I'm surprised that more universities don't offer graduate programs in sales.
First of all, there are more open sales people than marketing or finance people in the workforce, and more open sales positions in the market place (than there are sales graduates) and, secondly, sales people are a grad school's ideal alumni as they are likely to earn more than their B-school counterparts. A third reason is the focus on research.
I don't think I've known another group of non-scientists who spend as much time conducting research as sales people, even when they should be spending their valuable time selling. They research their potential buyer before – or instead of – picking up the phone, and they research before writing a proposal, much like the one they have written a dozen times before. Simply put: sales people love to research.
Now let's be clear: I don't think that research is critical to sales success. I also think there are things that many sales people do, at the behest of their companies and sales pundits, that cause them to use their research in an unproductive way. Their efforts can be counterproductive, adding little or no value to the sale, their clients or companies. The flaw in execution is when and how much research is done, and more importantly, how they bring it to bear in a sale.
The challenge with research is that, in the end, the natural tendency is to want to share one's newfound knowledge, discoveries and wisdom. The whole idea is to share what you've learned and conclusions you've reached in an effort to entice others to benefit from your work. And this is exactly what most sales people end up doing: They put it out there, rather than using it strategically and tactically turn would-be buyers into customers.
Advanced sales people, graduates of the school of experience, know that information gained through research should be used to spark a dialog, not a monologue. Many sales people dump the knowledge on their clients to prove how much preparation they put into the meeting, as though they were responding to an essay style question on an exam. While impressing the buyer, they bring little new insight or value to the picture, and by extension, little value to the buyer. And while some go the extra step, and reach conclusions which they share with the buyer, they aren't necessarily moving the process along.
The best way to harness the power of research is to use it to draw the information you learned from the buyer. Let's face it, wisdom about their issues always sound better when we say it, then if someone else says the same thing. This is even more the case when dealing with a negative or bad situation. No executive or business owner wants a sales person to point out the flaws, even when they may have a solution.
The best way to use the knowledge is to turn it into questions that will encourage the buyer put his or her issues – good or bad – on the table. Think of it as a variation of the game show Jeopardy: they give the players the answers, and the money is in the question. If you can ask questions based on research that, in turn, gets the buyer to acknowledge their challenges, objectives, or other things they are focused on, you put yourself in a position to solve their problem.
Not only will you impress your clients, but you'll also get them to slow down, think and articulate their situation. The nature of your questions will lead to a different level of rapport and respect, and eventually lead to more orders and revenue.