The subject of whether having a college degree is correlated with success in B2B is a hotly debated topic. Unfortunately, there is a lack of reliable data to settle the question. What isn’t lacking is opinions and I’ve heard some great ones on both sides of the topic. Fortunately, Angela Duckworth of “Grit” fame has some compelling evidence that a degree does, in fact, matter (her 6 minute TED Talk on Grit can be viewed here). Allow me to explain Grit and how it correlates back to success in the world of sales.
Angela began her career as a high school math teacher. While teaching, she consistently saw less gifted students out-learn and out-perform students that were brighter and clearly more talented. Frustrated with the lack of an explanation as to why; she left teaching and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to answer this question. She studied West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee contestants and yes, top sales performers to answer: “Why do some individuals accomplish more than others of equal intelligence?” What she found was Grit. In her words, “we define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” This body of work has led her to win the 2013 MacArthur Fellowship (an award compared equivalent to winning the Nobel prize).
If you’re on board that Grit or “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” can help predict who will achieve success in sales we can use Grit as a measure to examine how education levels correlate with sales success. From Angela’s work, “more educated adults were higher in Grit than were less educated adults”. “Participants with an Associate’s degree were significantly higher in Grit than those with less education and, interestingly, also higher in Grit than those with a Bachelor’s degree.” Angela’s explanation for the higher Grit levels shown in Associate’s degree holders makes sense. The dropout rate at community colleges is much higher than in four year schools. In fact, she found that it takes as much Grit to finish an Associate’s degree as it takes to earn a PhD. If we think about the high failure rate in sales, Grit stands up as a solid predictor of success in this field. Before we leave the topic of education, research shows that “college grades are only modestly correlated with adult success.”
Let’s tie this all together in Angela’s words. “A case could be made that the sum total of our research is to show that past behavior predicts future behavior.” Additionally, “Grittier individuals made fewer career changes than less Gritty peers of the same age.” Her studies also showed that talent and/or IQ was negatively correlated with Grit. This should give hiring managers pause when they are interviewing candidates that seem effortlessly gifted. Those sales professionals may get by on their talent (vs effort) and get outsold by less talented but Grittier peers. Please do not take this as a blanket statement that sales professionals must have a degree in order to be successful in sales. There are far too many successful sales professionals that don’t have a degree. To be clear, I’m making the case here the Grit matters in sales and correlates with success. It just so happens that completing your degree takes Grit and, as a population, sales reps with a degree (including Associate’s degrees) have more Grit than sales reps without one.