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How Much Do College Sales Degrees Really Matter to Sales Performance?

2 min readJune 26, 2013

Does a sales rep need a sales degree in order to meet quota? Should sales managers be exclusively scouting individuals who studied sales in college? According to a Harris Interactive survey, 35% of companies aren’t hitting quota, and U.S. employment firm CareerBuilder would have you believe that a lack of secondary education programs in sales is the reason why. Career Builder has pointed out that colleges are offering a disproportionate amount of geology degrees to sales degrees, while there are more than 1 million times more sales positions in the U.S. than in the geology field.

If you want a career in business, it seems that a sales degree might be well worth pursuing. There’s no doubt that sales degrees are far more useful than many others (like geology) when it comes to boosting once’s chances of gaining employment. And it would be nice to think that if secondary educational institutions invest more in sales programs, that it will turn out an army of star sales clones ready to attack leads and conquer quotas throughout the galaxy. The reality is that when it comes to predicting success, sales is a field where degrees may be secondary to something much more important.

What is the Biggest Predictor of Sales Success?

College Sales Degrees

Attack of the Sales Clones

CareerBuilder’s argument is rooted in the same logic that makes companies believe that with the right training, every rep has the potential to be a star sales rep. Coaching is unquestionably essential. But in truth, the best salespeople tend to have an intuitive understanding of verbal cues and an intrinsic ability to influence others. They have a way about them that elicits trust and can have a way of thinking on their feet that allows them to change tactics at the drop of a hat.

Education can always help sales reps improve, but it can’t make stars. At a recent virtual sales summit, sales expert Kevin Gaither stated that “the biggest predictor of sales success is drive.” He cited the example that one of his best salespeople was “selling lingerie at Nordstroms … no previous inside sales experience,” and other terrific sales reps also came from other fields.

Your next star sales rep might have majored in English, as Logitech CEO Bracken Darrell just revealed his strong preference for hiring English majors. Darrell believes that years of studying liberal arts provide an edge in connecting and communicating that others simply don’t have.

It’s unlikely that every member on your sales team is going to be the next Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins. But that’s okay. By hiring individuals with great social skills and an unquenchable drive to succeed, and by providing them with the right sales coaching, managers won’t need a room full of sales degree holders to hit quota.