All Entrepreneurs Need to Know How to Sell


It doesn’t matter where you start or where you end up, says Howard Dover, PhD, professor and director of the Professional Sales concentration at The University of Texas at Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management. Your future will include sales — especially as you try to grow your startup.

“Basic sales is essential for everyone,” Dover says. “Everyone sells … So sales is one of the essential core skills every business person needs today.”

“Everyone sells … So sales is one of the essential core skills every business person needs today.”

Dover cites the best-selling book by Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human (2012, Riverhead). In the book, Pink notes that virtually everyone is involved in sales in that all professionals are persuading others to take action. Pink suggests that methods of selling have changed more in the past 10 years than in the 100 years previous.

“There are two types of sales,” Dover says, “transactional and professional. We don’t teach transactional methods in our program. We prepare students for the non-transactional sale.”

While about a quarter of Dover’s undergrad students move on to take advanced sales classes, the intro class (MKT 3330) provides important foundational sales skills.

“The methods you see in the business-to-consumer market don’t transfer well into the business-to-business market or high-end, relationship-based business-to-consumer sectors,” Dover says. In those areas, where there is high cost and long-term commitment, “you need a more professional, consultant-type approach.”

“We teach a different method, which equips our students for more solution- and consultant-type selling. This requires a more intelligent student and a better trained sales person. In the end, it also means a much higher paying career,” he says.

For startups, it’s going to be tough to fill a technical sales or a sales management position, making it imperative that startup CEOs and COOs know how to perform that role. Sales positions are among the hardest to fill for any corporation, including those with deep pockets.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that employers spent an average of 41 days to fill technical sales jobs, compared with an average of 33 days for all jobs for the 12-month period ending in September 2014. The article also said the median annual wage was up to $74,970 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Everybody sells, but very few are trained.”

Part of the reason, The Journal reports, has to do with the competitive nature of the tech sales hiring scene, but another reason is that young workers appear disinterested in working in sales, thanks to its risky and cut-throat reputation.

Meanwhile, UT Dallas undergrads or graduate students who complete the Professional Sales certification often land jobs before they graduate and earn an average of $77,000 their first year, Dover says. Most majors can add sales classes as electives in their degree program.

“Everybody sells, but very few are trained,” he says.

For Dover’s students, skills developed in undergraduate and graduate classes include learning to use digital tools to find prospects, marketing to customers, and managing sales teams. Even taking the foundational MKT 3330 class would help, he says.

“Marketing positions for sure would benefit,” Dover says. “Many marketing people started in sales. Many companies start their people in sales and then move them into other roles so they have a grasp on the company from the ground level.”

It’s a model that most startup CEOs are living every day.

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