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The True Salesperson: Business versus Communication

Photo credit: Elliot Mayson

Posted At: April 20, 2012 7:00 PM
by Kera Cottingham

It’s about the time of year when soon-to-be graduating seniors are scouring the job market for the position that will grow into their perfect career. For certain students that means the pursuit of the ultimate sales job. But what are sales employers looking for in a candidate and do your education choices affect your ability to gain a coveted sales position?

There are two education routes, business and communication, that ideally funnel into the sales world. Both degrees have certain pros and cons in relation to the sales field.

Business advantages

Joe Calamusa, The University of Alabama’s sales program director and a clinical professor of marketing, believes there are two main advantages to being a student of business versus communication in regards to obtaining a sales job.

First, “there are many more industries and companies that source positions through the business school and/or recruit specifically business majors,” Calamusa said.

UA’s business school has a well-developed sales program in which many sales employers find extreme interest. Students can opt to have a sales specialization that makes them even more marketable to such employers. Because this exact specialization is only available through UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration, more employers are automatically enticed to begin their search for sales candidates within the school.

Secondly, these employers don’t only recruit sales speciality students, but also find the education of other business majors to be appealing. “The business school has a varied portfolio of degrees allowing it to be relevant to a larger scope of corporate recruiters,” Calamusa said. “The [UA] business school covers the entire spectrum of industries and companies.”

The business school’s degrees offer variability, but also remain grounded in qualities that fit into the ideals of a salesperson.

David Foster, a UA Sales Ambassador and president of the Sales and Marketing Association (SMA), recently received a sales job offer. Throughout his job hunt, he experienced the advantages and disadvantages of being a soon-to-be marketing graduate (a degree within the Culverhouse College of Commerce).

“The college offers specific sales classes to teach students the sales process and also how to sell yourself with a product,” Foster said.

Business students not only learn how to market and sell their product, but also how to magnify their potential to future employers.

“Employers like to go to the business school because the students learn the terminology, and the education is more consistent with what they are trying to accomplish,” Foster said.

Business disadvantages

There are also cons that can stand in the way of a business student’s acquisition of a sales position.

“The business school is very large; therefore, competition is very high,” Foster said.

When recruiters specifically come to enlist from the Culverhouse College of Commerce, there are a large number of qualified students and few positions available.

“We are not taught the actual practice of communication strenuously as in the College of Communication,” Foster said.

Salespeople need to not only have a knowledge of business, but just as importantly need well-developed communication skills to be successful.

Communication advantages

Carol Mills, communication studies associate professor at UA, noted some particulars that give communication students an edge with sales employers.

“Students in the college of communication have coursework that emphasizes the ability to work with diverse groups of people, from race and cultural diversity to socio-economic status and religious diversity,” Mills said. ” . . . and in sales, being able to work with a variety of people is critical.”

Students within the college of communication are able to apply their interpersonal skills not just to one sector of society, but have the ability to relate with all sorts.

Caryl Cooper, UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences’ assistant dean of undergraduate studies, expanded upon how communication students’ verbal and written skills help them develop in the sales field.

“This translates into the ability to create meaningful relationships with their clients, which is very important for sales,” Cooper said. “Our students are able to identify sales and distribution problems and create strategies for solving those problems.”

Shelby Coley, a senior in communication studies, has also been on the search for the perfect sales position. Her journey has unearthed the positives and negatives of being a communication student entering into the sales world.

“I have found the employers in the sales world understand that being a good communicator is one of the key ingredients to being a successful salesperson,” Coley said.

Some business students communicate effectively as well, but the specialization that communication studies majors receive is just in that. They learn different ways to communicate beyond the verbal approach and truly get the opportunity to practice flexing these muscles.

“Whether it is speaking to a crowd, or speaking to someone one on one, employers have seemed to be impressed with the amount of communication skills that I have acquired,” Coley said.

Communication disadvantages

“The obvious disadvantage we have is our lack of deep business knowledge,” Coley said.

In the same way this is an advantage for the business students, it serves as a disadvantage for the communication students.

“I have also noticed that the [UA] business school offers a higher amount of opportunities for sales students to meet with sales employers,” Coley said. “There are always companies coming down to showcase themselves to the students.”

Coley was also able to take part in this opportunity as a communication studies major by joining SMA.

An additional unforeseen disadvantage is employers’ lack of knowledge of communication majors’ qualifications. “As one of the newest academic areas of emphasis at universities around the country, not all employers understand what communication students bring to the table,” Mills said.

With the educational route debate aside, salespeople come from numerous backgrounds and possess a wide array of characteristics that make them uniquely successful in sales. The decision to hire based on education comes down to an employer’s own personal preference. The battle for sales positions will remain fierce; therefore, whether you are bringing your vast communication abilities or could manage your own business, remember to “sell” your best attributes to future employers.

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