No matter what field students enter after graduating, sales will likely be integral to their careers—whether marketing themselves to a prospective employer, selling a product, or promoting a business plan to potential investors.
To help students develop sales skills critical to gaining an edge in the job market, EMU’s College of Business has created a Sales Institute. Launched in Fall 2016, the Institute allows students to apply skills learned through the Marketing department’s four-course Sales concentration.
"The Institute educates and promotes careers in sales—not necessarily a career in a particular company or industry,” says Lewis Hershey, professor of Marketing and department chair. “Students acquire skills and credentials for professional selling that are marketable across industries. And the Institute is open to students in any major.”
In Winter 2017, the Institute joined the University Sales Center Alliance (USCA), a consortium of sales programs and educators across the nation. Hershey has visited several sales institutes at universities regionally to study best practices and gather ideas for further developing EMU’s Institute.
“There are about 100 sales institutes nationally, including places like the University of Toledo, Central Michigan and Western Michigan,” Hershey says. “Even though our Institute is young, Eastern has about 400 students in its sales classes. That’s more than double the size of most sales institutes. We wanted to give our students the same benefits other universities offer.”
EMU’s Institute hosts an annual sales competition for students nominated from MKTG 261 (Contemporary Selling). Judges from the Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company, the competition sponsor, evaluate students in a role-playing format for business-to-business selling. Cash prizes range from $100 to $500, but the biggest value is applying the sales curriculum to real-world selling, Hershey says.
"Competitions are the bridge between classroom study and the practice of business selling,” he says. “Once students see that connection, they become very motivated. Students can have up to 12 competitions on their resumes before graduating. That really helps them stand out to potential employers.”
The Institute also recently launched a Sales Club. Open to students of all majors, the extracurricular club helps students develop and practice their sales skills. Activities will include role playing, sales competitions with other universities, visits to area businesses, and guest speakers. Marketing Department Instructor Sue Yarrington Young, who held sales representative and managerial roles in her 30-year career at IBM, is the club’s coach and competition advisor.
“The Institute is a very strong complement to our curriculum,” she says. “We focus less on theory and more on techniques and methods used by business-to-business salespeople in the real world. That makes our students much more competitive when it comes to getting a job in selling or a sales-related field.
“I have a number of sales students who are communications majors. They understand that their first job may be as a sales rep. And a lot of companies also recognize that non-sales jobs require selling skills. Almost everyone has to sell in some capacity—employers recognize the advantage of having those skills.”
Hershey adds that sales involves an understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses, which is at the heart of a liberal arts education.
“We help students develop a standalone set of tools that can help them in any field,” he says. “Sales is about convincing people of what you can do and why it’s important.”