No, You Shouldn’t Need A Degree to Work in Sales. Here’s Why 

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I often say to people that the total lack of education in the profession of complex B2B sales and general go-to-market roles is the greatest educational travesty of the last 50 years. There is no other major profession that has been so badly overlooked and let down, yet B2B sales professionals quite literally drive the global economy, with half the world’s companies in the B2B category. 

There are a handful of schools that run sales degrees, but their curriculum is pretty dated given the pace of change in the industry. So it is the greatest of ironies that so many sales roles require applicants to have a four-year degree, with all the associated debt that comes with it. A cruel joke right!?


The changing face of the sales career

I do think the university education system is deeply flawed, and in many ways elitist. The sales profession has been frowned upon and ignored thanks to these elitist attitudes, and this has directly contributed to the view that sales is somehow an unsavory career.  

Media representation hasn’t helped either. The 7-minute tirade by Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross did untold damage to the image of sales. More modern examples like Selling Sunset portray the sales role as ethically compromised, coin-operated and dominated by alpha personalities. 

What’s sad is that these representations in general couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to modern sales cultures. Some of the smartest, kindest and most empathetic people I have met are in the B2B sales industry. What’s even sadder is that this is an incredibly rewarding and lucrative career, but so many people have been put off and therefore lost the opportunity for life-changing outcomes.

We are also in the midst of an unprecedented supply and demand crisis for sales and broader go-to-market talent, with demand far outstripping supply, and it’s about to get a whole lot worse! According to a recent report from Grand View Research, the business-to-business software and services market size, by revenue, was $429.59 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow at an 11.7 percent CAGR from now until 2030, taking annual revenue to a whopping $1.15 trillion. 

That’s close to 3x in just eight years. So we need to find 3x the number of sales and go-to-market professionals currently in the industry to capture and manage that revenue. It’s quite clear something has to change fundamentally or this skills crisis is going to slam the brakes pretty hard on the B2B tech industry.   


Why sales is set for a new path 

Things are, however, slowly changing. The supply and demand skills crisis has inevitably driven up starting salaries, and now entry-level roles can command upwards of $80,000 a year, which is in turn attracting large numbers of people to the industry. 

Perceptions are slowly changing too, with modern complex sales being seen as more akin to consulting—we are after all trying to understand business problems and their impact, and then offer solutions. The industry is also becoming more diverse, certainly in terms of gender—although there is a long way to go to improve diversity in all its forms. However, the main underlying issue still remains: A total lack of formal structured education, forcing everyone in the industry to make it up as they go.  

But can the industry turn this to its advantage as the war for talent continues to intensify? There is a growing argument that a 4-year degree is totally unnecessary, which means, with the right upskilling, B2B companies can access a much wider pool of potential talent. But if the traditional education system is not the answer, what’s the solution? 


A new way forward 

A number of interesting solutions have emerged to fill the educational gap and create the sales stars of the future. Services like SV Academy and Springboard offer intense training to prepare people for entry-level jobs as sales development representatives and customer success specialists with no upfront costs; people pay for the service out of their salary once they secure a job. 

Communities are playing an ever greater role, like RevGenius and the SDR Revolution where peer-to-peer learning and networking is opening up new opportunities. Here at Sales Impact Academy (SIA), we developed a live in-work learning platform for go-to-market teams. Later this year, the plan is to allow access for individuals to learn all the skills they need and gain valuable qualifications in sales for a relatively low monthly subscription. 

More philanthropic solutions are also beginning to emerge that take away all barriers to learning the skills needed to enter the sales and go-to-market profession. The Salesforce Foundation is a great example. It is an organization focused specifically on helping young people reach their full potential with a focus area on workforce development and career readiness preparation. Here at SIA, we have also recently launched the SIA Foundation to provide totally free access to skills development in the form of scholarships to thousands of marginalized people across the U.S. and globally.  

Imagine it: A free pathway to an amazing career in sales and GTM in a matter of months for the economically disadvantaged, unemployed or low paid, parents reentering the workforce, veterans, refugees and young people priced out of university education. All you need is a web connection.  

With the industry desperate for net-new skilled talent and a drive to improve diversity, our foundation and other innovative skills development solutions have the chance to make a massive societal impact. Regardless of where people have come from, or the challenges they have faced, we will level the playing field, and give people access to an amazing career in sales with absolutely no need for the 4-year degree.  

  • Originally published May 13, 2022