PSU’s Professional Sales Leadership program prepares the next generation of salespeople.
by Barbra Alan
Imagine you’re a 21-year-old business major in a room full of potential employers. With each person you meet, you have 60 seconds to tell him or her your name, what you do, and the qualities you think a successful representative possesses. Ready, set, go!
How did you do?
If you went into overtime, you’re not alone. Even the most seasoned business professionals have stumbled during this exercise, as Robert Nadeau, director of PSU’s Professional Sales Leadership Program, and his students have seen at Business Network International meetings—one of the largest business networking opportunities in the world. “It can be intimidating,” acknowledges Nadeau.
Yet Nadeau’s students can do it flawlessly within 50 seconds. “The professionals are stunned and impressed,” he says. “And this leads to opportunities: they meet with my students afterward, and business cards are exchanged.”
This one-minute “elevator pitch” is just one of the real-world exercises Nadeau—himself a 20-year veteran in sales management—has his students practice in class.
Walk into one of his classes and you won’t find him lecturing to a sea of note-takers. Instead, you’ll see his students out of their seats, interacting with each other and role-playing. And you’ll see Nadeau walking around the room, listening and observing each student group, and offering praise
or constructive criticism as the situation warrants.
Nadeau’s introduction to Plymouth State dates back to 2003, when he started to pursue his MBA while working full-time as a regional operations manager for Liberty Mutual Insurance. His professors immediately picked up on his high energy, charisma, and wealth of experience, and invited him to guest lecture in their classes. “It was fun to see the students’ eyes light up when I shared stories from the business world: what you can do, how much you can earn, and how you can help people,” Nadeau says.
Enjoying the interaction with students, Nadeau taught an evening course in sales management at PSU after earning his MBA. Realizing that his interests lie more in the classroom than in the boardroom, Nadeau left the corporate world in 2008 to teach full-time in PSU’s College of Business Administration (CoBA). “It was a great ride,” he says of his time in sales, “but I get to do so many innovative things here at PSU. And I’m doing so much more research now, learning things I wish I had known when I was in sales, and sharing them with my students.”
New Opportunity for PSU Students
Nadeau quickly proved himself to be an instructor committed to student success. “The number one job for college graduates, according to the Department of Labor, is sales or sales support,” he says. “Yet not many universities train people for sales. I saw a tremendous opportunity for PSU and our students.”
When Nadeau pitched the idea of creating a sales program to CoBA Dean Trent Boggess, it turned out to be an easy sell. “It was immediately clear to me that this [program] was a good idea,” says Boggess. With enthusiastic support from Boggess, Nadeau developed what would eventually be the curriculum for the Professional Sales Leadership Program. He started by reaching out to schools with established sales programs, including Ohio State and Florida State, to compare notes.
Once he had a draft curriculum and course syllabi for the proposed program, he shared it with CoBA faculty, then with the PSU Curriculum Committee, and then with the entire PSU faculty. According to Nadeau, the support for launching the Professional Sales Leadership Program was overwhelming. “Everyone was excited. Nationally, there are only 60 sales programs out of nearly 4,200 universities. So this program is a big differentiator for PSU.”
In fall 2009, CoBA offered two sections of Professional Selling Skills I to a total of 41 students. The course teaches the core components of the sales process, consultative sales skills, the value of networking, and using a customer relationship management (CRM) system. In the semesters since, the course has steadily grown in popularity: in spring 2010, both sections of the course filled in four days, so a third section was offered. In fall 2010, all three sections were filled in the first week of registration. Nadeau credits students in the program and his colleagues across campus for this phenomenon: “From their positive word of mouth, we’re filling these courses.”
The program also includes Professional Selling Skills II, which focuses on business-to-business sales and offers students the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in partnership with area businesses and organizations. “The students meet with business owners, introduce themselves, and explain how they can help the business,” explains Nadeau. “It’s a great lesson in influence, negotiation, and follow-up, because partnerships don’t always happen the first time.”
Over the past few semesters, Professional Selling Skills II students have helped Plymouth-area Shop Local increase its membership by 49 percent, helped CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in Plymouth increase its volunteer pool, and helped raise awareness on campus for Whole Village Family Resource Center, an initiative of the Lakes Region United Way that provides a wide range of services to the Plymouth community. Their efforts will culminate in an end-of-semester rail jam (a snowboarding contest where snowboarders navigate a course that includes metal rails) fundraiser. Most recently PSS II students participated in the Annual Fund Calling Program, inspiring Plymouth State alumni to renew their connection with their alma mater and to support the PSU Annual Fund.
