14 Million People Can’t be Taught

How did “you can’t teach a kid to ride a bike in a seminar” become “you can’t learn to ride a bike”? It feels like that’s what we’re saying now in sales education. It’s an art, you can’t teach it, and schools should avoid it. Which is odd, because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow sales leaders gripe about their junior new hires “they don’t know anything about selling so now I have time to teach them everything from zero!”

Last week Andy Raskin started a great thread on LinkedIn about the lack of sales training in MBAs. He’s spot on. I’m both proud and sad to say that MIT Sloan is one of the few to offer a course in sales. Undergraduate programs are no different.

But a few of the comments on the thread reminded me of notes I’ve heard so many times. “You can’t learn sales in a classroom.” “The art of sales can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t.”

And I’m not buying it.

#1: Isn’t there art to greatness in any discipline? Yes, great sales involves art, but doesn’t great marketing too? And great leadership? And Finance? Product management? Engineering? If not, why haven’t the bots completely taken over and automated it?

#2: What job is ever fully mastered in the classroom? No matter your career path, you need to apply it. Over and over and over. That doesn’t mean the classroom can’t play a role.

#3: Since when is art unteachable anyway? My brother has a Bachelor’s in Painting. That’s a lot of schooling for something you can’t teach. I took art class in 3rd grade. I must have missed the “listen up, in painting, you either have it or you don’t” lecture. 

In art there are techniques to learn – holding a brush or using color. Learning those techniques does not Michelangelo make.  Taking our sales class at MIT Sloan unfortunately doesn’t make the best salesperson on Earth. But that’s not the point.

Great modern selling is art and process. It’s what makes it hard. And fun. While not everyone will be an expert, there are things that everyone can learn and use to be better. Like asking great questions, active listening, discovery, understanding the buyer’s journey, and meeting planning. 

There are 14 MILLION people in sales in the US (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Why are we so opposed to helping them get started? 

It can be done. We just need to start to believe it.

Leave a Reply