Picture a salesman. I won’t take it personally if you’ve conjured an image of a slick talker hawking a used car or an overly enthusiastic promoter of super-absorbent towels. As a middle-market lender here in Chicago, I sell, or more accurately, rent money. It may not be the stereotypical form of sales, but make no mistake: I am a salesman.
When I started at Booth in 2014, I was an experienced banker who had just transitioned into a sales role. Several current and former students highly recommended professor Craig Wortmann’s Entrepreneurial Selling class. During the first session, Wortmann asked, “What word comes to mind when you hear the term salesman?” I’m cognizant of public perception of sales, so I expected some degree of negativity. Even so, I was surprised by the results. The most common response was “pushy.” Others included “manipulative,” “sleazy,” “aggressive,” “slimy,” and “annoying.” There were a few suggestions of “persistent” and “confident,” but those were by far the minority. The negativity was especially striking coming from a group of diverse, business-minded peers here at Booth—who, I suspected, engaged in some form of sales exchanges in their everyday lives, yet most did not want to be associated with the label.
As Wortmann soon convinced this critical crowd, the tools of a salesperson—the tools he teaches in his class—are applicable in any profession that requires influencing others, which is pretty much any profession. We covered fundamental skills, including conducting an effective meeting, asking meaningful questions, addressing objections, and using stories to drive home a critical point. We learned the importance of asking a few well-thought-out “impact questions,” the kind of questions that will elicit a pause and can help turn a prospect’s ambiguous quest into a concrete need. Now I prepare questions before meeting with a prospective client. For example, I like to ask, “What key aspects of your business differentiate it from your competition?”
It also became evident that sales skills apply well beyond transactions for goods and services. Consider a doctor who must influence a patient to change his lifestyle or a teacher determined to inspire a disinterested student. An interview for your dream job is a sales presentation of the value you’ll bring to the company. In a number of the more traditional post-MBA careers—such as consulting, investment banking, and private equity—as you advance, the job requirements tend to shift from primarily analytic skills to sales and management skills. A consultant sells the value of her time; an investment banker sells his valuation expertise.
Eight of us from the Evening MBA and Weekend MBA programs who recognized the need for additional resources started a student group, the Booth Sales Club. Wortmann agreed to be our faculty sponsor. The club’s mission is to learn about sales in the broadest sense. More ambitiously, we endeavor to change the perception of sales through guest speakers from diverse careers and skills-development programs. We kicked off in the spring 2015 quarter, and we’ve gained momentum thanks to several well-attended events.
Establishing Booth as a frontrunner in developing executive-caliber sales programming will equip students to excel, whether they’re convincing a corporate team to shift strategies or pitching for Series A funding.
—BY RYAN BORMET