While banking, consulting, engineering and marketing have always been feeders to MBA programs, one key business function, sales, never has been. There are probably a bunch of reasons for this. First and foremost it is that progressing in a sales career doesn’t require business school. It requires…more sales. Also, as anyone who has ever worked with sales people knows: sales people are different animals. So what applies to most business people generally doesn’t apply to them. (Who always drives the nicest car in the parking lot? 9 times out of 10 it’s the lead salesperson.)
While all this may be true, there is a growing contingent of sales people looking to get an MBA. Sales is moving away from being a quick-hit model with the sales person only involved at the front of the process. Now, “consultative sales” is the name of the game whereby the sales person has to become the trusted advisor who develops deep and long-lasting relationships with the customer.
Sales people are also becoming key factors when creating a product, as they bring deep customer knowledge to the process, in a way that most engineers or product managers just can’t.
Given the evolution of the role of sales person, many are finding a broad based business education is warranted, particularly as it becomes more and more natural to progress into wider roles within the organization. It’s hard for a sales person to become the CEO. However, most CEOs do have MBAs.
So if you are a sales person ready to take the plunge, here a few things to think about as you try to sell yourself to your top choice business school admissions committee.
1. Know why you are going.
Business school is there to teach you stuff. What do you want to learn? Is it strategy? Sure. Accounting? Why not. Leadership? Most definitely. All of the above? Great! But now you have to explain why exactly you want to learn about these things and how that learning will impact your career.
2. Explain where you will end up.
What exactly does a sales person plus an MBA equal? Is it a job in marketing that will build off of your knowledge of the customer? Or is it in the product development in which you can think about products in a different way from the engineers? Or how about your desire to take on a greater leadership role in a company that you love. It can be any one of these roles or something entirely different. But you have to choose one, and be specific about it.
3. Show them you’re smart.
At the end of the day, business schools are academic institutions and yes, you really are going back to school. Be prepared to show the admissions committee that you have the academic chops to succeed. If your undergrad GPA isn’t there, maybe it is time to take some online courses to prove your academic mettle. Oh by the way, it will help if you knock your GMAT out of the park. This will require a lot of preparation on your part but a strong score will answer a lot of questions.
4. How about leadership experience?
Business schools are all about building business leaders. Is that you? Be clear where and how you have led before: maybe at work but maybe not. Wherever you can show leadership – being the sales manager or the little league manager – counts. There is no better indication of your ability to lead then the fact you have led in the past. Share that experience with admissions committee.
5. It’s a small world.
Business is global, so highlight your own international experience. What is it like trying to sell in China versus selling in England or Africa? It is this type of cultural knowledge that can really set you apart from most candidates, and a perspective that every business school wants.
Remember, in the end, admission to business school is a sales job with your customer being your dream school. So, do what the best sales people do: do your research, be prepared, know what the customer wants, remember the small things (like a thank you note), and then knock ’em dead with a killer sales pitch (aka, your application). Sell like you’ve never sold before. Like your career depends on it.