The Evolution of the MBA

Article Featured Image

for a classroom setting, according to Cespedes.

Once technology and e-commerce took center stage, sales became even rarer in MBA programs. With consumers becoming increasingly empowered by social media and the advent of online reviews, the old concept of a salesman is close to gone. In the Age of Information, consumers have the tools to research every facet of a product they would like to purchase, and the capability to make a purchase entirely on their own online. "It has been a commonly held belief that e-commerce and the Internet in general would eliminate the need for sales professions. Well, I'm here to tell you that the number of sales professions has held steady between 2002 and 2012, and sales is very much alive," Cespedes maintains. "The need for a solid sales education is, however, greater than ever."

To prepare students for a career in today's sales space, MBA programs must require courses in fundamental sales, including one-to-one methodologies; advanced sales that cater to complex, multibuyer methodologies; advanced valuations and analytic processes for customer development; cross-channel sales management; modern sales technology; and business communication, according to the report. "These are just a few of the key basics, and they should be covered to some extent in every MBA program. As it stands now," Cespedes says, "some schools are simply sending students out into the workforce unprepared."

Carla Patalano, a professor at the New England College of Business and Finance (NECB), echoes this sentiment. Business communication, for example, is crucial for a sales career, but employers express concern that many students struggle to distinguish professional interactions from social ones. "When it comes to social media, for example, people tend to forget about professionalism. An exchange between a B2B salesman and a potential client should be very different than an exchange between that same salesman and his friend on Twitter," Patalano says. As a result, a lot of social media training for sales careers has to be remedial.

Patalano says that because NECB offers an online MBA, it puts the school in a unique position to emphasize the importance of teamwork and collaboration—another skill set that many employers claim that students lack. Because students take classes remotely, most projects require working on virtual teams and building relationships with team members. "It's a crucial skill to have, especially when the rest of your sales team could be on the other side of the world," she says. "There's just no need for employers to have to spend time training their employees on basics. They simply have higher expectations these days," she adds.

Employers, however, are not the only ones with higher expectations.

From Enterprise to Entrepreneurship

When the 2008–2009 economic crisis shook up some of the biggest companies on Wall Street, many students were reluctant to work for large corporations and became interested in the start-up culture instead. In reaction to students' growing interest in entrepreneurial endeavors, business schools responded with a slew of entrepreneurship programs and opportunities. The focus on entrepreneurship remains strong at many of the nation's top business schools and, as a result, often more students want to start companies than work for them.

"I worked for a big company before going to business school, but I pretty much knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Wanting to start my own business was one of the main reasons I decided to get an MBA," Patrick Pettitti, a student at the Harvard Business School, says. In a field learning course required for his MBA, Pettitti and his classmates had to form teams and start a business together. Each team was given $5,000 and tasked with building a company from the ground up. Pettitti and four other students started a company called HourlyNerd, which began as a marketplace that connected top-tier MBA students and graduates with small- and medium-sized companies in Boston, giving the businesses access to "McKinsey-level consulting at a fraction of the price," according to Pettitti. Through referrals, social network mentions, and word of mouth, the company quickly grew, and now connects more than 2,500 companies with more than 4,000 MBA students and graduates from around the world.

The company garnered venture capitalists' attention and, at the end of 2013, raised $750,000 in funding, including $450,000 from Dallas Mavericks owner and angel investor Mark Cuban. "The company fills a need every entrepreneurial company faces," Cuban said in a statement, and added that he expects to use the service "heavily" for his portfolio of companies. Microsoft saw potential in HourlyNerd as well—the software giant partnered with the company in December 2013 to enable Microsoft's small- and medium-sized resellers to access HourlyNerd through Microsoft's Web site.

Though everyone in Pettitti's class was required to complete the assignment, not every team had the same success as HourlyNerd. Still, Pettitti argues that many of his classmates' ventures have potential. Comparable to similar programs in other schools, "the field program teaches students how to run their own business and is designed to give a theoretical foundation, but more importantly, a ton of hands-on experience," he says. The first portion of the three-part program is introspective and knowledge-based, driven by insightful classroom experiences, practice runs, and feedback sessions, and strikes a "perfect balance" of learning and doing, according to Pettitti.

"At Harvard, we're giving students the tools and confidence that they need to start their own companies," Cespedes says, "and that's true of many business schools. Students are recognizing unique needs in the marketplace and starting organizations that can meet those needs. With business schools giving students the chance to experience a fair bit of success with their own company, it's no surprise that they don't want to work for someone else's."

At other schools, that logic is familiar. "We've made changes to our program to focus more on preparing students for leadership roles," Patalano says, "because more and more, students are looking to become entrepreneurs or leaders rather than employees."

Ultimately, employers aiming to recruit some of the top MBA talent should be prepared to give their employees a good deal of freedom and the chance to be leaders. Though some skill gaps have emerged, business schools are acting quickly to minimize them, and the rising class of graduates will be more well-rounded, self-motivated, and tech-savvy than its prerecession counterpart, professors agree. As MBA programs continue to evolve to deliver a high-level education on par with the high-level demands of running today's businesses, the students who receive these degrees will have a lot to offer. By this time next year, the class of 2015 will be on the job hunt, and it could be a whole new ballgame.

Associate Editor Maria Minsker can be reached at mminsker@infotoday.com.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues

Related Articles

Five Hidden Factors That Can Make or Break Your Sales Team

Basic solutions for sales success.

Salesvue Introduces Prospect-to-Pipeline Partners Program

Prospect-to-Pipeline seeks to help to turn the art of sales prospecting into a science.