Professional Sales Education: Growing and Earning Accolades

With an eye to the dynamic nature of business today, Southeastern’s new marketing concentration in professional sales provides real-world experiences in what many executives call the single most important function in any business—sales.

According to statistics produced by the Sales Education Foundation, sales as a discipline plays an important role in both the economy and the professional lives of today’s college graduates. A recent Harvard Business Review article stated that nationally, over 50 percent of college graduates will take on a role in professional sales at some point in their career. That percentage grows to 88 percent for marketing majors. However, only three percent of colleges in the United States offer a professional sales program. In 2017, Southeastern moved forward to enter this growing area with its own program.

Students who graduate from university sales programs, when compared to their non-sales educated peers, fare better in the workplace. They receive an average of 2.8 employment offers before they graduate; experience, on average, over 90 percent job placement; ramp up 50 percent faster with standard company training; have a current average starting salary of $60,000/year; and 77 percent report high career satisfaction.

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Southeastern prides itself on working with regional companies to respond to industry needs—the development of curricula in industrial technology and welding inspection are recent examples. The professional sales program is no different.

“Our Marketing Degree Advisory Board was instrumental in confirming the need for graduates with specialized sales training. We also had many companies reaching out to us looking for students interested in going into sales positions,” said Dean of the College of Business Antoinette Phillips.

Once it was obvious that the need was high, Dr. Tará Burnthorne Lopez and Ms. April Field Kemp, marketing faculty members in the College of Business, worked to get the program started. The program helps students differentiate themselves in the job market by enhancing their analytical and tactical skill sets, focusing on consultative selling, relationship building, and developing trusted long-term partnerships with clients.

According to Phillips, “The professional sales concentration was approved to begin in the fall of 2016, but real momentum began in Spring of 2018 when the first Advanced Professional Sales course was offered, and Southeastern students began competing in on-campus and regional sales competitions. We had been teaching an Introduction to Personal Selling course for many years, but we wanted to offer a deeper level of sales training for our students.”

The core sales curriculum consists of courses in Personal Selling, Advanced Professional Selling, and Sales Management, and is supported with other marketing courses in Consumer Behavior, Marketing Research, and Marketing Strategy. Because the current goal is to prepare students for success in the sales profession, the program has been developed for marketing majors with a future goal of including those majoring in areas outside of business who wish to pursue a sales certificate.

“We know that professional sales is not only a starting point for careers, but is becoming more and more important across all sectors of the economy. With the proliferation of technology, data analytics, and CRM applications, the role of the salesperson has become significantly more sophisticated as have the skills needed to be successful. The Southeastern professional sales program will help train the next generation of sales leaders,” said Phillips.

The success of an academic program can be seen in several ways—student interest, industry interest, and third party accolades. After only one year up and running, the professional sales program has achieved all three.

The strength and effectiveness of the program is already being recognized. This past year Southeastern’s sales concentration was named one of the top professional sales programs by the Sales Education Foundation. Student numbers were immediately strong and businesses from all over were looking to participate through support, sponsorships, and recruitment for interns and graduates.

“We’ve been very fortunate that the program started off so strong with so much support,” said Kemp.

As the program got off the ground well over 30 companies have shown interest in participating in some way, many making financial commitments.

Most recently Northwestern Mutual has sponsored the program at a significant level. Through a generous financial commitment, professional sales students will learn in a new Northwestern Mutual Training Room, to be located in Garrett Hall, with renovations to the existing space set to begin early this year. Steven Dugal, managing partner of the Mississippi and Louisiana offices, as well as Paul Hodge, managing director of the Mandeville and Gulfport offices, are supporting the initiative.

“We are excited to get involved in Southeastern’s sales program. From our experience at other universities, sales students ramp up faster than non-sales students, have lower turnover, and are more prepared for the workforce” said Dugal.

“The investment that Northwestern Mutual is making demonstrates that the program is on the right track. We are really appreciative of their support,” concluded Phillips.

By Mike Rivault

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