Magazine article ASEE Prism

Teaching Engineering Students to Sell

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Teaching Engineering Students to Sell

Article excerpt

With the growing need for technically knowledgeable sales professionals, it is imperative that colleges effectively and efficiently prepare students for these jobs. Sales engineering or technical sales programs bridge engineering and business disciplines to educate students in sales techniques and methodologies. These targeted courses and programs have historically been offered to engineering students through business schools, in particular marketing programs.

Our study investigated and analyzed cohorts of students enrolled in an introductory technical sales course offered by Iowa State University as part of a technical sales minor, in which nearly 60 percent of incoming students were enrolled. We aimed both to assess the changing perceptions and attitudes of engineering students toward technical sales and to understand the impact such engineering-based sales courses have on sales-related learning outcomes. The study administered a before-and-after survey of students enrolled in the course for five consecutive years to assess perceptions ranging from interest and ability to helpfulness in learning specific technical sales skills.

The course was designed to teach the following skills: sales process methodology, techniques for building professional relationships, sales automation software, prospecting and account development, market analysis and segmentation, responding to requests for quotes and requests for proposals in written and verbal form, developing technical value propositions and competitive positioning, evaluating organizational decision processes and people, technical marketing strategies, and sales closing strategies.

A Sales Engineering Students' Learning Outcomes Survey (SESLOS) was created and used to assess students' pre- and post-course perceptions. A total of 281 students provided some data with a subset of students (n = 99) completing both the "before" and "after" assessments. The survey showed a significant increase in students' interest in sales as a potential career and in their appreciation of sales skills in both professional and life success. The survey did not, however, ask students why they might have changed career preferences.

It is encouraging to see an increase in value associated with sales skills, even though students came into the course with a strong perception of the importance of sales skills. It is unknown how students came to this initial belief, but clearly the fact that students elected to take the course would indicate that they understood the importance of sales in their professional or personal lives. …

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