Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Impact of Experiential Learning on Student Perceptions of a Career in Sales

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Impact of Experiential Learning on Student Perceptions of a Career in Sales

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

As sales educators, we recognize that the production era's "sell what you can produce" mentality (Weitz, Castleberry, & Tanner, 2008) has led to negative perceptions of the sales profession and of salespeople. Although there is improvement in student perceptions of a career in sales, the overall attitude of students is fairly negative and few are enthusiastic about pursuing a career in sales (Amin, Hayajneh, & Nwakanma, 1995; Bristow, Gulati, & Amyx, 2006). Media has also portrayed salespeople in a negative light, often suggesting unethical behavior, dishonesty, and manipulation (Hartman, 2006; Waldeck, Pullins, & Houlette, 2010). Salespeople are viewed as pushy, insincere, and selfish, and are inaccurately perceived as bad role models for students. This negative perception of sales and salespeople may impact one's willingness to consider sales as a career.

This paper explored the effects of an Experiential Learning introductory sales course entitled "Personal Selling" on student perceptions of and aversion to a career in sales. The course runs each semester and includes various experiential learning exercises including role-plays, a half-day shadowing experience called the professional development project (PDP), and a class-specific sales competition. The professional development project requires students to a) shadow a sales professional on a sales call, b) interview the professional about concepts from the book, and c) do a mock sale with the sales professional. The sales professional, who acts as the buyer in the mock sale, evaluates the student's performance and discusses the student's strengths and weaknesses with the student. This particular project allows the student to both observe and practice selling. In this type of experiential learning, there is a class environment that allows students to a) readily link the theory they are learning to the experiential exercises, b) receive immediate feedback from the instructor, fellow students, and sales professionals, and c) experience sales calls in a low-risk environment where failure does not cost him/her the job.

The authors were inspired to explore the impact of experiential education on perceptions of sales for a number of reasons. First, the area of sales is ubiquitous; it touches every aspect of our lives, both personal and professional. Sales is evident in the way people build and maintain relationships, convince others of their ideas, negotiate terms at work and in friendships (ex: where to go for lunch), and portray themselves to others (ex: in a resume, interview, first date). Second, the area of sales is essential to business (Bristow, et al., 2006) and is in demand. In fact, a career in sales was in the top four most promising careers for college graduates in 2006 (Shaw, 2007) and the number of professional sales positions is predicted to grow (Waldeck, et al., 2010). Third, the majority of marketing majors and about half of finance majors will be in a sales position at some point in their careers (Bobot, 2010). Fourth, sales is becoming more of a profession like law and medicine (Hawes, Rich, & Widmier, 2004), requiring exploration into what works and what doesn't. Finally, as educators, we saw that students often came into their first sales course with a lot of uncertainty, negative views of salespeople, and fear about being in a sales position.

Since personal selling involves building relationships with clients, it is essential that students possess both professional and interpersonal skills, skills best learned through experience (Hawes & Foley, 2006). However, even with an increasing number of professional sales positions anticipated (9%--25% increase by 2016) and a greater emphasis on sales education in colleges and universities, negative perceptions of a career in sales persist among students (Waldeck, et al., 2010). This study explored the impact of teaching experientially, where students learn through experience, on perceptions of a career in sales. …

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