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Should Sales Be Taught In Schools? by Russell Ward


Russell Ward is CEO of Silent Edge – a specialist in sales training, motivation and much else. Here he writes about the central overlooked skill in British culture – that of sales.

I find it astonishing that sales is not taught in schools, on any Business Studies course whether it be an A level, HND or degree or on any MBA course other than Cranfield’s. Marketing is, but not sales. They are completely different disciplines and to learn how to sell is a lifetime skill unlike marketing. Why is a skill set which is so essential ignored?

If it was taught at grass roots then perhaps we would not be facing a recession in the UK as so many more people would be equipped to sell properly. If we do something about it now then the next time we face this situation (which we will) we will be prepared.

Every business in the world has the need to sell. In the B2C world a lot of “selling” is done by Marketing. In the B2B world nearly all the sales are as a result of a “selling” intervention supported by Marketing. Very different scenarios.

Every business that operates in the B2B space needs to be able to sell and will normally employ a sales force of some size. The vital fulcrum of business is sales and revenues because without them the business won’t exist.

The biggest profession in the world is sales and some of the largest departmental headcount in many blue chip organisations are the sales people. So why isn’t it taught at grass roots?

Imagine the impact on the GDP of the UK if all school children were taught how to sell from 16 – 18 years old. Sales might not be for everyone but then neither is Maths or English, and yet it is compulsory to learn those subjects at GCSE. So much of what is taught at does not prepare children for later life and is not practical.

Children in the UK are facing a very different situation to those a few years ago. The prospect of being £40,000 in debt at the end of their time at University is no longer an option for many. That would take 13 years to pay off at £250 per month.

I have a 16 year old and we have been discussing the subject of going to Uni. My advice to him was unless he was considering going into a profession such as law, accountancy, medicine etc, then he should forget Uni. Even now many students that are qualified in a profession are not guaranteed of a job at the end. I know many sons or daughters of friends who are struggling to get junior law, architect or accountancy roles.

A really good option is for children to go into sales. Top flight qualifications are not essential to be good in sales. What is essential is to know how to do it professionally. Would they rather be £40,000 in debt at the age of 22 or have £40,000 in the bank? What other role can consistently give you the chance and possibility to create wealth at an early age?

Sales might not be for some at school, but at least learning the skill will enable a future accountant to negotiate better. It’s a lifestyle skill. Learning how to listen, question, build value propositions, handle objections, negotiate, build creative solutions having taken on board the relevant information, persuade and build rapport amongst many other things, will give people such a foundation of great capability.

It reminds me of a situation I found myself in many years ago when I have the chance to present to the Managing Partner of a top 5 accountancy firm. I was told he was highly intelligent, had a short attention span in meetings and was a thoroughbred accountant. I knew I had to get his attention as fast as possible so this is what happened:

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I asked him

“Please do” he replied

“How long would it take for someone to become a junior partner in your organisation from leaving school if they were one of the strongest candidates you could find?”

“10 years would be absolutely exceptional” he replied

“About the same amount of time it takes to become a top flight sales person then” I said

The look on his face was a picture. He was horrified that I have compared sales to the profession of accountancy. I knew at that point I had lost him and the meeting was fairly pointless from here on in. So I asked him

“Have you ever sold before?”

His brow furrowed and he looked like he was sucking on a lemon  “Never” he said

“Are you married?” I asked

“Yes” he said with a quizzical look on his face

“Well you have sold at least one time in your life then.”

That meeting has stuck with me for the rest of my days. It was worth it because of his incredulity of my comments and just confirmed how sales is considered by many in the UK. A dirty word, not a profession, not to be taken seriously…

And yet without it no business would survive. So why is it not taken more seriously?

Every Business School has an MBA course and yet there are no sales modules on them (other than Cranfield’s). I did Business Studies at Bristol and then went into sales. I was clueless about how to sell or the discipline of selling so I learnt from my manager, on the job and on live clients. I lost so many deals due to the mistakes I made, or the poor advice and guidance given to me by my manager.

Had I been taught how to sell on my Business Studies HND course I would have been far more successful which would have in turn boosted my motivation and earnings (for me and my company) considerably.

So many aspects of the sales industry leave me aghast with amazement. It has been ignored as a profession and the education sector needs to wake up to the power of sales skills and the impact they can make on the economy, confidence and general well-being of people.

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