Service Executives on Preparing Undergraduates for Sales Positions

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Business schools are increasingly under scrutiny to make certain that the knowledge and skills they impart to students are consistent with the needs of a rapidly changing competitive environment and the organizations that hire college graduates. The current research surveyed senior-level sales executives at 400 U.S.-based service firms on the importance of topics typically included in the undergraduate Professional Sales course. Forth percent of the executives participated. The executives' assessments of the value of selected out-of-class activities for students interested in pursuing careers in sales and recommendations for course structure were also solicited. The results provide benchmarks for faculty in designing and delivering the Professional Sales course in a postsecondary environment and advising students on how to better prepare for entry-level sales positions.

INTRODUCTION

Trends in business have caused academic leaders to consider restructuring both the content and teaching methods used in undergraduate curricula (Ackerman, Gross, and Perner 2003). Considering the potential value of perspectives from business school advisory boards, financial donors, and executives-in-residence to name a few, it is understandable that researchers involve these types of individuals in their data collection efforts (e.g. Saltzstein 1994; Waner 1995; Levenburg 1996; Taylor 2003).

For students interested in pursuing careers in professional selling, one of the cornerstone collegiate educational experiences has been the personal or professional sales course. This course has often been treated as a stepchild of marketing rather than as an integral part of the marketing process; unfortunate considering well over half of marketing majors will begin their careers in sales positions (Kutscher 1990; Michaels and Marshall 2002).

Colleges and universities are being encouraged by corporations and recruiters to offer courses that equip students with crucial, job-related skills (Weeks and Muehling 1987; Bragg 1988; Lysonski and Durvasula 1998). One potential difficulty is there is often a disparity between what is taught in the selling course and what sales representatives use in their daily activities.

One study that examined the sales course and the differences between practitioners' and educators' viewpoints found significant discrepancies between the two groups' views of what was important, both for course content and pedagogy (Parker, Pettijohn, and Pettijohn 1997). Research focusing on the perspectives of industrial sales practitioners in sales course content has been reported by Plank (1982) and Luthy (2000). The research reported here goes one step further. In addition to focusing on the opinions of an expert sample of senior-level sales executives, participants were also asked about the value of non-course activities and their recommendations for students interested in sales careers. The methodology used is similar to the one employed in the Luthy study (2000) but focuses on senior sales executives in the service sector. The rationale for focusing on service professionals stems from the changing nature of the U.S. and world economies and the unique aspects of marketing services (Grant 1987; Oliver 1987).

METHODOLOGY

A random sample of 400 senior-level sales executives at U.S. based, service firms was purchased from a commercial list vendor. Each subject was sent a self-administered questionnaire; a cover letter explaining the purpose of the survey, its goals, the assurance of respondent anonymity, the offer of a copy of the final article if they wished; and an addressed, postage paid return envelope. A total of 160 of the 400 service firm questionnaires were returned with usable responses, representing a 40% response rate.

The survey instrument was developed through a topic analysis of eleven of the leading textbooks on personal and professional selling used in colleges and universities. …