Marquette Business

Selling Marquette: Sales program students answer questions from admitted students

Unique initiative lets current students help prospective families

It’s not hard for sophomore Owen LaSala, co-president of the Sales Leadership Program,  to put himself in a 17-year-old’s shoes: he was there not too long ago. 

“As a high school senior, I was worried about what I’m going to be doing on the weekends in college, how easy it is to meet people and what clubs I can potentially get involved in,” LaSala says. 

That sentiment makes it easy for LaSala to do something that a lot of college students might not be comfortable with: call dozens of strangers, one after another, to help them through their college decision. 

“The first call is always the hardest, and then once you have a good call, it gets a little bit easier. It snowballs,” LaSala says. 

A dozen students in the Sales Leadership Program experienced that firsthand on a rainy evening in early March as they spent hours phoning admitted students in the Marquette Class of 2028, answering their questions about what life at the university would be like. 

Dr. Jess Ogilvie, director of the Center for Professional Selling, and Dr. Alex Milovic, associate director of the Center for Professional Selling, roamed between the long tables set up on the top floor of Sensenbrenner Hall, advising students on the best ways to respond to queries about residence halls and dining options. The event, which was launched several years ago with the help of Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Beth Krey, is all about connective prospective students with resources. 

“Getting a phone call from someone asking how they can help is pretty rare in today’s world,” Ogilvie says. “We’re used to getting calls and emails that ask something of us, so somebody reaching out and doing the opposite at this pivotal stage of life makes a huge difference.” 

Helping admitted students fits in with the Center for Professional Selling’s emphasis on consultative sales. Students engage in experiential learning opportunities that frame sales as a way to help the client instead of merely convincing them to buy something. 

Usually, salespeople get their start by cold calling: contacting a large volume of people with no connection to the product and trying to get them interested. This often leads to a lot of people hanging up the phone. Calling admitted students, on the other hand, is substantially easier because they’ve already signaled an interest in Marquette. Ogilvie views this as a less intimidating, more pleasant way for budding sales professionals to learn the business. 

“It makes it much easier to not have to explain what Marquette is,” Ogilvie says. “In cold calling, you have to explain who you are and why you’re calling when the other party picks up the phone. Here, we do the same thing, but it’s easier. Saying that you’re from Marquette and just want to help versus having to shout your value proposition in the first minute makes for a friendlier interaction.” 

It also helps that participants do not have to cram quite as much to learn how to sell Marquette. Many of the most lucrative technical sales jobs require deep knowledge about specialized machines or software; familiarity with the product is as big of a component to success as interpersonal skills. Having a built-in knowledge base about Marquette allows them to focus more on the fundamentals of selling. 

“The people on the other end of the line have often had a tour as well; it helps that they’ve already been given a lot of basic information too,” LaSala says. “We’re just showing them the student viewpoint. There’s no need to give them a bunch of statistics; you’re simply trying to form a connection with them.” 

“My biggest goal for this is for students to see how fun and how easy it is to sell something you’re passionate about, because the skills we’re giving them can apply to anything,” Ogilvie says. 

While admitted students get much-needed answers for their academic futures, the current students get practice before putting their skills to the test in sales contests all around the country. Sales Leadership Program Co-President Ava Zaug, who has only been with the program for 18 months, has traveled to Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Orlando; and Kennesaw, Georgia, to compete in contests. She will take part in her second Omron Automation-sponsored selling competition this semester, as well. 

“I know some students in this room want to compete, as well, and this is a great way for them to experience sales in a non-judged environment before they do a case competition,” Zaug says. 

At the end of the night, the students debrief with the leadership team, tallying up how many students they called and what the most frequently asked questions were. However, their real impact will be evident weeks or even months later, when a mom or dad comes up to Ogilvie at a reception and tells her that a call from sales students was a large part of their decision to come to Marquette. 
“To know that we helped a student feel a little less anxious and a parent know that their child will be supported here makes me feel really proud,” Ogilvie says.