Data shows that more MBAs are choosing careers in sales than in previous years.  Professor Tom Steenburgh at the Darden School feels this is a sign that the industry is moving in the right direction, a direction in which salespeople are recognized for their business expertise and ability to solve business challenges.

MBA’s are choosing sales as a career for a variety of reasons.  As a customer said, ”A company makes stuff and sells stuff.  If a person is not writing code or making a product he or she is expected to originate business.” Many of the MBA’s have starting a business as their aspiration and they recognize to start a business they know they must know how to sell to raise capital and to grow their businesses. With a business background they are well positioned to bring the kind of expertise that customers value today.

As important as expertise is, MBAs and all other salespeople need more than that to succeed with today’s self-educated customers who can and do get much of the information they seek with the tap of a finger.  Salespeople need drive, selling skills, and tools.  But with the emphasis on expertise and content they need to be able to teach which is something that has not typically been considered a part of selling.  Salespeople as teachers presents a new challenge.

Let’s consider the teaching dimension of selling and how that buttresses expertise, skills, and tools. While teaching and selling share many skills in common, teaching is a discipline in its own right.

The image of the teacher as a lecturer is quickly fading. The best teaching is interactive and encouraging, not didactic.  It is collaborative. Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, has been studying excellent teachers for several years, not at the big strategy level but the microgesture level which he has found to be the markers of the very best teachers.  It is these “small” messages he concludes that makes the difference between good and great teaching. What are the markers beyond core verbal communication skills and content of the very best teachers? How can you integrate these into your selling methodology?

The research shows that small things such as how long a teacher waits for a student to answer a question before making a comment or how a teacher uses body movement to bring students back when their minds wander or are about to wander are big differentiators.  Certainly these are two skills that would be an advantage to any salesperson.

You likely know that patience and giving a customer several extra seconds to answer a question pays off but Doug Lemov adds that the best teachers not only pause but they reward the answer by asking follow-up questions that not only extends what they learn but also strengthens the connection.  These drill down questions are particularly powerful with today’s highly informed customers because they give customers the opportunity to showcase what they know and gives the salesperson insight into where the customer is in the buying process so they can align with that and forecast more accurately.  Moreover, they learn more about what the customer is thinking so they can direct their response.

Doug Lemov also found that the best teachers set an objective (4 M–Manageable, Measurable, Made first, and Most important) for each lesson which they post, they use positive reinforcement, they check for understanding, they give feedback that is precise and clear, and they celebrate learning. The micro gestures when you add them up show respect and caring and help teachers connect with students and influence their thinking.

Certainly Aristotle was the master teacher who used his expertise and informed questioning to set the standard for learning.  My father was an exceptional teacher and he gave me helpful advice that I feel has application in sentiment to sales: “You are not teaching a subject.  You are teaching children.”

It seems to me that Doug Lemov found the best teachers keep this in mind.  He reports they meet their students at the door to welcome them, connect with them, and set the expectation that the class work and they are important.

As sellers how well do we communicate in micro ways that show we care not only about what we sell but also to whom we sell?