Still No Room For Sales On Leading MBAs

I enjoy the occasional In Business from BBC Radio 4’s Peter Day. His latest half-hour examined The Battle of the Business Schools.

He talked to the Deans of Boston’s finest, Harvard and Sloan. He sought to find out whether they were re-shaping, or even necessary at all, in our post-crash world. His dismissive point that the global financial meltdown was caused by people graduating from these institutions was made throughout.

From a Sales viewpoint, I was struck smack in the face by the lack of any emphasis on selling.

As I know myself from my experience with a lecturing stint at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, selling remains a ‘dirty word’ to both postgrads and professors alike (though thankfully not at Judge!).

First up was Nitin Nohria. Now in charge at Harvard he is at last lessening the reliance on classroom case studies as the main source of learning. He champions two new elements. First is the completely un-snappily entitled Field Immersion Experience for Leadership Development. Shortened to FIELD.

Perhaps this should give an insight into what you learn at a place like Harvard. If they overcook the naming of something this simple, is there really any hope? It’s a 10-day trip to some far flung land to solve a real-life and live business issue.

I applaud this idea. I myself loved the mini-consultancy jobs I did during my studies and just after. The people I did them for showed me great appreciation for which I was hugely grateful and I learned a lot.

This acts as the foundation for a 14-week ‘microbusiness’ project. Each student gets $5k and tries to set up a real business. It seeks to close the “reality gap” from learning to doing.

Again, I endorse this. Twenty-five years ago I tackled something similar, albeit with mythical funding and only about 14 hours in time. Nevertheless, I loved it.

The belief from the top was that this enabled students to;

“learn what an execution cycle on any idea will look like – even on a small project execution is hard”

One vocal critic derided this as a “Fisher Price version of entrepreneurship”. Mere “window dressing”. He also nailed that Entrepreneurship is the current buzz topic of MBAs. Nitin Nohria even bemoaned that “the language of business is getting commoditised”. So business schools are racking their brains on how to both stay relevant and stand-out.

This was confirmed when hearing the Sloan boss, David Schmittlein. At MIT, where everything has a ‘lab’ apparently, he has the Global Entrepreneur Lab.

He feels that an MBA shouldn’t just teach people ‘a little bit of marketing and a little bit of finance’ and a little bit of whatever else. He thinks (seeming to feel wannabe entrepreneurs and Sloan MBAs are synonymous terms) that;

“most people on intuition alone run aground on the rocks when it comes to managing people”

Wow. So forget your “little bits” of old-school functional based modules. Waste of time. Just think about dealing with other workers.

So, let’s think about these eye-openers.

Business School MBA departments, in their clamour to continue enticing tens of thousands of dollars from those (average age 28 by the way) who’s careers may have stalled, suggest these facets are the essential attributes tomorrow’s leaders need;

understand execution cycle
know how to manage people
move from learn to do
embrace entrepreneurship skills

Well. How can Selling not be foremost here? Why are they not looking at it?

On each of those key points, Sales skill will dramatically transform results.

What is an execution cycle if it is not how to craft and refine your sales process?

Which managing people abilities are not enhanced by knowing how to persuade others to commit to your proposed ‘change’ and project manage the whole shebang?

Who in Sales becomes successful without the ‘doing’?

And where would any entrepreneur be if they could neither sell their ideas nor products?

Sales comes across as the poor relation of the business world. The difficult cousin no-one wants to talk about. Ignore them and they’ll hopefully go away. This is so wrong.

If even Harvard and Sloan think this way, then maybe it is time for them and their influence to wane.

This is what we’re up against, people. We must rally to repair this injustice.

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