Rounding out the program are Interpersonal Relations, in which students build the managerial skills necessary for a diverse and dynamic workplace; Sales Management, in which students learn how to develop and build a productive sales organization; and Sales Internship, in which students apply their newfound skills as interns at businesses and organizations.
The program benefits more than just business and marketing majors, Nadeau says. “Any student, from any discipline, can enroll in the program. Communications majors, biology majors, and even music majors should know how to sell and promote their services—there are sales opportunities in nearly every field you can imagine.”
Joining Nadeau in teaching the Professional Sales Leadership Program courses are PSU alumni and business professionals Michael Kilfoyle ’95, ’07G and Steve King ’86. King and Nadeau connected in June 2009 at the dedication of the PSU Veteran’s Common, a space on campus that honors military alumni. As president of Phi Beta Upsilon, a fraternal organization created by veterans for veterans, King delivered the dedication speech. Nadeau was blown away. “He was so poised and articulate,” Nadeau recalls. “When the event ended, I introduced myself and asked him what he did—I wasn’t surprised to discover he was in sales.”
At Nadeau’s invitation, King started guest speaking in Nadeau’s classes. Then King decided the time was right to do something he had always wanted to do: teach. “I always had a desire to teach and develop talent,” he says. “To come back to PSU—where it all started for me—and teach has felt like coming home.”
Kilfoyle, who, like King, started teaching at PSU in the fall of 2009, agrees. “PSU provided me wonderful learning experiences and mentors when I was a student and I hope that I’m providing the same for my students.”
Both Kilfoyle and King balance their teaching duties with very successful careers: Kilfoyle is director of sales and marketing with Hickock and Boardman Group Benefits, and King is director of national accounts at Océ Business Services.
Nadeau, King, and Kilfoyle teach more than sales and management skills; they also impress upon their students the importance of ethics and professionalism. “I’m always telling my students, ‘Your name is all you have,’” Nadeau says. “Know your competition, and be honest if your solution isn’t the best fit. People will respond to that. You don’t have to be pushy or manipulate people for the sale.”
“We gear our instruction [in this program] on the challenges that await the students in the corporate world,” adds King. “I set guidelines that exist in the corporate world, and hold students accountable. They learn how to research a company, define objectives, and build solutions to meet those objectives. They learn the importance of excellent communication skills, in speech and in writing. I’ve found that the more I expect from my students, and the more I challenge them to build on their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, the better they do.”
“This program has given me a great deal of confidence,” says Steve Dade ’12, who came into the program with sales experience and recently launched his own business, Dade Sales and Marketing Consultation. “It has given me the skills to talk with customers, ask the right questions to find out what they need, and work with them on a solution.”
Lessons learned in the classroom are supported by the stories and experiences shared by guest lecturers, many of whom are also successful alumni, including Chris Swanson ’89, owner of seven Dunkin Donuts franchises in the greater Boston area, and Larry Haynes ’86, president and CEO for the Grappone Automotive Group, one of New Hampshire’s largest automotive retailing groups.
Alumni involvement in the program doesn’t stop there. In November 2010, King reached out to alumni and other business professionals to develop the Sales Advisory Board at PSU. The board, whose responsibilities include promoting the Professional Sales Leadership Program and providing feedback and input on its curriculum, is composed of sales professionals from all over the country. The board meets quarterly: twice in person at Plymouth State, and twice via conference call. The night before the most recent in-person meeting last May, Nadeau held a networking event where students mingled with board members and made connections.
According to Jamison Clouthier ’08, an enterprise server, storage, and networking specialist with Hewlett-Packard and
member of the Sales Advisory Board, “the students’ level of professionalism is impressive. They’re confident, they look you in the eye, they ask intelligent questions—it’s great to see. What we’re doing is clearly working.”
Already Nadeau and his colleagues are seeing that the Professional Sales Leadership Program is indeed putting students on track for rewarding careers. It’s not unusual for Nadeau to advise a student who is weighing multiple job offers from companies like Hewlett-Packard and W.B. Mason, months before graduation, even in the current economic climate. “Look around you—we’re surrounded by things that are bought and sold every day,” notes Nadeau. “Salespeople are always needed, and they help create jobs and generate revenue.”
While he could never have predicted the course his successful career in business would take, Nadeau is pleased with the result. “We’re helping students open their eyes to sales as a rewarding and honorable profession,” he says. “To see Jamison come back [to PSU] to speak to students, to see students get excited about sales, and to have students tell me about their job offers—that’s incredibly gratifying to me.”
Barbra Alan is editorial manager in the Office of Public Relations.