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Where will our sales leaders come from?

In Business Education, DCU Business School, Dublin City University, Entrepreneurship, Ireland, Masters Education, Sales, Theo Lynn on September 26, 2010 at 11:30 am

Last week, the stigma of “sales” was confirmed to be alive and well to my dismay. Of 150 new postgraduates, only a couple would admit to having considered a career in sales. To a certain audience, “sales” is not “cool” or for the matter worthy of “academic attention.” And yet at the crux of any business, if there are no sales, there is no business.

My interest in sales education really started following my experience in Educational Multimedia Group in the late nineties and early noughties. I was then and remain now convinced that sales can be studied academically and indeed is worthy of such study. On joining DCU Business School, I retained this interest and began looking at the area in more detail. At that time, GrowingCo had just surveyed 218 executives in the Chicago area.  They found:

  • 38% of mid-market organizations (defined as having greater than $2.5 million in annual revenues) lack internal agreement on the role of marketing
  • 85% of sales forces have never been exposed to their companies’ marketing strategy or marketing plans.

The survey emphasised the negative impact of poor coordination of sales and marketing activities and to some degree highlighted the difference between the functions. Marketing and sales are intrinsically linked and the success of a sales effort is impacted heavily by the marketing effort – therefore incentives should be aligned. Interestingly in other surveys on sales management perception, one finds that senior management typically view their sales team performance as less than perfect. In Forum Corporation’s survey of 111 senior sales executives in 96 major corporations across 17 industries around the world, the average grade was 7 out of 10 or a C- in this context (although this could be a first class honours in Ireland!). Superior sales forces had no single differentiator – they performed better across the full spectrum of management, process and skills. A 2004 Accenture survey found 56% of 178 executives saw their salesforce performance as average, worse than normal or catastrophic.

Soon after, in 2006, the Harvard Business Review published a special double issue on “Sales” which served to highlight the dearth of academic research and highlight the area of sales management.  This is not the first time academia has sought to highlight this problem, but merely the most high profile. As far back as 1979, the enigma of the study of sales management was recognised – selling costs account for the largest share of marketing expenditure and yet is one of the weakest areas of academic research (Bagozzi, 1979).

Things have not changed much. You rarely find robust dedicated modules let alone programmes on sales or sales strategy in business schools. And I would be surprised where such modules are delivered, faculty either deliver them or if they do, have any real practical and sustained experience in selling at an operational or more importantly a strategic level. Donaldson (1998) summarises the problems of studying sales management as

  1. Traditionally, the emphasis in sales management is on implementation and tactical operations rather than strategic planning and policy, which has been the prerogative of marketing.
  2. The difficulty of isolating the sales response function and its causes. Many factors other than selling effort affect sales response.
  3. A myopic view that behavioural relationships and interactions in selling are not amenable to classification or variables are impossible to measure.
  4. Many principles of sales organisation, deployment and motivation are based on “how to “ principles, some of which are difficult to assess or understand, for example how to overcome objections. Much of the data are highly specific and anecdotal.
  5. The terrain on which operations take place is continually changing (territories, personnel, customers).
  6. Much of the input on sales management issues comes from disparate areas of research, behavioural sciences, operations research and economics.
  7. Much study and evidence is US-based and these findings in empricial research do not remain intact across the Atlantic.

In fairness to HBR, since 2006 they have published on the subject regularly however has the wider business education system followed this lead? Do primary and secondary schools encourage students to pursue a career in sales? If they do, what university programmes can they take? Is there now an abundance of postgraduate Masters programmes for the sales leader? Unfortunately not.

While few business postgraduates, and specifically MBAs, might value a sales position as their post-MBA career entry point,  in practice, good CEOs place an emphasis on spending time in the field with the sales force, view sales teams as strategic resources and understand that sales is critical to their personal career and their organisation’s success. Sales literally is where the money is…..but marketing sounds better to postgrads and….parents.

A couple of years ago, one of my postgrads and I surveyed a small group of students and sales professionals on their perceptions of sales as a career choice. Unsurprisingly, sales was not the most attractive career but for those interested, it was seen as a career that was potentially well paid and where earnings were very related to effort. Yes for sales professionals, one of the main reasons for the choice of a career in sales was that it didn’t require one to work weekends. Pay and control (whether related to effort or creativity) remained important but flexibility more so. These are probably not career attributes we “sell” in school or as parents for our future workforce.

Let’s face facts – it can be a brutal job. It is probably the most accountable job there is – you literally cannot hide from the numbers. Are we developing a generation of business graduates afraid of such brutal accountability?

In today’s post-growth economy, sales should be a huge focus. However, the investment in sales versus other market supports seems comparatively small. In many of the business networks, there are often experienced accounting professionals offering advice to SMEs to control costs and management cashflow, and this is very important, but there are few experienced sales professionals offering advice on how to grow sales.  And they’re not in academia either. And maybe this is the problem.

We need vision not just in R&D-based innovation but across all organisational processes. We want Ireland to be centre for excellence in bio-tech, ICT, financial services and many other sectors. Who is going to sell these products and services?Sales generates taxes. Ireland could be a global centre for excellence in sales.  If we aren’t going to be, someone else will. And that will be to our detriment.

PS – we now do deliver strategic sales workshops and personal selling modules in DCU Business School covering areas such as channel selection, sales models and process, tendering, selling tools, sales competencies, staff selection and sales team structure, rewards and incentive design etc etc. These are delivered by the Marketing Group.

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DCU Business School Practicum Day: At the crossroads of academia and practice

In Business Education, Business Plans, DCU Business School, Digital Marketing, Dublin City University, Entrepreneurship, Masters Education, MBS in Marketing, MSc in Business Management, Next Generation Management, Practicum, Theo Lynn, Uncategorized on August 31, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Last Friday (27 August 2010), we held the first DCU Business School Practicum Day. Starting at 8.30am, students on the MSc in Business Management and MBS in Marketing programmes displayed “research” posters, presented and answered questions regarding their major summer assignment, a group practicum.

A View From Above - some of the poster displays at DCU Business School's Practicum Day 2010

A View From Above - some of the poster displays at DCU Business School's Practicum Day 2010

A practicum is an assignment designed to give students supervised practical application of previously studied theory. In DCU Business School, we offer MBS in Marketing and MSc in Business Management students the choice of undertaking a individual dissertation, which is largely an academic piece of research, or a group practicum. We source practicums from a wide range of organisations, business and not-for-profit, and initial ideas for projects are presented to students via Moodle in February. The students make proposals for these projects and start working on them in March. A report of work completed is submitted at the end of July. Later in August, student groups present their project for 25 minutes to two assessors who then question them on their project. Feedback is provided on this interview and students then present their “research poster” and present and answer questions from an audience of peers, faculty and other guests for 10-15 minutes.

Tiernan Kennedy presenting his group's work on the use of digital marketing for international student recruitment for DCU Language Services at DCU Business School Practicum Day 2010.

Tiernan Kennedy presenting his group's work on the use of digital marketing for international student recruitment for DCU Language Services at DCU Business School Practicum Day 2010.

This year 22 groups presented their projects, which fell in to four main themes:

  • Original business plans – business ideas that students have identified, research and prepared business plans for.
  • Irish e-Business Marketing – marketing projects for Irish e-businesses
  • International Marketing – marketing projects for Irish businesses typically involving an international aspect
  • Local Businesses and Projects – marketing practicums for organisations located on the Northside of Dublin

In addition, two MSc in E-commerce (Business) groups presented their original business plans relating to online mannequins and mobile apps. (The MSc in E-commerce (Business) is a jointly offered programme with the School of Computing and has a separate presentation day earlier in August.)

The Perigord Team fielding questions at the DCU Business School Practicum Day

The Perigord Team fielding questions at the DCU Business School Practicum Day

Overall the day was very enjoyable and interesting. It gave students both the opportunity to (i) clarify issues raised or unaddressed from their report and interview and to (ii) see and appreciate the efforts of their peers. As well as students, guests including faculty,  industry, other members of the University, incoming students and parents attended. All were impressed with the quality and volume of work. Unlike dissertations, students have the opportunity to address a real-world problem with a live client or indeed pursue their own business idea.

