Quincy Thuma, a senior majoring in marketing, practices her elevator speech with Assistant Professor Alec Pappas at the WSU Career Fair.

More Students Explore Professional Sales Careers as Program Expands to Pullman Campus

By Becky Kramer

Andrew Parker listens to feedback on his elevator speech.

Mac Ladd pictured himself working in advertising until he signed up for an Introduction to Professional Sales class.

By the time he completed the class and took part in two collegiate sales competitions, Ladd (’18 Mktg.) was fielding calls from job recruiters. He was still a junior at WSU Vancouver.

“It really put sales on the map for me as a serious profession to consider,” says Ladd, now a midmarket account executive for MongoDB, a database company. “If you are the type of person who goes all in, sales gives you the opportunity to earn so much more than most people coming out of college.”

The Carson College of Business’s sales program recently expanded, allowing more WSU students to explore sales as a potential career. The program got its start at the WSU Vancouver campus in 2006 and is now offered in Pullman, where about 125 students took sales classes during the fall semester.

“Our industry partners throughout the Northwest want to hire more of our graduates, so we’re excited to bring the sales program to the Pullman campus,” said Ron Pimentel, director of the Professional Sales Program.

Students from all majors are welcome in the program, which teaches highly marketable skills.

“There’s an incredibly tight labor market right now in sales, and demand for good people is reflected in salaries,” says Kevin Chase, assistant professor in the Department of Marketing and International Business.

Students often think they’ll earn $100,000 after they graduate, Chase notes. For someone with a few years of sales experience, that’s a realistic annual wage, he says.

Despite abundant professional opportunities, many students shy away from sales, says Bitty Balducci, an assistant marketing professor, who was hired with Chase and faculty member Alec Pappas to grow the Pullman sales program.

Special thanks to the Carson College’s industry partners who support the Professional Sales Program through sponsorships:

Crimson Sponsor
PayneWest Insurance

Silver Sponsors
Fisher Investments

Cougar Sponsor
C.H. Robinson

“Part of our job is to tear down the stereotypes of working in sales,” Balducci says.

Business-to-business sales

People often picture sales jobs as selling cars at a dealership or working at a retail outlet. But that’s not what the WSU sales program is about, faculty members say.

“We focus on business-to-business sales, preparing students for a long, complex sales cycle where they’re working with customers on solutions that fit their needs,” Chase says.

“You’re not trying to pawn something off on someone,” Balducci adds. “You’re selling them something that will actually solve a problem for them.”

Students can take a single sales class or complete a five-class professional sales certificate. The introductory class helps students with things like sending prospecting emails and developing an elevator speech. More advanced classes focus on sales management, forecasting, the sales process, and using customer relationship management software.

“Sales is a skillset of listening, communicating, negotiating, and persuading,” says Pappas, an assistant marketing professor. “Even if they don’t go into sales, these are skills students can use in any job.”

That includes selling themselves to get their first job, Pappas tells students in his Introduction to Professional Sales class.

At WSU’s fall career fair, Jake Nguyen practiced his elevator speech on Pappas before heading off to talk to job recruiters. “Sales is part of every occupation and everything you encounter out in the real world, including developing your own brand and being able to sell it to strangers,” says Nguyen, a senior majoring in management and information systems.

Before he took the intro to sales class, Nguyen felt awkward pitching himself. But with practice, he’s developed a confident elevator speech that includes his past work experience and his interest in cybersecurity.

“Introduction to Sales has been one of my favorite classes,” says Sebastian Villalobos, a senior majoring in international business and finance.

Villalobos’s past mentors told him he has a “sales personality,” but the class helped him refine his relationship-building skills for business settings, he says.

Meeting sales professionals

Shawn Petrie of PayneWest Insurance talks about sales careers in the insurance industry.

Besides the coursework, “we want to give students lots of exposure to what sales jobs are like in different industries, such as insurance, finance, or technology,” Balducci says. Through the program, students get to meet industry professionals who are guest speakers in class, mentors, and judges at collegiate sales competitions. “Hopefully, at the end of the day, they’ll have a lot of excellent job offers they can choose from,” she says.

Shawn Petrie and Nate Fulton, who work for PayneWest Insurance, recently spoke in Balducci’s sales management class, where they discussed opportunities in the insurance industry.

The average age of insurance professionals is 59. With a wave of retirements looming, “we’re looking at bringing in the next generation—not just to our industry, but to our agency as well,” says Petrie, a regional sales director.

After judging a Carson College sales competition, where they critiqued students performing role plays, PayneWest signed on as a program sponsor.

“We remember what it was like to get started in the field and how valuable it was when someone was willing to be a mentor, field questions, or open a door,” says Fulton, an agribusiness practice director. “We’re thrilled to support students interested in sales, which has both tremendous rewards and challenges in earning those rewards.”

C.H. Robinson, a transportation and logistics company, also supports the program as a sponsor. In a typical year, the company hires 5 to 10 WSU graduates for sales roles, says Amy VanderWel, the company’s principal recruiter for western North America.

“Students from WSU’s professional sales certificate program understand how to build relationships and identify the needs of customers,” she says. “You can’t skate through that program. The students work hard at hands-on learning and responding to feedback. They’ve been put in uncomfortable situations to grow their skills, so when they get to the real business world, it’s not as scary.”

Talented salespeople are critical for a company’s growth, and it’s a competitive market for hiring, VanderWel adds. “Being open to a sales career could have a positive impact on a lot of people’s lives,” she says.