Part Two: An Evening & Weekend Student’s Journey in Sales
This is Will’s second blog post in a series dedicated to his career journey and the impact of sales. Check out his first blog post here!
By Will Forsyth (E&W, 2022)
Selling yourself and your ideas will make or break your career. One year down and I continue to learn from the top professors and business leaders in the world. The bulk of my work experience has been centered around sales, technology and consulting. In order to address the outstanding knowledge gaps, my goal was to take classes focused on VC and startups, power dynamics and general management.
An impactful quarter at Kellogg
The spring quarter proved influential as it not only allowed me to grow in my current role at Amazon Web Services (AWS), but also understand how to (1) start a company from the ground up, (2) lead teams within a larger organization and (3) strategically network in and out of the office. I took three classes simultaneously: Launching & Leading Startups with Carter Cast, The Rookie General Manager with Bill White and Power in Organizations with Richard Jolly.
Stack them up against a trio of teachers at any school across the globe and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a stronger collective resume. I learned how to create, lead and analyze startups with Carter. I gleaned insight on how to generate, maintain and exert influence within an organization from Richard. I finished my quarter taking Bill’s once-a-year class, where the capstone assignment was to make my own business plan for when I move into leadership. While the skills and knowledge I gained in these classes need to be continuously refined, the foundational aspects of what I learned are directly applicable to my current role in sales at AWS:
- Carter’s class emphasized concepts and frameworks around finding product-market fit, go-to-market strategy and risk mitigation. I’ve applied those practices by collaborating with the C-suite of Cargill’s joint venture, refining their product-market fit, optimizing their technology environment and leading their marketing efforts to increase monthly active users as they seek to become a global presence in the AgTech world.
- I’m using the management onboarding plan that I created and revised with Bill as I undertake leadership roles and responsibilities on my team at work, but also on the boards I chair outside of work.
- I’m leveraging the power dynamics Richard taught as I build my network within AWS to sell myself internally for exposure to management, for promotion as an individual contributor and for general networking at Northwestern.
While these lessons may not be novel at the surface, the act of integrating them into my day-to-day work will only enhance the skillset I’ve developed thus far. I use Craig Wortmann‘s Sales Engine frameworks daily, whether it’s starting a meeting with purpose-benefit-check, or asking impact questions of my customers, friends, and people I’m meeting for the first time at school.
The invaluable skills of sales
Over the past seven years working in sales, I’ve refined these invaluable communication competencies by building relationships with C-suite executives and selling them on the financial and operational value of cloud technologies to their organizations. Reflecting on my work experiences and the classes I’ve taken thus far, it’s critical that students think about integrating some of these classes into their schedules if they want to understand how valuable sales skills are for any organization, large or small.
I’m hopeful that business schools and employers will perceive sales as essential curriculum, as these skills are core to becoming successful leaders. Some notable Kellogg alums who started in sales: Bill McDermott ’97, former CEO at SAP and currently ServiceNow, started in sales at Xerox. Patrick Ryan ’59, started his career selling life insurance; he went on to found Aon Corporation and, with his wife Shirley Ryan ’61, recently gave the largest gift to Northwestern in the university’s history. Chris Galvin ’77, former CEO of Motorola, started his career in sales. That’s why it is my goal to promote the curriculum around communications, persuasion, negotiations, active listening, questioning, and much more. These skills are what will set us apart as business leaders and catalysts for growth.
Check out Will’s first blog post on pursuing sales at Kellogg >
Read more about Will’s take on investing and sales >