Nan Sullivan doesn’t work at Omron Automation, but she might someday. The room she’s standing in isn’t a factory that’s experiencing issues with its equipment, but it might be after she graduates. The people in front of her aren’t clients, but she’ll treat them as such for the next five minutes.
“It’s very spontaneous to have to walk in there and adapt to a scenario,” says Sullivan, a senior studying corporate communication in the Diederich College of Communication. “I didn’t know what to expect, but that’s what sales is all about.”
Improvisational skills were of the utmost importance for Sullivan and her friends, who participated in a sales combine put on by Marquette’s Center for Professional Selling. Over the course of a day, students walked into the Omron Automation Laboratory in Engineering Hall three times, acting out a different scenario on each trip. The students role-played working for Omron and solving client problems with company equipment.
The combine was part of Marquette Sales Week, a five-day series of selling activities that combined fun with hands-on learning. Participants learned about personal branding, heard from an executive at Wisconsin-based electronics manufacturing company Plexus about best sales practices, and competed against each other in “Pitch Purpose,” a two-minute sales presentation competition in which the winner received $500 to donate to a nonprofit.
Students gained valuable hands-on sales experience that they’ll be able to use in the professional world.
“It provides a great selling simulation that you would not get beforehand if you were to go directly into a sales job,” says Malachy Madrigal, a senior marketing major in the College of Business Administration. “I gained so much confidence in my selling through this exercise, even though I’d sold before.”
As the sales students conferred, sharing information with each other about the next scenario, a pair of faculty members walked the next participants to and from the laboratory, offering each a word of encouragement before entering. Dr. Jessica Ogilvie, Brennan Chair in Marketing and director of the Center for Professional Selling, and Dr. Alex Milovic, associate director of the center, jointly organized and administered the week’s events, along with industry relationship manager Jonathon Silvers.
Most of the participants had at least taken sales classes — many of them were part of the program’s student organization — and had worked with these professors and staff members previously.
“Dr. Milovic is my bestie,” Sullivan says. “He was my marketing professor last semester and helped me get my internship at CDW this summer. He’s been a great mentor and supporter of mine.”
“It’s really nice of them to take the time to do this with us and it makes things easier when we have to interview for real,” says Christian John, a senior studying marketing in the College of Business Administration.
Some of the participating students did not have any sales experience. Others had taken a few sales classes but had never done anything outside the classroom. Then there were people like Madrigal, who interned with industrial supplies company Fastenal, selling machine parts in English and Spanish.
“When you’re selling something you believe in, there’s just this feeling you get,” Madrigal says. “You feel so inspired to see the smile on someone’s face. You don’t feel bad about the fact that you’re selling them something.
“What we hope to do here is different than giving someone a spiel about a product that they don’t have an interest in. I sell what I believe in, and our sales program teaches that too; it’s why I’m interested.”
Marquette’s Center for Professional Selling is the only one located at a Jesuit higher education institution and has a strong focus on ethics as part of its ethos. Students in the program are invited to begin the academic year by volunteering at freshman move-in to simultaneously serve the Marquette community and become more comfortable talking to strangers. The center’s industry partners, such as Omron Automation and Flexera, are chosen in part for their integrity toward employees and customers.
The sales combine, along with most of Sales Week’s other events, were meant to give students a window into what working at one of those companies would be like.
“I learned the value of presenting in a shortened period of time while still remaining confident and not acting rushed or scared because of that timeframe,” Madrigal says.
Marquette will host a larger sales competition in the spring, this time inviting schools from around the Midwest. When that happens, these future sales representatives will be ready because of what they learned during Sales Week.
“Doing this now gives you time to think of the things you’d want to say on the next try and you get feedback to make that next opportunity as good as it can be,” John says.