The need to solve problems together and discuss the relative merits of solutions and ideas make the skills associated with consultative sales broadly useful in business contexts. A marketing course seeks to help undergraduates develop these skills—and also consider whether they might be interested in a career in sales communication.
Personal Selling and Buying Processes pairs classroom instruction with a semester-long practical experience. Students either serve as independent consultants with a real company or provide sales support for those who do. The course is the first step in the application process for the sales communication specialization, a partnership of the Eli Broad College of Business and the College of Arts and Sciences that is managed by the Strategic Sales Institute.
“Sales is a skill that you must experience to learn,” said Doug Hughes, associate professor of marketing and director of research for the Strategic Sales Institute. “And like riding a bike or skiing, you have to fall down in order to learn how to do it. It’s better for our students to make those mistakes now.”
The course provides practice in the core skills of consultative sales: developing an understanding of a product line and its value proposition, locating and qualifying prospects, performing cold calls and in-person meetings, asking questions to understand potential buyers’ perspectives before sharing any potential solutions, and closing by asking for a sale.
“Selling got me out of my comfort zone and made me focus on building my confidence,” said Cory Urbats (BA Marketing ’15). “It was exciting to take this class because I actually got real-world experience, practiced skills outside the classroom, and made some extra cash while doing it.”
Additional support for students came from student coaches, recruited from students who had done well in past offerings of the course. As peers who had shared the same experience, these coaches were particularly equipped to offer advice and encouragement.
“I noticed an absolute transformation within each of my team members,” noted Isaac Gilliam (BA Marketing ’15). “At the beginning of the semester, many of the students were a little doubtful and self-conscious about how much they could achieve. By the end of this program, however, they had collectively shattered the sales volume of last semester.
“Being able to watch all of them rise above what they thought they could ever accomplish while tackling difficult obstacles has radically redefined how much potential I believe is in every person I come in contact with.”
These results direct some students to the sales communication specialization and a career in sales.
This specialization, established in 2009, has been on the Sales Education Foundation’s “Top Universities for Professional Sales Education” list ever since—and, more importantly, has had 100 percent job placement of its students since its inception.
“We hire from a variety of sources, but the candidates who come to us from MSU are a preferred hiring resource pool because of the exclusivity of the program, the curriculum delivered, and the staff who educate within as well as oversee the program,” said Rick Kursik, vice president of sales for Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting. “For us, the MSU sales education program has become a key success factor for our sales organization.”