Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

The Impact of a Professional Selling Course on Student Perceptions: A before and after Look

Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

The Impact of a Professional Selling Course on Student Perceptions: A before and after Look

Article excerpt


For decades, (going back to the 1950s) the negative attitudes students hold towards salespeople and sales careers have been of concern to university educators and to employers seeking to recruit well-trained sales people. While the increasing demand for university educated salespeople continues to grow, employers are struggling to meet that demand. This study reports the impact of a professional selling course on changes in student perceptions regarding (a) the desirability of a professional selling career, (b) the usefulness of a professional selling course for developing selling skill sets in entry-level salespeople, (c) the customer orientation of salespeople, and (d) societal perceptions of salespeople. Results show that both male and female college students perceived the selling profession and salespeople more positively after taking the sales course, and that these students had positive perceptions regarding the skill set gained through such courses.

Keywords: Professional portfolio; competencies; experiential; lifelong


In 2014, Selling Power 500 ( reported some intriguing statistics regarding professional selling careers:

1) The total number of salespersons employed by the 500 companies with the largest sales forces exceeded 24 million;

2) Those 500 firms will endeavor to recruit approximately 500,000 college graduates for sales positions every year.

In an economy that has many business majors questioning just where their degrees will take them in terms of career opportunities, those statistics should represent promising news and are indicative of promising on-going prospects for university students. Coupled with estimates that up to 80% of college students majoring in marketing and up to 60% of all business majors (Agnihotri et. al. 2014) will spend some portion of their careers in professional selling (Heckman, 1998; Jones, Stevens, and Chonko, 2005), one might reasonably predict that university business students would view professional selling as a promising career option. However, decades of related research has shown that such is not the case.

In light of these research findings and subsequent implications, the authors of this manuscript sought to empirically investigate the following fundamental research question: What impact, if any, does a university professional selling course have on student attitudes and perceptions towards professional selling as a career?

Literature Review

The unexpected discrepancy between positive career opportunities and university students' negative attitudes towards professional selling has led to a rich history of research in the sales discipline. One generally consistent finding in that research has been convincing evidence that university students tend to hold negative attitudes towards professional selling. In 1961, McMurry reported that salespeople were viewed as being 'pushy and deceitful'. A decade later, Paul and Worthing (1970) found that college students continued to hold generally negative perceptions of sales people. In 1981, Dubinsky reported that salespeople were considered to be, amongst other things, monotonous, uneducated, high-pressure phony individuals. Later in the 1980s, researchers unveiled further evidence of the pervasiveness of negative opinions of professional selling. In a study of 300 university marketing students, Weeks and Muehling (1987) reported that almost 70% of the students' most salient thoughts regarding professional selling were negative and that nearly 60% of the characteristics associated with salespeople were negative. In a 1999 cross-national study of business students' perceptions of sales careers, Honeycutt and his colleagues found that students in the United States, New Zealand and the Philippines used such words as 'boring', 'stressful' and 'pushy' to describe industrial sales/salespeople.

A broader look at the relevant 50 plus year literature provides a colorful picture of some of the key work done in the area of perceptions of and attitudes towards professional selling and/or salespeople. …

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