They’re making it happen through a new state-of-the-art Northwestern Mutual Sales Lab in the Herberger Business School, that utilizes high-definition cameras, cloud hosting and multi-room interconnectivity.
While listening to and viewing student’s presentations from the lab’s control room, Bristow and other sales faculty can give advice via an earbud to each student, providing immediate feedback, guidance and suggestions in the sales process simulation.
A third room, the sales classroom, is full of students who view and listen to the sales presentations being made in the sales simulation room. With the push of a button, Bristow, in the control room, communicates with the students in the sales classroom commenting and teaching the techniques and miscues being performed.
Managing partner, The Columns Resource Group
Unveiled in the fall of 2014, the lab is part of the Herberger Business School’s new Professional Selling Specialization program to meet the ongoing demand for university graduates in the professional selling and sales management field.
“The program was built upon the recognition that professional selling, that is, business-to-business, industrial selling offers university graduates excellent career opportunities,” said Bristow, a professor and chairperson of the marketing department. “The top-selling firms in the United States are looking to hire university graduates who are well trained and can demonstrate their selling skills.”
The lab was made possible through a gift from Northwestern Mutual, a Milwaukee-based financial services company with six Minnesota offices.
“We hope that through our sponsorship of the Northwestern Mutual Sales Lab, students will enter the professional world better prepared and equipped to be successful,” said Mark Heurung ’90, managing partner at The Columns Resource Group of Northwestern Mutual. “The lab helps enable students to practice their techniques and get invaluable feedback from their peers. That type of interaction and experience is invaluable in the workplace.”
The next generation
Today’s sales environment includes social networking and technology components that are relatively new. The global and cultural aspects of professional selling add new and complex elements to sales presentations and the communication model.
“I graduated from St. Cloud State in 1990 and this type of education did not exist,” Heurung said. “Having (the lab) at St. Cloud State is an incredible opportunity for the students to enhance their skills in influencing and learning to help them take action.”
The Northwestern Mutual Sales Lab includes strong experiential hands-on learning opportunities for students in five programs and courses — principles of marketing, business communications, professional selling skills, sales management and professional selling specialization.
“St. Cloud State students will gain comparative advantage when they enter the job market and as they progress through their selling and sales management careers,” Bristow said. “The University will benefit from strong and vibrant relationships with the community and from the knowledge that our graduates are well prepared for success in a variety of fields and disciplines.”
“Across industries, there will always be a need for highly qualified sales representatives,” said Josh Longnecker, managing director of Northwestern Mutual’s St. Cloud branch. “This lab allows St. Cloud State students free access to the best sales ideas, the best sales method and language, and state-of-the-art technology to evaluate their growth and success.”
Creating the mold
Studies indicate that up to 88 percent of marketing majors and up to 65 percent of all business majors will begin or spend part of their careers in professional selling. Additionally, graduates of sales programs are better at making effective sales presentations and are better at making personal connections with potential clients.
“St. Cloud alumni are second-to-none, as are the faculty and staff. We regularly recruit new interns and financial representatives from St. Cloud because of their knowledge, experience and intangibles,” Heurung said.
About 10-15 St. Cloud State students landed internships at Northwestern Mutual last spring and fall. During the summer that number typically doubles to about 25-30 St. Cloud State students.
One of Northwestern Mutual’s top-performing interns, Jared Krog ’13, was the company’s nation-wide number one intern for 2013.
“St. Cloud State interns are eager to learn in a real-world business setting. Faculty and staff are educating them on the importance of active learning and getting their feet in the door with a reputable company — certainly an advantage that will pay off in experience and networking,” Longnecker said.
Outside of direct classwork, Bristow and his colleagues, such as Dave Titus, a new professor with more than 30 years of selling experience, have big plans for the sales lab.
“For example, the fall 2014 Northwestern Mutual/Marco Sales Competition is limited to St. Cloud State students; in the future the department wants to open the competition up to students to all MnSCU schools and ultimately to create a regional sales competition,” Bristow said.
The department is also talking with area business leaders about providing sales training to their employees via the Northwestern Mutual Sales Lab.
“Most people think that sales training is only for a traditional sales role,” Heurung said. “We personally believe that everyone is making a sale all the time. We’re driven to ‘do what’s right’ for others — and in this case, we hope that giving back will lift all boats, giving students the skills they need while helping to build a skilled workforce that all businesses and nonprofits in the area can benefit from.”