EPISODE 641: Why a Masters Degree in Sales Leadership Transformation May Be Right for You with Dr. Philip Squire  

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Today’s show featured an interview with Dr. Philip Squire of Consalia. Consalia runs the UK’s only Sales Business School, providing Masters, Postgraduate & Undergraduate Apprenticeship programs in Sales.

Find Phil on LinkedIn.

PHIL’S ADVICE:  “People pursue advanced degrees in sales because people are passionate about what they do in sales. They recognize the particular peculiarities of sales, and they want to become a master of it.  If you’re a sales director doing an MBA course, you’re going to be given quite a lot of stuff that you may not be able to use that much. But if you think of the title of the Masters in Leading Sales Transformation, it’s very relevant for conversations you might be having with customers.”


Fred Diamond: Every once in a while, we get to bring on a guest that we’ve had on before that really inspired our listeners and really got some of our interest flowing. Today I’m going to be talking for the second time with Dr. Philip Squire with Consalia. I want to talk about the academic side of the sales profession. You’ve done some remarkable things where people can actually get degrees in sales. Of course, we’ve done a lot of work with the Sales Education Foundation. I’m in Virginia, right outside of Washington DC, and there’s a couple of great universities, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, that have programs, but you actually have put together a bachelor’s and a master’s program. I want to get deep into that. I want to get deep into what the purpose was, what people going through those programs hope to achieve, what are some of the things that you have as part of the curriculum? Give us a little bit of an update. Give us a little bit of an intro to yourself, and then let’s start talking about these two programs that you’re very, very deeply involved with.

Philip Squire: Thank you. Well, I’m the CEO of a company called Consalia. We’re a UK-headquartered company. We’ve got an office also located in Singapore. We are a sales business school. That’s how we position ourselves. Perhaps we’ll go into that in a bit more detail with some of the questions you have later.

Fred Diamond: Tell us about the two programs. Give us a background on those. Tell us the university that you’re associated with. Give us a little bit of history on how you created these, or how these were created, and what some of the requirements would be for people to go through them.

Philip Squire: The history is actually quite interesting. I was doing a research project, as we may have talked briefly about when we last spoke, into how customers wanted to be sold to. As a consequence of doing that, one of my clients, Hewlett Packard, got really interested in the process of my doing a doctorate, really close to the findings and so on. They asked if I could help them set up a master’s program for their large deal bid pursuit team. I was a little bit surprised with the request, but I’d got this relationship with Middlesex University in London, and I asked if we could put together a program, which is where I guess this journey started. They only put about six people through the masters. What surprised me about the six that went through the program was how salespeople reacted to a learning process which was academic, as well as practical. As a consequence of that and the success of the program, we decided then with Middlesex University to then launch the executive master’s suite of postgraduate degrees, which is focused on leadership, key account management, and large deal bid pursuit. That’s where we started.

A little bit more of the context, because the UK government in the 1960s pioneered an institute that became a faculty of Middlesex University in work-based learning. The idea behind this was the government felt that academic learning was not just the domain for universities, but also you can learn a lot from business. They wanted to know if you could come up with a framework. The government wanted to know if you could come up with a framework for taking learning that people have at work and awarding them a master’s or a doctorate. Well, those were the two areas that we started to focus on.

The fascinating thing about this is that unlike many other master’s level programs, 90% of the academic credit that you get by going through the programs we’ve designed through this Institute of Work-Based Learning is based on the application of the learning in the workplace, and the critical thinking that goes round the application of learning up to master’s level standards. This we felt was very attractive for people in sales, were very action-orientated, very bright, very intelligent, doing super challenging things. This marriage between this particular faculty at the university, our clients, which are big global organizations and willing students, then gave birth to what was in the UK the first time such an initiative has been launched. That’s just a little bit of the history.

Fred Diamond: It’s interesting. When you think about college level programs, there’s thousands in marketing, and in business. In sales, again, just in the United States, there’s maybe 150 programs that might be a minor, very fewer or a smaller percentage of course are majors. Why would someone want a master’s degree in sales? Think back to some of the students who have gone through, what’s the value to them? I got a master’s in business, and of course I did because I wanted a master’s degree, I wanted a postgraduate degree. It’s helped me in my degree in some regards, it’s in marketing. But why would someone want to devote the time and energy to go through a master’s program in sales?

