I recently received an advance copy of a new book, Peter Drucker on Consulting: How to Apply Drucker's Principles for Business Success by William A. Cohen. 

When I cracked it open, my eye fell (entirely by chance) on one of Drucker's most famous maxims: "the purpose of marketing is to make selling unnecessary."

While Drucker had some very good ideas, that was emphatically not one of them, hence this post.

Every MBA program teaches some version of Drucker's ideas about management and most of those ideas have stood the test of time. 

Drucker's opinion of the relationship between sales and marketing, however, has been proven dead wrong.  Unfortunately, the idea continues to inspire the curriculum of MBA programs, thereby preventing graduates from learning what's arguably the most essential business skill.

Drucker was dismissive of selling because he believed companies should (as Philip Kotler puts it in the preface to the book): "understand the customer's needs deeply and create products that customers line up to buy without any sales prompting."

I've been hearing some variation of that concept for years, especially since online purchasing became popular.  Companies keep trying to create "frictionless" business models, with the friction in question being the presence of salespeople.

It never works because sales is eternal. There will always be a need for salespeople.

To illustrate this, just look at Apple.  If any company embodies Drucker's idea of making products people want to buy, it's Apple.  After all, people line up in front of the stores to buy new devices.

Nevertheless, while Apple obviously makes products that consumers want to buy, they still have salespeople, both in the stores and on the phone.  What gives?  Why does Apple still have salespeople?

The answer lies in the imprecise way that we define selling and salespeople.  

There's one school of thought that views selling as a process of manipulating and persuading people to buy something that they don't really want or need. 

If that's what selling is all about, then Drucker is correct. People don't need to be convinced or persuaded to buy a product for which they already want.

However, there's another school of thought (to which I belong) that views selling as the process of helping customers make better decisions.  And that's the kind of selling that goes on with Apple.

When you interact with Apple's salespeople, you don't get high-pressure tactics. If anything, they're a bit too laid back. They are helpful without being intrusive and they make the experience of buying easier.

The same is true in B2B selling. Unless the produce or service being sold is completely commoditized and extremely simple, a salesperson is necessary to help the customer make the best decision and, just as important, be happy with that decision.

That kind of selling is becoming more valuable, more important to companies, which is why companies with wildly popular products (like Apple) still employ salespeople. 

I've observed that companies and organizations that institute hard-sell tactics (the manipulate school) eventual become hated.  Trump University and Comcast come immediately to mind.

I've also observed the companies and organizations that emphasize the constant building of good customer relationship tend to become beloved. Apple and IBM come to mind.

Unfortunately, I can't point to any scientific studies to that effect because business school aren't interested enough in selling to study its long-term effects.  Instead, they're still waiting for it to wither away as Drucker (wrongly) predicted.

As a result, it's possible to obtain an MBA degree in most business schools without a single course in sales.  While there are exceptions, most MBA graduates have only the vaguest idea of what sales tactics are or how define a company.

And that's a real shame because your personal success will always depend upon your ability to sell your services and your ideas. With that skill, all the other training that you get in a MBA program is largely moot.

I've gotten some flack posts like "7 Short Books Worth More than an MBA" and " 21 Short Videos Worth More Than an MBA."  However, until MBA programs start putting Sales at the core of the curriculum rather than at the periphery (or beyond the pale), the MBA degree will remain of limited use in the real world.

Published on: Jun 13, 2016
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