoted to a sales management position. Having never received the right foundation in sales skills development, they soon feel at a loss when it comes to teaching their sales team.

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