Philip Squire: Because people are passionate about what they do in sales. They recognize the particular peculiarities of sales, and they want to become a master of it. They want to master the profession that they’ve elected to be in. They also like the idea of something being done purely for them, meaning them as a community. If you’re a sales director doing an MBA course, you’re going to be given quite a lot of stuff that you may not be able to use that much. This is something that is totally tailored in every way to the job that you do.

We’ve got people who have said to us the reason why they’ve done it is because they were looking at MBAs. MBAs don’t really differentiate you. But if you think of the title of the masters, a Masters in Leading Sales Transformation, it’s very relevant for conversations you might be having with customers, for example. Because a lot of what selling is, is about introducing change to client sites. But also, in this VUCA world in which we live, for the organizations for whom the sales leaders, managers work in, this context of transformation is key. This is why I think it’s a wonderful program, and why our alumni just love it, and why the clients that are putting students through this program, they’re seeing huge benefit because of the way the program’s structured, which we could talk about later because I think you wanted to know a bit about the curriculum.

Fred Diamond: I do. As a matter of fact, on the previous show that we had with you, we spoke about sales transformation, and that was a big theme throughout. I’m just curious, how have the companies responded to their people getting the master’s in sales? Is it something that they’ve embraced? Is it something that has led to promotion, new responsibilities? Has it helped the companies transform by having these professionals? One word that keeps coming up that we talk about all the time as I’m thinking about this, is we say that sales is a profession. If you’re a professional, what does a professional do? Professionals get advanced degrees. Talk a little bit how have the companies benefited that their people have gone through.

Philip Squire: Well, of course, in the early days, they didn’t quite know what to expect, because it’s a completely new experience for them. It took a certain type of company who believed in development at a high level and shared, just like you’ve said, there’s this notion of professionalizing sales, is really important to them. Education is such an important element of that. You’ve asked me a number of questions. Promotion. Oftentimes, students who are coming through the program don’t just get promoted once, but two or three times. We’ve had situations where, I remember one particular person who came on the program was an account manager for a team. He happened to be managing a team in the Middle East. Midway through the program, he then was promoted into managing EMEA North, with hundreds of people actually working in his team. Then he got promoted to Chief Operating Officer. You’re talking about rapid, not everyone is going to have that kind of rapid acceleration. But almost everybody gets promoted either during the program or after.

Now that the programs have been embedded, we have some clients who’ve been running this program for 10 years, and every year they’re putting 20, 30 people through it. That doesn’t happen if they don’t see value from it. But when we start talking about impact, we have this concept of the I, the we, and the greater we. The I is the student going through the program. You’re looking at how will that person transform their personal practice of sales leadership as a consequence of the different modules they attend? The we is their team or their company, depending on their level of seniority, and the greater we is the contributions that they make to the profession. Quite a number of the students are writing publications that get published in academic journals, as well as in the Journal of Sales Transformation. We have books coming out, Grant’s a good example of that. We have another book coming out. This whole notion of feeding this concept of professionalism is fueled through the quality of reflective practice that you get from the particular way the program’s structured.

Fred Diamond: As we’re talking about this, sales is wide-ranging. There’s, of course, active sales leaders who manage teams, who have territories, quotas, et cetera. You just described one of the students, but there’s also operations, enablement, compensation. Tell us a little more about the people. What do they do for a living that are going through this program? Are they in all realms of sales or just mostly professional onboard?

Philip Squire: On the leadership program, you’re tending to talk about people who’ve been in sales for some time, they’re reasonably mature individuals, could range from 30 to 55 actually. In terms of roles, we’ve had quite a variety of different roles where we had heads of global sales enablement. Axel, who was on your podcast before, is a good example of that. Same as Grant, actually, both of them are more sales enablement roles. You’ve got sales directors, you’ve got sales ops, people who are just managing the ops side. We get a variety. We get heads of pre-sales teams as well as heads of field sales. We get people who are looking after call centers, looking after the mid-market category segments and so on. It’s quite a variety.

Also, they come from all over the world. We have people from Japan, from America, from Europe. Part of the richness of the experience is the diversity of people that you bring together. We haven’t really put a hard limit around who can come and who can’t. We have someone on the current program who works in the head of transformation office for SAP in Australia. Doesn’t manage a team of salespeople, but she is running out these massive transformation programs for the sales organization. She said, “I want to go on that program because I really need to understand what transformation means for the people that I’m now supporting.” Yeah, could be quite a variety.

