Teaching Sales One Door at a Time

Posted Sep 25, 2012 by Hult Labs

You may have thought door-to-door selling was all but dead. That may be mostly true, but at one business school - in this article on Inc.com - it’s at the heart of an annual competition that pitches teams against each other to see which one can sell the most…dictionaries.

The Acton School of Business, based in Austin, TX, is a relatively new school that sprung from the desire of a group of entrepreneurs to create a business program that teaches the basic axioms of entrepreneurship, which they believe don’t get taught in business programs. Said Professor Jeff Sandefer, “When we started this program, I couldn’t find a single M.B.A. program that taught anything about sales. Sales is seen as kind of the ugly stepchild of business.” But it is seen, according to the school, as an integral part of a successful entrepreneur’s skill set.

The Acton Sales Challenge is part of the school’s core curriculum. It requires small teams to sell a minimum of three dictionaries over three days. The dictionaries also happen to be priced higher than average — on purpose. Said Sandefer, “It’s not the books; it’s the pitch.” The challenge is also intended to cull students from the program who may not have the tenacity and courage required to start and advance a new business venture. And another thing: students who don’t meet the three-dictionary minimum during the challenge are “kicked out” of the program.

Students face a lot of rejection along the way. A lot. And they learn to recalibrate approaches that don’t work. Student Brad Holden completed the challenge earlier this year (his team knocked on 900 doors to sell 15 dictionaries) and said that ultimately he had to pitch a concept, not a dictionary. “If you say, ‘Are you interested in a kids’ dictionary?’ they say no. But if you say, ‘Are you interested in expanding your kid’s vocabulary?’ they say yes.”

There’s something to be said for applying an old art in a new way to teach some hard but fundamentally valuable lessons. And one thing’s for sure: students who go through the challenge won’t balk at pitching to strangers again — not after 900 doors.

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