Throwing a couple of gutter balls while bowling, though a bit embarrassing, likely would garner more laughs than scowls. But a couple of slices or duffs on the golf course? Not so much. An untrained bowler probably does not annoy his friends; an untrained golfer probably does.
Richard Kaplan contends the same can be said for the sales profession. Sure, you can go play the game of sales, but without the proper training you may end up losing the match.
Kaplan, a serial entrepreneur who serves as CEO of CurAegis Technologies Inc., wants to help others be better salespeople. And to do that he has enlisted the aid of John Brennan, a longtime friend and former colleague.
“Sales is an art; it’s not a science,” Kaplan said. “And the ironic part is that we, as salespeople, have done such a terrible job of selling our own profession that you never hear a mother saying, ‘I want my kids to grow up to be salespeople.’”
With Brennan’s help, Kaplan hopes to change that.
Brennan is founder and president of Interpersonal Development LLC, a sales training and organization development firm opened in 1980. During the 1990s, Brennan also worked with Kaplan’s startup, WorkSmart International Inc. WorkSmart was a human resource development, publishing and training company for multimarket, multinational businesses.
“Dick and I stayed in touch and along he comes with a vision for elevating the whole profession of sales,” Brennan recalls. “Dick’s vision was that if we can lend some weight of established institutions like Rochester Institute of Technology that would add so much more power to our message and credibility.”
The two approached the Saunders College of Business at RIT roughly a year ago with the idea to start a sales course there, with the eventual goal of a master’s program in sales. Brennan would teach some of the classes and the program would offer guest speakers and team assignments.
A certificate course would be geared toward businesses looking to improve their sales staffs, as well as help others in leadership positions think like salespeople.
“This could benefit the overall area because if we improved the quality of salespeople in this area, we’ll improve the success of the businesses in this area, so it could have a multiplying effect,” said Jeffrey Davis, associate director of executive MBA programs at the Saunders School. “There was no school that was offering a professional sales course.”
RIT’s executive education department, a branch of the EMBA program, researched the idea and found it was an area lacking in Rochester.
“So we tapped into our alumni, tapped into the network we have with businesses and came back and said we think this is something that could work,” Davis said.
The course could be available as early as fall or next spring, Davis said, and would be open to roughly 25 individuals. Kaplan wants the course to be somewhat exclusive in that students must demonstrate some sales talent and ability before being accepted into the program.
“I’d like this to be to sales what Juilliard is to music,” Kaplan said.
Added Davis: “He said that to us when he came in and my first take was: That’s a little bit of pressure. But you have to have lofty goals if you want to have a great product.”
The sales course would start with six sessions, Davis said, likely to be held weekly. And while the cost has not been nailed down, Brennan noted they have discussed tuition of roughly $1,800 per class, or some $10,000 for all six sessions.
“We’ve mapped it all out and we’re pretty close to putting it out there,” Davis added. “So we’ve actually spoken to who we’d like to have as guest speakers, identified what the curriculum will look like.”
Ideally, Davis said, instructors would pair car salespeople with those who sell advertising and people who sell medical devices or insurance or investments, and then the teams would compete and hold each other accountable. Each session would provide students with training, learning and skills, as well as the ability to work with individuals from other industries.
“They would be tasked with certain things to do during the week. And when they come back in they’ll be held accountable for their growth and production by their peers who are on their own teams,” Davis explained. “The end result would be that each of them would leave with their own professional sales development plan: This is where I am and this is where I’d like to be and these are the steps I need to take to get there.”
Dixon Schwabl Inc. CEO Lauren Dixon brainstormed with Kaplan and Brennan before the idea was presented to RIT. The idea was to gauge the value to companies such as Dixon’s firm. Would a sales certificate course be of value to her company, her clients or the business community at large?
“I immediately said absolutely, positively,” Dixon said. “I was really intrigued with the whole idea of having a very specific selling course. This is really very different. It’s the psychology of selling, really.”
Kaplan and Dixon both noted the stereotypical view of a salesperson, and it was not good. They feel a course like this could change that view.
“It’s all about that art of persuasion. It’s really creating the client relationship in meaningful ways,” Dixon said. “It’s not just going in and selling something and you’re done with it. You’ve got to build trust. And you’ve got to create an ongoing relationship.”
Kaplan, who said his parents were incredible salespeople, said he would like the course to be based on something his father told him.
“He said to me, there are certain words, said in a certain way, with certain timing, that can talk anybody into anything. And a salesperson has to believe that with his or her gut,” Kaplan said.
But a salesperson has to be able to take rejection, he acknowledged.
“One of the things you have to understand is how people are hearing you. Because they’re hearing you differently than they’re hearing somebody else, depending on a whole bunch of things,” Kaplan said. “Some people can tell jokes, some people can’t. And if you’re not aware of your weaknesses in sales, you’re dead.”
Kaplan, who also ran Max Pies Floor Covering Inc., recalled one of his best salespeople at the store. A gentleman in his 50s, the salesman was debonair and knew how to treat people. Kaplan told a friend to watch this salesman in action and maybe he could learn something from him.
“One day this little old lady comes in and (the salesman) goes up to the door and smiles and bows from the waist and she giggles. He says, what are you looking for, and she explains. So he takes her by the arm and says, let’s go find what you need,” Kaplan recalled.
Two weeks later, Kaplan’s younger friend tried the same approach.
“A little old lady comes in and he goes up and bows from the waist and smiles and says, how are you, what are you looking for? So, he grabs her arm and says, let’s go find what you need,” Kaplan said. “She takes her purse and hits him over the head with it and says, don’t you ever touch me, and walks out the door.”
In addition to being able to take rejection, Kaplan said, salespeople need to be patient and creative.
“Then we want to expose them to different philosophies of sales so they can find out which philosophy fits their personality,” he said. “Because there are a lot of different ways to approach people. You have to understand yourself before you can sell.”
Providing an edge
Dixon expects to take advantage of the course when it becomes available, she said. The advantage to her company is increased customer satisfaction through trained salespeople.
“A satisfied customer who builds a relationship with you is going to be far more inclined to refer you. I think 78 percent of our new business comes from referrals, and that’s why it’s so important,” she said. “It really makes an enormous difference if they have a great relationship with you or a not-so-great relationship, because the not-so-great relationship, guess what happens? Those stories get told over and over and over again.”
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