Majoring in Sales

Between 13 and 23 million people have sales jobs in the United States. For many years, none of the 2000+ four year public and private colleges in this country offered sales as a major. Curious as to why, I began to look into the matter. 

According to Dr. Terry Loe, Ph.D., professor at Kennesaw State University and one of the founders of the National Collegiate Sales Competition (NCSC), "This was because sales was seen as more of a vocation than a profession by the academic community. Published research is the currency to help colleges develop a curriculum. While research began as early as the 1940's, there's been more of a concentrated effort over the last 50 years."

"Attitudes began to change with the greater availability of formalized research. In the mid-eighties, Baylor University started a sales center, then Northern Illinois University followed suit a few years later."

Dr. Loe says, "Today, approximately 150 colleges and universities have some kind of a sales curriculum and 45 have a dedicated sales center. When people see it taught at the university level, it builds credibility for the profession."

To learn more, I spoke to Robert Nadeau, a Professor at Plymouth State University, and the founder and Director of the University's Professional Sales Program.  

What is your own sales / sales management background?

As a kid, I had a knack for fundraisers - UNICEF, Dollars for Scholars, Boy Scouts - but I didn't know what it was. Post-college, I was a management trainee for McDonald's and then went to work for Liberty Mutual for 25 years.  As the Regional Operations Manager for Liberty Mutual, I oversaw five operations managers who led 36 front-line sales and service managers who in turn supervised over 500 employees.  

How did you first find out about colleges with professional sales programs?

While at Liberty Mutual, I researched different area colleges to affiliate with to hire sales reps. At the time, the closest school with any kind of professional sales program was UConn. Liberty Mutual became a corporate sponsor and the results were phenomenal.  

We hired 8 - 10 interns per year and offered 4 or 5 a full time job upon graduation.

What was your role in Plymouth States' Professional Sales Program?

I was starting to formulate a second career game plan, thinking down the road I'll do this (teaching). So I started adjuncting one night a week - teaching a sales management class - and loved it. I approached the dean about creating a sales program and had his full support.  We went through the process of creating a formalized program.

What advantages do students coming out of a program like Plymouth State's have?

When students receive a degree in professional sales, it sets them apart from many of the other graduates and job applicants. With 120 hours of classroom time, that equates to 3 weeks or more of professional training. This doesn't even include homework assignments and special projects they complete.

Our program helps them discover incredible opportunities.  I have 8 - 10 speakers come in each semester - one was an executive from a medical company. A student, minoring in biology, was all excited about this company. She could sell and work for an organization whose product interested her. It was a connection to a job she didn't even know existed prior to this.

Most importantly, many are offered jobs before graduation.

What are the concerns of today's sales program graduates?

The students ask, "Can I really do this?"  They wonder about their ability to sell away from academia. If they do poorly on a school assignment, they don't get an A. They know the real world consequences are different.

What should employers know about Millennials?  What do they need?  What are they looking for in a job or career?

Millennials represent 30% of the workforce today and that number will climb as more baby boomers retire. I want to debunk a myth:  they aren't lazy and they do not have a poor work ethic. But they do need to be properly guided and motivated. Most are independent thinkers who need to understand more of the "why."

On the personal side, they have a real concern with work life balance. Millennials want to make a difference and give back through civic activities. They need their voices to be heard.

What do employers tell you they need from the graduates?

This generation struggles with communication skills.  Employers ask, "Can you please teach them how to make a phone call?" In my class we work on the basics:  having a conversation, making eye contact, and networking.  My students make out-going sales calls to develop leads for corporate sponsors. I teach them the proper way to shake some one's hand - the old fashioned stuff.

Learn more about the National Collegiate Sales Competition as well as Plymouth State University's Professional Sales Program.