About three years ago, a survey conducted in LSU’s E.J. Ourso College of Business found more than 50% of its marketing graduates enter sales jobs upon graduation. At the time, the Department of Marketing offered only one sales class.
“That kind of turned the light on all of a sudden,” says marketing adjunct professor and longtime salesman James Parr, who adds he got “slapped in the face” by those results coupled with a national study that showed more than 80% of marketing students went into sales.
Parr took those numbers to heart and realized he and his colleagues needed to do a better job preparing students for the professional sales world.
After 18 months of discussions with university officials, including College of Business Dean Richard White and Marketing Department Chair Ron Niedrich, and enduring the slow process to receive approval from all the university regulatory bodies, the Professional Sales Institute opened about a year ago.
Now, marketing students wishing to pursue a sales career can declare for the sales concentration and take three three-hour classes—professional sales, sales management and either the capstone professional sales practicum or an internship class—taught by adjunct and tenure-track faculty with more than 100 combined years of sales experience. The students can also compete on the LSU sales team, which competes against schools from across the country at sales competitions.
The Institute currently has 80 students, and Program Director Greg Accardo says he expects about 120 in the spring semester. There is a waiting list 52 names long for the professional sales class Parr teaches.
“I guess that’s a good problem to have,” Accardo says. “We’re bursting at the seams.”
That could be because of the early success stories. Of the 12 seniors graduating this month from the institute, eight already have job offers. On Wednesday alone, three students in the program were offered sales jobs by Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Another graduating senior has three job offers on the table, and yet another student will train as a sales manager for Lennox International upon graduation. Accardo says his goal is to get 100% job placement for students upon graduation.
“We’re seeing the success right now with students having multiple offers,” Accardo says.
The institute is receiving positive feedback from local businesses as well, Accardo says, because graduates looking for local sales jobs are now prepared better than ever for the real world, requiring less training and resulting in less staff turnover.
Parr lays the foundation in the professional sales class with basics and insight gleaned from decades as a professional salesman. In the capstone class, Accardo guides the students step by step through making a sale, from prospecting for potential clients through finalizing the deal through dry runs in class that are recorded and dissected to evaluate what students did right and what they did wrong.
This semester, the students in the capstone class went about looking for potential clients for the LSU student media programs, including The Daily Reveille, and found 30 potential new advertisers for the various student media programs.
“They felt the heat, they got the rejections, but they had some successes,” Accardo says.
The next step in growing the institute, Accardo and Parr say, is luring more corporate partners to join. Right now, only three companies—MassMutual insurance, Aflac insurance and Hewlett Packard Enterprise—have jumped on board. Those companies appoint representatives to join the institute’s board of supervisors who oversee the program and offer input on how to make the curriculum better.
“This program will only be successful with outstanding participation from our partners,” Accardo says.