The Foodies' Edu-plate Nutritional Learning Toy

The Foodies' Edu-plate Nutritional Learning Toy

As every business and context was different, approaches and projects varied dramatically and really brought individual competences to the fore including ideation, industrial design and digital marketing skills. The DCU Business School Practicum Programme also gives the Business School an opportunity to engage with the wider business community and forms a central part of our civic engagement strategy.

This year the projects had a strong digital marketing element and the students ably demonstrated their skills in integrating a wide range of activities including:

Professor Darach Turley discusses practicums with Marie Mooney at DCU Business School Practicum Day 2010.

Professor Darach Turley discusses practicums with Marie Mooney at DCU Business School Practicum Day 2010.

However, digital marketing was not the only focus. Work on best practice tendering process, brand communications and sales training featured strongly as well as the financial planning skills inherent in any business plan. All groups presented well and confidently fielding difficult and awkward questions at times. It struck me that from a communications perspective, they had all managed to reduce over 10,000 word reports to 25 minute presentations then to 7 minute presentations and then ultimately one page – no mean feat! And at the end of the day, I certainly was satisfied that these students can hit the ground running in the job market with both the theory and practical skills need in today’s economy.

The roll of honour:

Theme 1 – Original Business Plans

  • Foodies – an educational toy for teaching good nutrition.
The Foodies Team - Deirdre Shanahan, Terence Bowden, Aisling Meleady and Sophie Gavard - at their poster. The group brought their multidisciplanary background to develop a business plan for an educational toy for teaching children good nutritional habits.

The Foodies Team - Deirdre Shanahan, Terence Bowden, Aisling Meleady and Sophie Gavard - at their poster. The group brought their multidisciplanary background to develop a business plan for an educational toy for teaching children good nutritional habits.

  • Online Fits – an 3-D body shape visualisation solution for online clothing retail sites.
Katia Zavershinskaya, David Gilchrist and Enkeled Uldedaj explain 3-D body shape visualisation in their Online Fits practicum project.

Katia Zavershinskaya, David Gilchrist and Enkeled Uldedaj explain 3-D body shape visualisation in their Online Fits practicum project.

  • Sample Circus – a circus-themed event-based tryvertising business for the cosmetics industry.
Cara Kennedy, Lyn Whyte, Martina Martinez-Cano and Caroline Mullen present their poster on Sample Circus at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

Cara Kennedy, Lyn Whyte, Martina Martinez-Cano and Caroline Mullen present their poster on Sample Circus at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

  • Dot Dot Dot Fashion Marketing – a digital marketing business for emerging fashion designers.
Stephen Conway, Valeria deFeudis, Emmy Rangel Calderas, Margaret Connolly and Nichola McHugh bring some style to the DCU Business School Practicum Day with Dot Dot Dot Fashion Marketing.

Stephen Conway, Valeria deFeudis, Emmy Rangel Calderas, Margaret Connolly and Nichola McHugh bring some style to the DCU Business School Practicum Day with Dot Dot Dot Fashion Marketing.

  • Afro Celt Airlines – an airline operating between Dublin and Lagos.
Afro-celt Airlines - Charles Okinji, John Keating,  Paul Tyrell and Stephen Osondu

Afro-celt Airlines - Charles Okinji, John Keating, Paul Tyrell and Stephen Osondu

  • SmartLED Lighting – a wholesale distributor of LED lighting solutions.
SmartLED Lighting (Keith Lawless, Andrea Bonnie, Una O'Neill, Lorna NiMhuiri and Ivan Casado) - a wholesale distributor of LED lighting solutions.

SmartLED Lighting (Keith Lawless, Andrea Bonnie, Una O'Neill, Lorna NiMhuiri and Ivan Casado) - a wholesale distributor of LED lighting solutions.

Theme 2 – Irish e-Business Marketing

  • Horseplay – digital marketing research, plan and pilot for horseplay.ie, a specialist equidae website.
Aoibhe Dunne and Conor Quinn display their Horseplay project poster.

Aoibhe Dunne and Conor Quinn display their Horseplay project poster.

  • Tenderme – digital marketing research, plan and pilot for tenderme.ie, an online tendering site.
John Cullen explains his practicum project on digital marketing for TenderMe to Professor Brian Leavy at the DCU Business School Practicum Day 2010

John Cullen explains his practicum project on digital marketing for TenderMe to Professor Brian Leavy at the DCU Business School Practicum Day 2010

Steven Nee and Khaild Hussein pose in front of their poster on their Digitary practicum.

