What Your Business Degree Won't Teach You

I spent six years in business school (four in undergrad and two more for my MBA). Like other business grads I spent lots of time learning buzzwords, doing case analyses and reading about quantitative modeling and the econometrics of corporate finance. Business school was fun, but there is one discipline that wasn't mentioned once during my six years in business school and not a day goes by that I don't think about it in my role running a business. Business schools can guarantee their grads an income for life if they ensured that their students master this skill in a core course before graduating. The discipline?


Not marketing, finance, HR, legal, accounting, operations or management. Those people do the paperwork. Businesses will always hire people that can sell their product or service. The first person in any company is the one who makes the product or service, the second person is the one who sells it. Steve Wozniak made the Apple 1; it was Steve Jobs' role to sell it.

Most business grads take 40 courses in a bachelor's program. None of those courses will discuss lead generation, the necessities of following up, non-verbal communication, pricing or run-rates. Growing the top line is important to any business. If you can prove your ability to do that then you'll have a job for life. Moreover, sales is a skill anyone can learn and everyone should learn. Even those who say that they 'can't sell' and have no interest in sales.

We think of pushy middle-aged men wearing cheap suits and selling used cars when we think of salespeople. Maybe that's why academia and everyone else look down on the sales profession. Truthfully, most sales people (including the modern day used car salesperson) take a role of product advisor or solution executive. They try to see how their offering fits into solving your particular problem. Buyers are savvier now, but so are sellers. They'll ignore you if what they sell doesn't fit your need. Don't believe me? Turn the tables on a telemarketer and ask them questions instead of hanging up on them. They'll hang up on you and take you off their call list without you even asking because you're wasting their time.

In a sales course students could get hands-on experience in prospecting leads through cold calling, social selling, lead magnets, digital marketing and all other things businesses do to get leads in the pipeline. Business schools are full of students doing unrealistic projects/cases for large companies without budgets or accountability. Does Nike, Coca-Cola, Disney or Michael Kors really need another case study written about them? Instead why don't business schools insist students spend a semester assisting a small/mid-sized organization with sales? They could learn the product/service, find out what their strengths/weaknesses are and work towards improving the sales of that business. Or, they experience humility by watching their idea fail. We should be teaching students what's important about business. Understanding why your product or service is great, knocking on doors to tell other people about it and delivering a great customer experience.

The ability to sell proves your attitude, critical thinking and soft-skills. Every other business discipline is just semantics. You have no marketers, accountants, lawyers, managers or HR people on staff if you have no sales. Businesses put a premium on people that can generate revenue.

It's a shame our business schools don't.