Set Sale: Professor creating, expanding sales education opportunities for students

October 14, 2010

When Kayla Tucker attended a sales contest last spring that featured students competing from more than 50 universities, she wasn't angry at her judge after she didn't win.

After all, he's now one of her coworkers.

The competition Tucker attended featured a simultaneous career fair. Though Tucker, who graduated from Indiana State University in May, didn't win, one of her judges was so impressed with her that he recruited her for an interview with his company, which ultimately led to her full-time job.

"It was spring break," Tucker said, "and it was hands down the best spring break that I've ever had."

Tucker wasn't the only ISU student to attend the event. She and Emily Stites competed at the urging of ISU professor Jon Hawes, who uses competitions as a way to introduce and educate students about sales careers. Although neither student won, they both made contacts that led to full-time jobs amidst the historic unemployment levels of the Great Recession.

"So far, we have participated in two sales competitions. The outcome has been two excellent sales jobs for our students," Hawes said. "That's really good. This year we'll bump that up dramatically."

He is working diligently to ensure that is the case.

The university's board of trustees approved the new Sales and Negotiations Center in February. Hawes, the center's director, has been working to establish the sales program and help get ISU recognized as a great place to recruit sales talent. In addition to his workload as a marketing professor, Hawes' tasks run the gamut from planning events for students to cultivating relationships with prominent members of the business community. His goal is to prepare students for outstanding sales careers, which he admits they might not yet be aware of during their first few years of college.

"Generally, people prepare for jobs currently held by people they know or can relate to. The only sales people that our students have come in contact with worked in retail stores and that is not the type of sales job that we help our students prepare for," Hawes said. "Consequently, they don't think about working as sales executives in the business-to-business sector until we introduce them to highly successful role models in those jobs."

Students have new academic opportunities to learn about sales. For the first time starting this fall, ISU offers a sales management track in the marketing major and a sales and negotiations minor. ISU also now offers certificates in medical sales and insurance sales. Indiana is home to a very vibrant number of companies in the medical, life sciences and health care industries, Hawes said.

"I didn't realize it before I got here, but Indiana has a substantial number of very successful firms within those industries," he added, "and of course our goal is to help our students become very attractive candidates for high paying jobs at those firms."

The Sales and Negotiations Center is an avenue for ISU students to not only learn about new sales opportunities, but to network with professionals. Hawes created the Sales Advisory Council, which consists of various sales leaders, including ISU alumni, who are looking forward to helping develop the sales program.

"They're all people who've had a high level of success in sales and who can help us identify a future direction for our program," Hawes said, "and very importantly, they are the kind of people that serve as great role models for our students."

The council will eventually have between 20 and 25 members, and Hawes continues to search for good candidates. Sales Advisory Council members have opportunities to network with ISU students, which can help the employers on the council find outstanding young salespeople with specialized education and relevant professional experience.

"That's good for our students," Hawes said, "and that's also good for employers who are looking to hire really terrific entry-level sales talent."

Some ISU alumni are taking advantage of the opportunity to be part of the new sales program. Sales Advisory Council member Michael Koval, a 1980 ISU grad, said that the sales business has been evolving, and it's now considered an integral part of a company.

"Without revenue, you have no jobs, the rest of the company has no work," said Koval, who is vice president of packaging and purchasing for Schreiber Foods in Green Bay, Wis. "Somebody has to go out and bring in the business to" create work for employees and drive profit, and that's the sales team.

Koval said he wants to help ISU students understand that "coming out of here, you can do great things."

The Sales and Negotiations Center has already provided some ways for sales professionals to more directly help students. Hawes recruits sales professionals to help students prepare for competitions, which he notes has been productive. The center also includes the Sales and Negotiations Lab, where students are filmed while practicing sales interactions and negotiation sessions. The recordings are later analyzed to address the strong and weak points.

"For people to become really good salespeople, they need to have an opportunity to review and reflect on their performance, and the best way to do that is to watch it on video," Hawes said.

The center is "a vehicle" to help ISU build distinction in sales and negotiations, said Nancy Merritt, dean of the Scott College of Business, which houses the new sales programs and center.

"The communication and problem solving skills learned are combined with professional development activities and are leading to an increased number of recruiters seeking ISU students for internships and career positions," Merritt said.

Hawes' hard work has already started to pay dividends. In April, the University Sales Education Foundation listed ISU as having a top university sales program. The foundation works to identify universities that commit resources to their sales programs, Hawes said.

"It means that we're now recognized as a program that has a focus on sales," he added, "and we're much more likely to have recruiters come to Indiana State to look for salespeople."

The center already has conducted major events since the school year started. In late September, the center sponsored the Sales Career Exploration Event, which featured professionals from different sales fields speaking to students about their careers. Afterward, students had an opportunity to network with representatives from companies attending the function.

Hawes estimates that more than 100 students attended the event. Another Sales Career Exploration Event is already scheduled for February 2011.

Meanwhile, Hawes continues to improve the Sales and Negotiations Center while training students for the sales discipline. He ultimately hopes that his work will help students develop as professionals, just as the faculty helped him when he attended ISU in the 1970s.

"If I can do that," Hawes said, "life is good."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Sales-Career-Exploration/092810salescareerexploration/1027147442_NNVED-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Jon Hawes, director of the Sales and Negotiations Center, sits in the audience for a presentation during the Sales Career Exploration Event on Sept. 28.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Sales-Career-Exploration/092810salescareerexploration/1027153202_ZzjV2-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
ISU student Lauren Martin, a senior marketing major from Schaumburg, Ill., talks with another attendee at the Sales Career Exploration Event.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Sales-Career-Exploration/092810salescareerexploration/1027146267_72Rks-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Corey Rekers, district marketing manager for Federated Insurance, speaks to the audience about his career during the Sales Career Exploration Event. Rekers is also a member of the Sales Advisory Council for the Sales and Negotiations Center.

Contact: Jon Hawes, director of the Sales and Negotiations Center, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, 812-237-2286 or jon.hawes@indstate.edu

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu