Years ago, there were two books I read with great relish written by one of the great entrepreneurs of our time, Mark McCormack. The two books were What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School and What They Still Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School, the sequel written a few years later.
The books are filled with wisdom and street-smart advice, and McCormack tells it like it is about people being people. The inference, of course, is that at institutions such as Harvard Business School there isn't a lot of time spent trying to inculcate students with good old-fashioned common sense.
If you've never read these books, they are as relevant today as they were when they were penned. As way of background, McCormack, who died a few years ago, founded the renowned agency International Management Group (now known simply as IMG) in Cleveland in 1960. And, as one article written about him puts it, many sports personalities (not to mention entertainment and media celebs) are still reaping the benefits. McCormack was responsible for procuring previously unfathomable riches for his clients and, in turn, molding the business of sport into what it is today.
His first client was golf legend Arnold Palmer, whom he signed in 1960. In tennis, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were among his clientele. IMG still represents many of the superstars of golf and tennis.
Recently, one of the Modern Healthcare salespeople showed me an article he read in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. It was written by Laura Laaman, an award-winning sales, management and customer service speaker and trainer, and the title of her article was "What does an Ivy League degree lack? Often, real-life sales skills." That title alone made me think of McCormack and how he had viewed Harvard and other schools of advanced learning.
In her article, Laaman talks about her excitement at being asked to speak at Harvard Business School. However, after her initial exhilaration, she was surprised to find out the reason for her invite was not to complement the Harvard curriculum on professional selling but rather to talk about the real world of sales management and training in the practice of personal selling. The professor who invited her had recognized there was a total lack of formal training in these areas at the school.
Laaman tells us she discussed how important it is to develop personal selling tools for anyone who hopes to be successful in business. She made the point that it really doesn't matter what your chosen field is because no matter who you are, you aren't going to get very far selling your ideas -- both internally and externally -- without personal selling tools.
Laaman also made the point to the Harvard students that they could be running a company that makes great products, but if the organization doesn't have a quality sales force, nothing will happen. Salespeople are the core of any business. They make things happen. They make people want to buy products, and unless salespeople are in the field meeting customers at the point of sale, products won't move and the business will go under.
So you can understand how important it is for people who eventually want to run a business to understand this basic idea. Laaman didn't know if she got her message across to the students until she found out a few months later that many of them referenced her material in their written exams.
She then shares an experience she had during a lecture at another university a few years earlier. The professor who had invited her showed her the results of a study he had done with the parents of students entering the university. The parents were asked to rank which professions they would most like their children to enter. At the bottom of the list? Sales.
From her experience at Harvard, Laaman tells us what she believes is important: If the curriculum at Harvard doesn't include a course on professional sales, then those students who graduate and go out into the business world aren't going to be successful in running a company.
Laaman tells us about some of her experiences at companies where she is asked to step in to train a company's sales force. She says that most of the time, the top sales management is both disappointed and somewhat resistant to the idea that its salespeople need such training. She claims that too often she is met with the mindset that when a person joins a company and is given the title of salesperson, that person doesn't need training.
She then uses the analogy that she is thankful that brain surgeons need continuous postgraduate training and education to learn all the new skills and techniques, but she is dumbfounded by sales managers and executives who think salespeople's skills don't have to be upgraded continually. Her take on this questionable attitude is that many seasoned sales executives feel that way because they were forced to figure things out on their own. You know, what's good for the goose ...
Laaman says that once a company provides sales training and it sees a return on its investment, then it's a win for the company as well as its customers -- and the sales professionals themselves. Her final observation is that if you are an executive in a business with a successful sales team, then you should pat yourself on the back and feel really good about things. But she adds this: Don't forget to keep giving your salespeople the very best training you possibly can so they stay up-to-date and keep improving.
Never stop learning.