Ask the Experts

Street Smart

My father sells insurance and my brother equities. I am learning zero about salesmanship in college. Why are there no courses that teach anything useful?

You are a step ahead with your question. When you get your first job, that is when you realize much of your coursework did not teach useable skills. Take the bigger picture, you did learn to think and write. If you enter the sales field, you have the education to help you master it. However, many argue that almost all work entails sales, communication and persuasion. Salesmanship should be taught at college, just like English Composition 101. This is why we think your question deserves an answer.

The job market has changed in recent years and students are entering a more competitive environment. In the past, unemployed graduates could find high-paying jobs in fields requiring no degree. A study by the Economic Policy Institute revealed that a shortage of well-paying, non-degree jobs resulted in graduates accepting positions such as bartender or shop assistant.

Additionally, more positions now require a degree, especially wholesale-manufacturing sales and retail-sales supervisory roles. There is a huge demand for sales workers and many students will migrate into this area.

The first real-world scenario most students face involving sales is their first job interview. Your resume is a sales document and your conduct during the interview is your sales pitch.

Nearly every industry that a graduate enters will have a sales division as a core part of its operations. Many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have sales experience and understand that the success of the company is dependent on salesmanship. This is not limited to traditional roles of corporate clients and buyers. Governmental departments require sales skills to negotiate budgets, projects, capital expenditure and staff benefits.

On the Internet, salesmanship is integral to design, presentation and function of a site. Every college student is an experienced Internet user and shopper. Since you are only a click away from leaving the webpage, every interaction with the reader becomes a sales effort. You have a moment to capture the viewer’s attention or you have lost them, opines the webmaster at PromoCodeWatch.

Colleges seem to have an aversion to sales and selling terminology, explaining why there are so few salesmanship courses. These are often supplemented with courses on business management and entrepreneurship. Students are left to themselves to learn these essential sales skills.

It is interesting to observe the change from last generation through today. The Internet has helped educate consumers and corporate buyers, where they now have much more information for decision making. They require much higher level of ability from corporate staff to interact, answer questions and be more persuasive when dealing with clients. Our focus used to be on production, but now everyone must be a salesperson, observes a drapery rod manufacturer.

There is also a stigma around sales, likening it to shady or aggressive techniques. However, this ignores the wide-reaching applications a strong sales persona can have beyond selling a physical item.

As a student, you should take advantage of any and all college courses that feature business writing, consumer behavior, persuasion and verbal communication. Outside of class, there are books, blogs, seminars and podcasts that focus on advancing salesmanship.

Practicing and understanding how to present and win an argument, defend ideas, and close a deal are also key aspects of overall sales techniques. You will be using these skills throughout your working life.

Salesmanship is the gentle art of letting the customer have it your way… Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds.

Martin J. Young is a former correspondent of Asia Times.