Fred Diamond: I have two questions, very logistical type questions. We’re doing today’s interview in the fall of 2023. Virtual learning has become the thing. I’m going to guess during the height of the pandemic, everything was virtual. Where are we right now from a, you have to be on the campus live? You just mentioned people in Australia and all over the world. How much of it is virtual? The other question I’m going to ask you is how do you get in? For most master’s programs, you have to have a bachelor degree, and then of course you have to apply. Is it hard to get in for the master’s? Talk a little bit about that type of process.

Philip Squire: First question is that we love it when people do physically come together because you get that community feel much more through personal contact. What we’re doing now, because of the pandemic, of course we’ve gone digital, but we request one module is face-to-face. That module for different various reasons is often run in Ireland, for a particular reason, but it is around coaching. That coaching module three is run in Ireland. It depends from client to client, to be honest. Some clients want it run in person. We tend to run these in London, but it doesn’t have to be on campus. We rarely go to the campus of Middlesex. Could be run on client sites. It could be run in conference centers. It’s really very flexible, and it’s not tied to semesters either, university semesters. We have quite a lot of flexibility with how and when we can roll these out.

Fred Diamond: How about getting into the program? Do people have to apply? Do you turn away people, or is it anybody who applies will get in?

Philip Squire: The biggest challenge we face with international is command of the English language, because all of the projects have to be written in English. We occasionally have turned people away because we’ve felt that their spoken and written English isn’t up to a standard that would pass the academic qualification assessment process that they would go through. We don’t require them to do a bachelor’s, that’s not necessary for us. Because it’s work-based learning, the faculty have recognized that if someone’s got five years’ experience in sales at minimum before they come onto the program, then that is enough context for them to be able to enter the program.

Of course, a lot of our clients are big, global international companies, you know that their account managers, some of them have got master’s degrees already. Some have got bachelor’s. But what I love actually about the program is where someone who’s never been to university, they’ve never got a professional qualification, giving them the chance to do a master’s and seeing them at graduation actually with their families, throwing their hats up in the air with the other, it is magic. Often the quality of their work, because they have so much to prove, is at a higher standard than those that may have already gone through undergraduate courses.

Fred Diamond: I got my master’s, like I mentioned, it was a two-year program. You’re having to balance, especially, you’re a little bit older, typically. I had a new child at the time and I had a very busy job. I remember I used to have to keep my books laying on the ground in one of the spare rooms. When my son would fall asleep, I would run and dive and have the books ready to start going. But it truly is a time when you’re learning, you’re thinking, you’re forced to do it because the classes are a certain period of time. And and there is a huge degree of satisfaction when you completed the program, because a lot of people get flushed out, et cetera. Maybe not in this one. Again, you mentioned a lot of it’s on-the-job type of stuff, but talk about some of the other curriculum that is part of this as well.

Philip Squire: Well, generally, the curriculum is split into two years, just over two years. We have four pillars. One pillar is manage myself. This is looking at you as a person, a leader, your values and belief systems, and it’s central. It’s understanding the bias with which you can look at data, teaching them about how to conduct research, how to do critical reflection. But the journey often starts with the individual, because unless an individual can be open to the idea of transformation, we feel it’s going to be more difficult for them to understand how to transform others, and so on.

Now, there’s about a three-month period between what would typically be a two-day or a Zoom session kind of events of formative teaching. Then they need to come up with a work-based project that they want to work on. They then would agree with the program tutor that they’re not boiling the ocean. They could complete that project in three months. How they’re going to research the topic, what reading are they going to do around it, but it’s work-based. The trick is finding a concern or an issue that’s very relevant to what you’re doing at the time. Students find it difficult to differentiate what they’re doing in their work with the data that they then can collect for writing up their projects. They can use the research techniques with their sales teams. Quite often they say, “Look, I’ve covered this interesting tool called appreciative inquiry. I’m just going to run an exercise on appreciative inquiry to see how can we take our team from where it is today to 20% more by the end.”

You can draw your team in, you can draw customers into the journey as well, so it becomes incredibly practical. That’s the trick. That’s why this work-based learning approach, which is not seen in many universities elsewhere, is just one of the great assets, I think, of the British approach to postgraduate education, which is around work-based learning.

Fred Diamond: Can you give us generically an example of a project? You don’t have to say the company, of course, but generically, what are one or two examples of what some of the projects might be? Actually, as you’re talking about this, sales is a full-time profession at the types of companies that are sending their people through this. It’s not like, “Gee, I want to learn accounting so I could be a better sales professional. I’m going to go take some accounting classes.” Sales is all in, and the people who are at the highest level of sales, they’re all in. Now, maybe they have balance in life, that’s not really what we’re talking about here, but they’re all in. They are professionals, et cetera. The reason I say that is it has to be the work-based projects because you can’t devote a huge amount of time to something that’s not going to help you.

