Education Not Required

August 25, 2020

The educational road map to sales success doesn’t exist.

If you fit into one of the categories below, don’t skip out on reading this:

  • You are in / finishing high school and debating on whether to  attend college, take a gap year [FU COVID19] or enter the workforce.
  • You are in college or have recently graduated and are applying for sales roles with the intent of being a high performer and/or one day growing into a leadership position.
  • You are in a leadership position and are tasked with hiring and coaching a high performance sales team.

We’ve all heard the stories about mega successful folks, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who never finished college, but made billions. Let’s bring this down to earth and talk about sales roles specifically.

There are several traits that LIFE can teach you whether you attend college or not that are absolutely crucial to sales success. While the following list is by no means exhaustive, I want to demonstrate that just having a 4 year degree and being able to recite some answers to a few situational questions does NOT mean you will succeed in sales.

  • Passion – “ I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein
    • Do you have a genuine interest in the field you are aiming to work in? If the answer is “I don’t know”  or “no”, move on. Seriously. If you do not have a burning desire to learn more and be better, you will never be able to adapt as quickly as necessary to succeed.
    • If interviewing, does the candidate follow up the discussion with relevant questions? Ask them for an example of a time when they made a mistake, personally. Did they learn and grow from it?
  • Integrity – “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” -Warren Buffett
    • Do you do what is right no matter the cost? How would you define integrity in your own words? If you can’t do this, I highly recommend you take some time and think about what you stand for and decide in what areas you are not willing to compromise
    • If interviewing, despite what most may tell you, integrity should be quite simple to gauge. Assuming you’re knowledgeable about the role you’re hiring for, ask the candidate to dive deeper into a few things on their resume (Sidenote: This requires you as the interviewer to actually spend some time showing you give a damn and research their resume).
  • Drive – “Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph; a beginning, a struggle and a victory.” – Gandhi
    • What do you do when you hit an obstacle? Do you sit in the corner and curl up into the fetal position until someone comes along to help you? Or, do you strategize and develop a workaround to continue executing a plan?
    • If interviewing, ask the candidate to tell you about your company and the role. If they have any drive, they will have spent the time to do a good amount of research to understand the company, industry, and role they are applying for.
    • Another one of my favorite questions is to ask them about their hobbies outside of work. Look for answers other than Netflix and hanging out with friends.
    • One more favorite of mine is to ask about something new they are learning, when they started it, and how far along they are on it (Do not let your unconscious bias penalize them for doing things you personally do not enjoy. We’ll have to talk about that in another blog).

Some of my best hires have been folks who had no degree and were never in sales, but exhibited these skills. A great friend of mine just recently hired an ex-auto mechanic for a SaaS sales role, who is absolutely crushing the rest of the team.

You do not have to be an outspoken athlete with a degree, who is ready to “kill the competition” to do well in sales. A four year degree your parents paid for won’t help and neither will a pushy and ego driven attitude.

I’ll close with a quote from our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Never underestimate the power of effort and determination.

Follow me on LinkedIn and checkout my post last week on the educational roadmap to success. I think you’ll find some valuable insight from others on their personal experiences and how they have been successful in sales despite some extremely diverse backgrounds.


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