When many people think of sales representatives, images of a snake-oil salesperson or movies like The Wolf of Wall Street come to mind. But a new documentary called The Story of Sales reveals the true motivations of sellers, the history and evolution of their profession, and the need for more sales education programs like the one offered at the Naveen Jindal School of Management.
The nearly 80-minute documentary premiered March 29 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Richardson in front of an enthusiastic audience of Jindal School faculty, staff, students, alumni and sales executives.
Salesforce, a market leader in cloud-based customer-relations management products, is the producer of the documentary, which is presented in storybook style over eight “chapters.” There are interviews with sales influencers, authors, researchers and thought leaders.
Among the distinguished group is Dr. Howard Dover, a Jindal School professor who directs JSOM’s Professional Sales Concentration. Dover and the sales program have a four-year relationship with Salesforce, which has sponsored licenses — basically underwritten the costs — that enable JSOM students to use company products. After Dover appeared onscreen in “Chapter 3: Educating Salespeople,” the Alamo Drafthouse audience applauded him.
His message to students who hope to one day work in sales focuses on communication.
“It’s lesson 101. One of the first things I teach my students is that they need to be great communicators,” Dover said. “While I think the generation that are in universities today are great communicators — in digital format — they aren’t always great communicators in a one-to-one or face-to-face format.”
Dover’s students had the opportunity to sharpen their communication skills during a speed-sales challenge last summer. Scenes from that competition are shown in the documentary. The production team chose to include the group after Jim Hopkins, senior manager of product marketing at Salesforce, spoke with Dover about the contest.
Hopkins said he was impressed by their energy and activity. “I saw hope and transformation, and we loved that,” said Hopkins, who also directed and co-produced the documentary. “I’m impressed by the school’s entire approach to teaching the modern version of sales, and I think having this young generation in the film made all the difference.”
Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, said that before now, nothing has defined the good side of sales in this way. “This film shows the day in the life of sellers and the balance that does exist between work and family life, the pressures associated with working on commission and serving customers in this always on culture we now work in.”
Among the students in the documentary is Jindal School marketing senior Brittany Knowles. She overcame a shaky start to the interviewing process last summer to win a scholarship at the conclusion of the competition. She is now one of the top-ranked students in the sales program.
“I hope more students will consider a career in sales, or at least educate themselves more about sales,” said Knowles, who will graduate in May and already has started a full-time recruiting position at The Encompass Group. “If more professionals see sales as an important role in any company, the entire industry will gain more respect. In return, this will hopefully lead to more sales positions being filled with trained individuals.”
Shawn Pearson, vice president of sales at Mimecast and a member of Dover’s industry advisory group, also appeared in The Story of Sales. He seeks those trained individuals that Knowles mentioned.
“Dr. Dover’s class is a great thing because they’re already practicing the craft of selling,” said Pearson. “These are people who have a lot of potential to grow our company, lower our attrition rates and help us stay effective longer.”
Of more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., fewer than 200 offer sales programs or even a sales course. One expert notes in the film that more than 50 percent of college graduates, regardless of their major, end up working in sales at some point in their career.
Knowles, reflecting on her own path, acknowledged she is an example of transformed thinking. “The Story of Sales represents the beginning of my career when my perspective transitioned from ‘I will never be in sales,’ to ‘I enjoy sales and can’t wait to start helping people.’ ”
In addition to UT Dallas, other colleges represented in the film included Harvard and Northwestern Universities, and the University of Southern California. Dover said he hopes the film will raise awareness of sales programs and the need for educating salespeople.
Hopkins hopes the film brings about some change and that more sales courses will be taught in higher education by more top-tier institutions. “We hope people think differently about sales, that more young people consider a career in sales and our film becomes the salesperson’s favorite documentary.”
View The Story of Sales online at www.thestoryofsales.com
— Bridget Lewis