Philip Squire: They don’t have enough time to do it. You don’t want to study a book on marketing theory when you’ve got a target to hit in three months’ time.

Fred Diamond: Your company’s depending upon you too. I’m going to guess the people that are at this level, again, this isn’t a BDR just out of school. This is someone, like you said, who has had success. The company’s investing, it’s a global program. They have to spend some time flying to Ireland at some point. The reality too, Philip, which is why I’m so intrigued by this, is the reason that we have the Institute for Excellence in Sales and the Sales Game Changers Podcast, is because we know that sales is the most important part of the company. Especially over the last couple years, it is sales that will lead companies through whatever challenges there are, micro or macro. Of course, we’ve had some huge macro ones. Again, just back to my original question, give us an example, or two if you’d like, generically of what some of the projects that the students have deployed.

Philip Squire: I mentioned the first module. We’ve got modules on sales ops, we’ve got modules on coaching, and modules on leadership and change. How can I introduce a new territory management system inside the organization to get more effective coverage of our key accounts? Something like that. Or how can I tweak the sales compensation system to encourage more focus on leading indicators than lagging? How can I use coaching as a tool to get all of my team to win a circle? I’m just coming up with a few random examples. But you’ll notice that each of these started with the I. The whole journey is about how do I improve my personal practice in all of the key disciplines required to be a successful sales leader, or an account manager, or a bid pursuit person?

Fred Diamond: Again, when we did the first show with you where we had your customers, we had Axel from SAP, and we had grant from Royal Caribbean. Like I said, I then had Grant on the show on his own. It was amazing, the application conversation that we had.

Philip Squire: Grant is such a wonderful example of the output of a master’s program. It’s completely transformed him, you can see that, and he made a huge impact to Royal Caribbean. Now he’s offering it out to the world at large. That’s the I, the we, and the greater we that I mentioned earlier on. Axel’s done the same with his CETI model for cells and enablement. The way they design training now at SAP is based on Axel’s research. It’s incredibly practical.

Fred Diamond: I did my master’s on channel theory and design. I was working at Apple Computer at the time, and I got my master’s in business. Again, this is not in sales, but if people were wondering like, “Should I get a master’s degree to begin with, what some of the value is?” My MBA thesis, if you will, was on sales channel theory and design. The reason I say this is, yeah, I needed to do it for my job, but here’s the thing. It’s 30 years later, I’m still applying. Matter of fact, I was talking to someone the other day who was asking me some questions about channel theory and I said, “I did my MBA on channel theory.” Of course, a lot has changed. There’s various things, of course. But a lot of it still went back to a lot of the same concepts that I had spoken about.

Listen, Philip, this has been great. It’s been great meeting you. Again, you were on the show before, we talked about your book. We talked about some of the programs that Consalia offers. I just want to acknowledge you, because we talk about this a lot, the notion that there aren’t a whole lot of college level classes on sales. I’ve been engaged with more people recently who have left the sales profession. They’ve retired. They really haven’t left, they’ve retired, and now they’re going back to a local university to teach. A guest that I’ve had on the show a couple of times, his name is Joe Markwordt. He worked at Deck, he worked at Salesforce. He’s now teaching at a school just outside of Baltimore called Loyola. We had him on the show, and he’s putting his skills to help new college students understand sales. What you’re doing at the master’s level is, for me, it’s going to mind blow a lot of people. I applaud you and I acknowledge you for the great work that you’ve done. Give us a final thought. Give us something specific that people should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Philip Squire: Well, I’m obviously going to say join the master’s. Be open. We talk about growth mindset a lot, and I think you do as well. But there’s a lot of skepticism about things being too academic. But actually, to me, I think the most important competence is around critical reflection. This is what academic study can give you. Be open to the idea of some sort of academic underpinning of your professional job.

Fred Diamond: Actually, the sales profession has changed a lot over the last 15, 20 years. The main change, of course, is the customers now have access to information. Whereas in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the sales professional needed to show up and do a three-hour futures presentation all the time. The customer can just go to Google or any search engine and type in whatever, even your company’s product direction. The value that the sales professional needs to bring to the table needs to be at the customer’s level. It needs to be more academic from the perspective of, like you just said, contemplative, thoughtful valuable. You just can’t get by winging it anymore. We talk about simple things like preparing for a sales call, and there’s still so many people who don’t, but applying the academic notion to truly become a professional will set you apart.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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