Do You Need A Degree For Sales?

Feb 19
Your best sales hire of 2019 has no degree and is still waiting tables. By: Sam Feldotto and Gabriel Moncayo -- There’s something we need to address: Elitism in sales. Picture this: You are hiring a new Sales Development Rep to complete your team of 8 SDRs, and your trash compactor of an HRIS has narrowed your search down to two candidates. One has a great resume, and one was recommended by Jeff, another sales rep. Candidate 1 went to an established university and graduated with a double bachelor in Business Administration and Marketing with 23 different ropes and ribbons draped over their gown. They have an impressive number of recommendations from professors, a 4.0 GPA, two majors, and they even know that EBIDTA isn’t a made up acronym. Did I mention that they are hoping to get their MBA next year? This candidate is perfect. Why are we even interviewing anyone else? I know that Jeff said this next candidate is perfect for what we are looking for, but that last one was highly qualified for an entry level sales role. Look at her resume. Jeff is great at what he does though, so I guess we can interview the next candidate to keep him happy. Candidate 2 graduated high school and started working the first job they could find to get by. They tried college for a year or two, and they just couldn’t justify paying 20k a year without knowing what they wanted to do, and eventually dropped out. They spent the last 4-5 years working their way up as a server, and started making enough money that they couldn’t justify getting a degree and taking a paycut to have a “professional career.” Okay, so candidate two is nice, but they aren’t even close on paper. Let’s look at each candidate a little closer though, beyond their resume. Candidate 1 appears to have a strong work ethic. After all, graduating college is no easy task. Late nights studying, lengthy essays, group projects, 200 question tests, obviously these are all things that make a great worker. Even though they only worked part time while in school at the university rec center, at least they still held a job. They don’t have a lot of experience in sales, and their people skills could use some improvement, but their impressive scholastic achievements easy outshine their lack of real world experience, right? Then you look at Candidate 2. They didn’t go to school, or at least didn’t finish. They aren’t great at taking tests, and they couldn’t tell you how to create a pivot table if their life depended on it. Then again, they also haven’t gone a week in their adult life without working, and they know how to take a few punches. While their friends were drinking 5 days a week in their dorms, Candidate 2 was picking up extra shifts to make rent. They dealt with some of most entitled, miserable people on the planet with a smile, and the majority of their income (tipping) was directly related to their work performance. Wait, hold up. A majority of their income was directly related to their work performance? And they had to deal with a bunch of assholes who wanted more for less? That sounds an awful lot like sales… There’s no way they are a better pick than Candidate 1 though, right? After all, they don’t even have a degree! I’m going to let you onto a little secret. Humans (and their abilities) are not always defined by a piece of paper. Academic merit has it’s.. well, merits. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is better than someone else simply because they have a piece of paper collecting dust on their wall though. Food service and retail are two industries that I’m very familiar with, and I’ve worked with a number of people in both. In fact, I’ve managed over 100 employees working in retail. Some had college degrees, even in impressive studies like chemical engineering, and some barely had more than a high school degree. I'm going to let you onto another little secret. The one’s with college degrees were rarely my best employees. Perhaps it was because they were working retail and it wasn’t what they went to school for, but I never saw a distinguishable difference in work ethic between someone with a degree, and someone without. In fact, most of the people I worked with that had a college degree were the ones that stood out the least. Unfortunately, most employers are looking at that piece of paper as the be all end all of professional employment. The gatekeeper, if you will. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand the value of an education. I’m a firm believer that our youth shouldn’t be taught by teachers without a degree, and many jobs require a level of education that can’t be taught outside of a classroom. I also understand that a degree is a sign of the ability to stick with something, and that means a lot to employers. Luckily, Sales (and many other fields) don’t need to comply with those assumptions. At the end of the day, the best salespeople sell the most product, the best recruiters place the most people, and the best marketers drive the most inbound revenue. Simply put, the best employee is the employee who can perform their job the best. Crazy concept, right? So why are we assuming that B2B sales is some world that can only be tackled by someone with four years of experience taking multiple choice tests and writing essays in perfect APA format? There are, quite literally, hundreds of thousands of people who could be excellent sales reps that have never had the opportunity. Yes, being able to write well is important, but having a degree doesn’t mean someone is going to be a successful writer. This can actually be said of many skills, both soft and hard. So, why are we denying people the opportunity to drive revenue based on an antiquated idea that a degree = success? Did you see that one of the Big 4 accounting firms, Ernst & Young, removed having a degree as a requirement for employment? They claimed to have “found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken." (Ernst & Young) So, how do we define success? I challenge you to take your next round of Sales interviews with an open mind. Politely ask your HR rep to let you pick the best candidate outside of their standard requirements. Take the guy with 8 years experience in retail who has mastered the art of calming down angry customers. Listen to the girl who waited tabled for 4 years and learned how to upsell a shrimp platter to a table of guests who filled up on bread. Believe in the person who came into your office with zero “professional” experience, but thousands of hours of experience doing tasks that will translate perfectly what you are hiring for. Have an open mind. We have already entered the age of new sales. New technology, new practices, new approaches. So why haven’t we entered the age of new talent? -- Authors: As the Director of Growth at Pipestry, Sam Feldotto is a self-proclaimed Sales Development nerd on a mission to challenge the status quo on how companies build pipeline using email and LinkedIn. Take a few minutes to check them out if you’ve been struggling to keep a full pipeline at www.pipestry.com, or write Sam directly at Sam@pipestry.com to discuss your business goals and how his team can help you meet them. Gabriel Moncayo is Co-Founder & CEO @ Always Hired. Always Hired has raised $500,000 from top Ed-Tech Firms that also invested in companies such as Uber, Galvanize and Twilio. Gabe has been voted one of the most influential sales professional by American Association of Sales Professionals for three years in a row. He has built sales offices in NYC, Chicago, Austin, LA and San Francisco. He is a Pre- and Post- acquisition sales leader at Calfinder (Modernize), Breadcrumb (Groupon) and Main Street Hub (GoDaddy). -- If you're looking to get into sales, we also have free online videos to give you a preview of what our bootcamp is like. And if you're asking yourself: "How can I find a boot camp near me?" You can learn sales skills online because our sales bootcamp is virtual.
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