BFW picAt the recent International Conference on Small Business (ICSB) World Conference on Entrepreneurship  in Dublin Ireland, the Asian delegates gave Michael the nickname “King of Sales.”  Now we have to laugh whenever we receive an email with the salutation, “Dear King of Sales.” It’s not a title he feels he earned, but recognizes that it was given in fun and refers to his insistence that successful entrepreneurship must begin with sales.

We certainly emphasized this truism at each of our four talks during the ICSB Conference. Speaking at more than twenty five schools of entrepreneurship in the past year has given us a unique snapshot of the state of the art of entrepreneurship education. We were surprised to see how few schools teach a course in sales as an essential class or requirement.

In business, it’s not enough to sell your ultimate customer. You must also sell your own people, your vendors, your lenders, your wholesalers, and your retailers. Each sale is essential to keep your goods and services moving, reduce your need for capital, reduce turnover, and gain access to the market.

We often say the best salesperson is the assistant buyer. You can’t be an assistant buyer unless you understand the buyers’ needs. You have to demonstrate your dependability and that of your products and services for some time to achieve “assistant buyer” status.

So why should this be such a novel idea to so many in the academic community? We think it is because of how entrepreneurship education evolved. It’s a relatively new major and degree, so it’s still in a state of flux with each school trying a little something different. Generally, entrepreneurship is seen as an add-on to the business school.

The business school does a fine job of creating entry-level managers for large corporations. In fact many of those large corporations help fund these schools. But what is the attitude of those corporations with regard to salespeople and does it rub off on the schools with the support they receive?

In most large corporations, sales is just one of many departments and has a relatively low status. The salespeople are outside and the C-Suite is inside. Sales is below marketing in most company structures. Add to this our historical and cultural prejudice against salespeople. Movies such as “The Music Man” or “Used Cars” reinforce our conditioning as a society to be skeptical of salespeople.

When entrepreneurship is seen as the stepchild of the business school, the importance of sales can easily be overlooked in favor of form and function. Interestingly, most schools have degrees in marketing, and some teach that marketing is the sole revenue-producing system. As we understand it, marketing supports sales by producing materials and programs that can be used by the sales force to increase sales and profits. And, when marketing takes advice from sales, the knowledge gained from talking directly to wholesalers, retailers, and customers is translated into effective marketing plans.

The subject and teaching of sales in entrepreneurial courses must be a requirement for anyone who plans on starting his or her own business.  Putting salespeople on the bottom has no place in a start-up. We laud the increasing number of schools of entrepreneurship who are taking sales seriously, teaching real-world techniques and strategies, thus giving their grads a better chance of being in business three years later. Every grad should be the “King of Sales!”

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact