Gerry Pond has offered $500,000 to any university or other body in Atlantic Canada that establishes an academy to teach international sales.

The Co-Founder of Mariner and East Valley Ventures was the 15th panelist to speak on educational reform at an Association of Atlantic Universities symposium on Thursday. After several speakers had called for action and urgency, Pond brought the room to life by announcing he would contribute half a million bucks to any group that sets up an institute to teach curriculum in sales. (He said the winner can add the words “and marketing” if it likes, but the goal has to be the training of sales people.)

The focus on international sales – especially tech sales – is nothing new for Pond. He was an early investor in Q1 Labs and Radian6, the two most successful tech companies in the region. Since they announced exits in 2011, he has devoted his energy to funding and mentoring a succession of startups in the region. East Valley Ventures, of which he is a key member, has invested $10 million in about 30 startups. He is also a co-founder of the Pond-Deshpande Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of New Brunswick. 

He’s long held that the innovation in the region is tremendous, but there is a dire need for people who can sell technology in the global market place. Atlantic Canadian companies simply can’t scale to significant size without greater expertise in selling to international customers. He says the need is pervasive in Canada and acute in Atlantic Canada, and he called for some institute to remedy the shortfall.

“It will take an international sales academy that will produce competencies in these skill sets,” Pond told the Atlantic Leaders Summit. “I will put $500,000 into that institute today.”

The mid-afternoon announcement roused the crowd. Christine Hamblin of the Masters of Technology, Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at St. Mary’s University rose to say her program would offer a sales course in the coming year. Before she could tell him where to mail the cheque, Pond pointed out that his plan would take more than a single course because the skill sets that must be taught are quite complicated.

They include:

-  Cross-cultural communications;

-  Basic communications skills, including listening;

-  Clarity of messaging;

-  Negotiations;

-  And problem-solving.

Pond said the final point is critical because good sales people find ways to solve their customers’ problems. That, he added, is why engineers make great salesmen.

Pond indicated that he’s willing to be flexible on the fine points of the program, but he envisions a university initiating a dean of sales position and a complete curriculum in collaboration with the private sector.

Atlantic Canadian tend to think of sales people as being slick and sleazy, he said, but developing a professional, effective sales force is essential to building good businesses.

It’s a huge absence in the ecosystem now.

“I know enough to know that’s what is inhibiting Canadian companies, Atlantic Canadian companies, from scaling,” he said. “That’s where the problems are.”

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  • Sarah Daigle

    Looking forward to seeing which institution raises their hand here. Any guesses on who is a likely candidate?

    As a New Brunswicker, now living in Arkansas (a walk away from Walmart HQ) and working with companies in South America. I’d love to see my home province and first country blossom internationally.

  • Randy Ansems

    My wish is that it does no end up a completely academic institution. At least not if we want to see it successful soon. IMHO. Teaching theory and concepts may bring results, but teaching how to achieve results always results in results. wink

  • Christine Hamblin

    Thanks for the shout out Peter smile

    Gerry did mention that it would require both in-class learning and work placements, as Sales can be trained but you need experiential learning to be successful.

  • Eldon MacKeigan

    I have had over 35 years in sales, sales management and as a sales trainer and have had this conversation with several business people and educational institutions. Nothing could be more important to business success.
    The development of a selling program within the educational system is basic. Every business depends on the ability to sell what they manufacture and design. This is also true for intellectual property (engineering, law, accounting).
    Good luck with this.
    Eldon MacKeigan

  • Natalie Doyle Oldfield

    In my experience the saying ‘nothing happens until a sale is made’ holds true. An international academy of sales in Atlantic Canada would benefit students, businesses and the community.  I would agree successful sales people have to be problem solvers - they must also be master communicators, understand cross-cultural dimensions and have the ability to earn, build and protect a customer’s trust. 

    Thank you for your generous offer Gerry.

  • Eric Fisher, P.Eng.

    Being a professional engineer who spent his entire career in sales, including owning my own process equipment distribution business, the lack of recognition by educational institutions of the importance of sales/communication skills and the opportunity a sales career offers graduates has long been a complaint of mine.

    Every co-op engineering student we hired to support our sales efforts always reported the outstanding experience they had working in a technical sales environment that not only expanded their technical abilities but also their communication skills.

  • Weston (Wes) MacAleer

    The most significant skill one must have to perform in international sales is knowing the language of the party being sold to. Learning the language allows for understanding the culture, creating better bonds and increasing the chance of a sale. Unfortunately, english speaking persons have this sense of superiority, and think that learning a language is all about what the other culture must do. My son, an accountant by training, has spent 10 years in Asia, time in Japan and China, selling and buying products.

  • Chris Weir

    Whatever happened to this offer by Gerry Pond?