The U of M sales team at the Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up national sales competition at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. Left to right are Nick Carline, Alexandra Bump, Bryce Kelley, Todd Williams, and Taylor Guckeen.

Ahead of the pack

The Center for Sales Leadership Education gives students
real-world selling experience

As an undergraduate pursuing a business and marketing education (BME) degree, Bryce Kelley knew that he set himself apart. With business and BME majors in abundance, “you end up learning a lot of the same things in the classroom” as other students, Kelley says. “I was looking for a vehicle to separate myself from my peers.”

He found that vehicle at the Center for Sales Leadership and Education (CSLE). Founded in 2016, CSLE is a program within CEHD that provides additional learning opportunities for students interested in a career in sales. 

“What we do is support students interested in professional selling,” CSLE executive director Todd Williams says. “This is in addition to their undergraduate coursework. When students participate in a number of activities throughout the center, it really helps them to get a leg up in the marketplace.”

“When students participate in a number of activities throughout the center, it really helps them to get a leg up in the marketplace.”

-Todd Williams

Power of partnerships

Several other colleges and universities have similar programs. But Williams, who became the center’s executive director in June 2019 after a 29-year sales and marketing career at Procter & Gamble and Target, believes that there are several attributes that set CSLE apart.

For instance: “The interaction model that we have with our corporate partners is really strong,” he says. “We have a number of executives that students can interact with and can get access to job opportunities.” And because of these partnerships, “we can provide all the benefits of CSLE at no additional or incremental cost to the students.” 

CSLE also gives partner organizations the opportunity to help nurture future salespeople while they’re still in college. “The experiences CSLE sets up with corporate partners interacting with students are probably the most beneficial,” says April Goodin, director of operations for the Minnesota Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers Association. “This gets our agents in front of those students and talking with them about the industry.” 

Another industry partner is Owatonna-based Federated Insurance. Federated district marketing manager Patrick Swetala has been involved since CSLE’s founding. He credits Roy Gaddey, CSLE’s founding executive director, for “setting up a really strong platform. Todd has continued that while adding new people and new ideas.” The number and variety of activities, Swetala adds, “puts the students in a great environment to compete and to learn. It challenges them.”

Future success

Corporate partners also participate in CLSE’s “sales team” competitions. CSLE students compete with students within the University and from other schools via sales-call role-play scenarios with company executives. 

When Alexandra Bump, another recent CEHD BME graduate, joined the sales team in her junior year, “I really had no idea what to expect,” she recalls. The guidance she received from others: Just practice and then dive in. Once she began to compete, she received feedback and insights into how to improve. 

Senior Olivia Peterson participates in a sales role play with Aaron Cole, the director of higher education and government sales at Tierney.

“I learned how to sound more conversational, and how to better handle an objection, the timing of how a sales meeting should go, the whole balance of how much I should be talking versus how much the client should be talking—the intricacies of sales,” Bump says. “You can’t learn those things by reading a textbook or taking a class. You have to live it.” 

Just a few weeks after graduating in December, Bump joined vehicle-maker Polaris’ sales and marketing leadership development program. Every six months, she will “get a new job, essentially” in sales and marketing, she says. “The aim is to cultivate future leaders in the company.” Bump believes that her CSLE participation gave her a lot of confidence—and “a huge head start for my career.” 

Under Williams’ leadership, CSLE is keeping pace with industry innovation. Late in 2019, sales team members participated in “one of the first virtual selling competitions” with students from across the country. Virtual selling—where salespeople pitch to customers via computer rather than face to face—“is an innovation that is coming very quickly into the sales profession,” Williams says. “We’re going to go through the process not just of competing but also understanding how it works.” 

Speaking of technological innovation: In February, Bryce Kelley started his new job as an account manager for technology research and consulting firm Gartner’s Fort Myers, Florida, office. “I’m working with companies on technology strategy, market efficiencies, product development, and research,” Kelley says. He gives much of the credit for landing that prestigious first job to CSLE. “I think the sales center is one of the most underutilized assets of this campus,” he says.  

Story by Gene Rebeck | Photos by Corey Wipper, Courtesy of CSLE; Courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, School of Business | Spring/Summer 2020

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