Dr. Jess Ogilvie has trained thousands of salespeople, conducted sales research as part of her doctorate and is the executive director of Marquette’s Center for Professional Selling.
And yet, the first time a professor gave Ogilvie the chance to learn sales as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama, she couldn’t run fast or far enough away from it.
“One of my teachers told me that it would be good for me to learn sales and I was absolutely not interested,” Ogilvie says. “To this day, one of the only regrets of my life is saying no to that opportunity.”
Ogilvie has gone from avoiding sales to being the university’s foremost expert in the subject. Marquette is one of fewer than 70 schools in the country to be part of the University Sales Center Alliance, a group the university joined when it opened its sales center in 2021. It is the only center of its kind at a Catholic, Jesuit institution.
Bringing those Jesuit values into the classroom is a huge priority for Ogilvie, who is aware that a lot of people hear “sales” and think of Willy Loman or “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
“Tomorrow’s sales jobs are consultative and built around servant leadership, which are also Marquette’s values,” Ogilvie says. “It’s never about pressuring people into buying things.”
“There’s a real stigma around sales in general sometimes,” senior Will Dales says. “People still think of us as door to door or have the misconception that there’s deceit involved, like we’re going to trick people into buying something they don’t really need.”
In the past, sales mostly focused on transactional relationships with customers: simply facilitating the purchase of a good or service. Nowadays, direct-to-consumer technology platforms are making those types of sales obsolete — for instance, online person-to-person used car sales taking the place of a physical lot.
The types of sales jobs that Ogilvie sees enduring and growing are those that involve the use of expertise for maintenance, consultation and decision-making beyond the initial point of sale — all of which represents a much deeper level of engagement with the client.
“Ethical selling means working together instead of it being transactional. My job is to help you and form a relationship with you, not just get you to buy something,” Ogilvie says. “It’s more about selling solutions than selling products.”
Students who choose professional selling as an emphasis or join the sales club as an extracurricular activity get hands-on experience. Jonathon Silvers, who transferred to Marquette from Highland Community College in Illinois, found the sales club during a virtual version of O-Fest, the university’s biannual showcase for student organizations and joined on a whim. After graduating in 2022, Silvers came back to the program that shaped his student experience as an industry relationship manager, helping connect sales students with employers.
“I had a few job offers that I turned down to take this role,” Silvers says. “Being with Jess in the sales center, I see the potential it has, and I really want to help grow that. I think Marquette is a great place to get involved with sales.”
Omron, an electronics company, is a major sponsor of the sales center, as is software company Flexera — an arrangement that provides students with the opportunity to practice their technique in front of potential future employers.
“One of Professor Ogilvie’s big things is she doesn’t put companies in front of us that she wouldn’t work for,” Dales says. “I have a lot of respect for that.”
“Everything that you learn in this program is applicable; whatever we do in the classroom translates to our careers in the real world,” Silvers says.
He recalls learning about the traits and practices of effective sales managers in Ogilvie’s class on the subject, even though students likely would not be in that position immediately after graduation. She still wanted them to be ready for the day the call came.
“There’s not a lot of wasted work — everything she does has a purpose and that’s the biggest thing I got out of her classes,” Silvers adds.
Before students get in front of companies, Ogilvie has them build relationships with their classmates. She asks everyone in her program to be on campus during freshman orientation week to help them navigate campus life. Sales students blend in with orientation leaders, guiding them to their dorms and talking to them about different clubs they could join.
In Ogilvie’s eyes, this experience serves two important purposes: first, to further the combination of servant leadership and consultative practice that makes Marquette’s sales program unique, and second, to teach arguably the toughest part of sales — getting comfortable with talking to strangers.
“The biggest thing that starting sales students need to learn is confidence. That comes from having adult experiences,” Ogilvie says. “Our students give out their cellphone numbers and make relationships with freshmen the same way they would with a client.”
Whether it’s with a first-year student at The Commons or a client in a boardroom, the fundamentals of ethical consultative sales that underpin Marquette’s center remain the same.
“Great sales is about service and helping people make decisions that allow them to reach their goals,” Ogilvie says.