Steven Nee and Khaild Hussein pose in front of their poster on their Digitary practicum.

  • HRLocker (UK and Ireland) – digital marketing research, plan and pilot on the Irish and UK market for HRLocker, an online HR software service.
Antonio Minuta and Carolann O'Sullivan pose in front of their research poster on HRLocker (UK and Ireland).

Antonio Minuta and Carolann O'Sullivan pose in front of their research poster on HRLocker (UK and Ireland).

Theme 3 – International Marketing

  • Toddler Holidays – digital marketing research, plan and pilot for Toddlerholidays.com, a France-based holiday home rental specialist for families with children under the age of 5.
Aideen Murphy and Ailish Tully present their findings on research and work completed for Toddler Holidays at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

Aideen Murphy and Ailish Tully present their findings on research and work completed for Toddler Holidays at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

  • HR Locker (North America) – market entry and digital marketing research on the US market for HRLocker, an online HR software service.
Simon McNally, Katie Murray, Kimberley Ramsay and Siobhan Buckley and their HRLocker (North America) poster at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

Simon McNally, Katie Murray, Kimberley Ramsay and Siobhan Buckley and their HRLocker (North America) poster at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

  • Dabl – market entry and localisation research on the Chinese market for Dabl, an online cardiovascular disease management system software developer.
Brian Joyce, Tien Nghiem, Guang Yang and Rachel Murray researched a Chinese market entry strategy for Dabl.ie for their practicum.

Brian Joyce, Tien Nghiem, Guang Yang and Rachel Murray researched a Chinese market entry strategy for Dabl.ie for their practicum.

Seyed Mohammad Amin Amirkhalili, Zara Walsh and Tiernan O'Kennedy in front of their research poster on international student recruitment for DCU Language Services.

Seyed Mohammad Amin Amirkhalili, Zara Walsh and Tiernan O'Kennedy in front of their research poster on international student recruitment for DCU Language Services.

  • Equinome – a marketing strategy for Equinome, an equine genetic testing service for the bloodstock industry.
The Equinome Group (Niall Clarke, Risteard Kinsella, Brendan Davis and David O'Rorke)

The Equinome Group (Niall Clarke, Risteard Kinsella, Brendan Davis and David O'Rorke)

Theme 4 – Local Businesses and Projects

  • Perigord – online communications strategy research, plan and pilot for Perigord, an online digital asset management service provider.
The Perigord Team - Ian Hemmingway, Rosemary Clancy, Eimear Murphy and Anton McMenamin

The Perigord Team - Ian Hemmingway, Rosemary Clancy, Eimear Murphy and Anton McMenamin

Damien O'Ceallaigh, Emer Keenan, Sheena O'Dowd and Roisin Lyons at their research poster at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

Damien O'Ceallaigh, Emer Keenan, Sheena O'Dowd and Roisin Lyons at their research poster at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

Niamh Downey and Laureen Morrissette present their poster on their North Dublin Chamber of Commerce practicum.

Niamh Downey and Laureen Morrissette present their poster on their North Dublin Chamber of Commerce practicum.

The DCU Civic Engagement Group - Cormac Hyland, Jenny Gaynor, Joanne Coughlan, Marie Mooney and Tom Muldowney.

The DCU Civic Engagement Group - Cormac Hyland, Jenny Gaynor, Joanne Coughlan, Marie Mooney and Tom Muldowney.

Aine Morris, Jenny O'Driscoll, Kate McGuinness and Diarmuid Murphy and their practicum poster on work completed for Printpac Services at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

Aine Morris, Jenny O'Driscoll, Kate McGuinness and Diarmuid Murphy and their practicum poster on work completed for Printpac Services at DCU Business School Practicum Day.

Tom Muldowney discusses the Timing Ireland practicum with Ed Dooley, Ciaran Dunne and David Fox at the DCU Business School Practicum Day.

Tom Muldowney discusses the Timing Ireland practicum with Ed Dooley, Ciaran Dunne and David Fox at the DCU Business School Practicum Day.

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