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Harding offers state's only major in salesmanship.

IT BEGAN WITH A SIMPLE COMplaint to an economics professor. "I'm tired of hiring marketing majors that don't know how to sell anything," a Jacksonville businessman told Don Diffine, now head of the economics department at Harding University at Searcy.

Long considered an art, salesmanship was a skill Harding business professors wanted to turn into a science. In the fall of 1988, business professor Randy McLeod, new to the university, went to work on a program that would teach Harding students to become better salesmen.

Harding's professional sales major was launched in 1989. To this day, Harding University is the only college in Arkansas that offers a major in sales.

McLeod says the idea that salesmen are born, not taught, is a myth. Salesmanship is not an accident, he said.

Like other business students, Harding sales majors take the standard business fare of accounting, management, business law and other core classes. But social science also plays a large role in sales, so students spend a good deal of time analyzing their peers' behavior and their own.

In a senior colloquium course, sales majors participate in mock interviews and presentations, which are videotaped. Students then debrief each other on their conduct and have the opportunity to smooth rough edges in the classroom, where merely a grade is at stake, instead of the boardroom where a commission check could be on the line.

Sometimes natural gifts fall short of the more refined, learned behavior. McLeod cites the the legend of the silver tongue.

"Two of the biggest reasons sales people fail is that they talk too much and they don't listen," McLeod said. "Empathizing is more important."

Sales majors are required to complete a business internship, preferably in a field they're considering for a career, before they graduate.

McLeod admits that sales managers are sometimes reluctant about the idea of learned salesmanship, but he said CEOs are usually more receptive.

In the relationship strategies course, students spend more time reading others' personalities than reading textbooks. Sales majors are taught that clients demand individual approaches. One potential sale could hinge on a statistic-heavy sales pitch, while another might need a more personal approach.

Kevin Brennan, who will graduate this fall with a professional sales degree, says he learned to tailor his sales strategy just by looking into the office of a client.

A desk laden with family pictures is often the sign of a customer who will want to establish a relationship with the salesman before deciding to buy. But a wall of commendations and awards signals a customer more concerned with tangible results.

"You learn how to sell to different personalities," Brennan said. "You find out how people are and speak to them in a specific way."

Entry Level Success

Generally, college sales programs have a specific focus. Harding's prepares students for entry-level success.

Ideally, sales majors fresh out of the university would take on existing accounts in addition to generating new business. Instructors in the program usually discourage students from immediately taking jobs that are compensated entirely by commission.

"That doesn't mean real estate or insurance are bad careers," McLeod said, referring to a couple of fields he thought rookie sales people might find especially difficult. "A 22-year-old, recently-graduated college student doesn't have the maturity and the wisdom to make those choices--that if they don't sell, they don't eat."

And so Harding's program puts more emphasis on relationships and jobs where sales people work with clients on a continuing basis.

This summer, Brennan is interning in Dallas with Kaye-Bassman International, one of the top five head-hunting firms in the country. He recruits financial advisors and tries to get them to switch to another firm.

Brennan makes an hourly wage and admits his superiors don't keep a close watch on him, making it easy to slouch. But the promise of a nice commission check keeps him and everyone else at the firm at their best, he said.

Harding sales majors get to see the fruits of good salesmanship in their own classrooms, which are often taught not by academics but by business professionals.

McLeod said the college tries to get an adjunct with sales experience to teach the principles of sales course. This past year USAble CEO Jim House, a Harding alumnus, taught the course.

McLeod says it's all part of keeping the sales program grounded in the reality of sales instead of sales theory.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Business Education
Author:Taulbee, Chip
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 9, 2004
Words:733
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