Here’s How I Got Sold on Sales

Dean Richard Franza’s column appeared in the Sunday, February 28 edition of the Augusta Chronicle. The post can be viewed here.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you might remember my column from December when I discussed how I have managed and parented using movie quotes. There are a fairly small group of movies (e.g., “A Few Good Men,” “Animal House,” “Caddyshack”) that I love and will watch over and over again. 

Another movie in that group is “Glengarry Glen Ross,” a 1992 drama adapted by David Mamet from his 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. There are lots of reasons to love “GGR,” from Mamet’s dramatic and at times very profane dialogue, to a top-notch cast of incredible actors, some at the peak of their great careers (Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin), along with a couple of up-and-comers at the time, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey.

(An aside is that I played high school football against Baldwin, and his dad was one of my football coaches, but that is fodder for a future column.)

“GGR” is about two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen, depicted by Lemmon, Pacino, Harris and Arkin, who are provided “leads” (names and phone numbers of prospective buyers) and are expected to make sales to those buyers.

The classic scene in “GGR” (readily available on YouTube, and while I recommend viewing, the language is not appropriate for a work environment) is a verbally abusive Blake (probably Baldwin’s best ever role) unloading on the four salesmen. After watching, you will never forget, “Coffee is for closers,” “ABC” (Always Be Closing) and “AIDA.”

When I first saw “GGR,” I was in the middle of my Air Force career. Even though I had earned an MBA a few years earlier, most of my business experience was dealing with defense contractors. Even though these contractors were trying to “sell” me on their systems, most of my opinions on sales and salesmen had been primarily informed by the stereotypes of used-car salesmen and movies such as “GGR,” in which salesmen were depicted as deceitful and unscrupulous, willing to do anything to make a sale. 

However, my mindset on sales changed when early in my academic career, I joined the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University.

Within a couple of years of my arrival at KSU/Coles, I met Dr. Terry Loe, who had been recruited from Baylor University by our dean at the time, Dr. Tim Mescon. Dr. Loe was to lead the professional sales major in the college, and he was bringing with him the National Collegiate Sales Competition that he had started at Baylor in 1999 (this year’s NCSC will be held virtually March 5-8 with about 70 schools competing, including Augusta University’s Hull College of Business!). As was typical with Dr. Mescon, he knew how to differentiate his business school from others.

The fact that there was a professional sales major intrigued me. As mentioned above, at the time, my impression of sales as a career was shaped by the stereotypes I had heard that were further propagated by Hollywood’s depiction of salespeople. So, based on that, I thought the term “professional sales” was an oxymoron. Fortunately, Dr. Loe set me straight.

First of all, he indicated, professional sales focuses more on selling to other businesses, known as business-to-business or B2B, as opposed to selling to consumers, known as B2C. However, I also learned from Dr. Loe that the principles for professional selling translate directly to both B2B and B2C sales. In addition, Dr. Loe let me know in no uncertain terms that the depiction of sales that I had is not how professional salespeople conduct themselves.

Dr. Loe stressed to me that the professional salesperson is most concerned with the needs of the customer. Professional selling is about helping others meet their needs. Unlike the depiction of the salesmen in “GGR,” professional salespeople engender trust. They are honest and of high integrity. They are able to establish rapport with their customers and believe in the products and services that they are selling. They identify customer needs and present solutions that meet those needs. Professional salespeople, more than anyone, understand customer service and delivering on commitments.

Professional salespeople typically also have advanced soft skills. They communicate well, both verbally and written, and dress neatly and appropriately. They are good listeners, empathetic, and have high emotional intelligence and self-awareness. I noticed that Dr. Loe’s students were the ones I could take anywhere to represent our college. I also realized that all of us (and all business students in particular) would benefit from learning professional selling skills, particularly since no matter what our job is, we are always selling something, usually our ideas or advocating for our organizations and/or people.

When I first arrived in Augusta four years ago to start as dean of the Hull College of Business, I visited many local business leaders to find out what is it that our graduates were lacking when they entered the workforce. The primary recurring themes were the ability to sell and soft skills that are developed through professional selling education. Therefore, when we revamped our curriculum at the Hull College of Business shortly after my arrival, we made sure that all Hull graduates are required to take a professional selling course. Dr. Loe is envious of us because even though he has a sales major, only marketing and sales majors take sales courses in his college.

Despite my initial misgivings about sales, I am now one of its strongest proponents. My younger daughter is a professional sales major at KSU/Coles (her initial rationale: I can make a great living while helping people) and my older daughter works in sales for a professional sports team. While I don’t want them to be like the salesmen in “GGR,” I do tell them to “Always be closing!”

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Dean Richard Franza

Dr. Richard M. Franza is Dean of the James M. Hull College of Business and Professor of Management. Dr. Franza's primary areas of expertise are Operations Management (OM), Management of Technology (MOT), and Project Management.

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Written by Dean Richard Franza

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The James M. Hull College of Business is accredited by AACSB International and offers outstanding, highly-engaged business education at the undergraduate and graduate levels.