Khoula: Hi, I’m Khoula Mehmood and this is The BusinessMakers Show. Our topic today, Sales, and we’re coming to you from the University of Houston Sales Lab. And my guest is John Pingel, Director of Corporate Relations, Sales Excellence Institute at the University of Houston. Hi John, thanks so much for being here today.
John: Thank you for having me.
Khoula: So tell me a little bit more about the Sales Excellence Institute.
John: You go through a very extensive interview application process and something like 600 – 800 students apply and if you’re lucky enough to have made the strong enough case like you did you’re able to join our program for a year. And I think what’s really unique about the program as well is that it’s a minor; we made sure to keep it as a minor so that people of all majors across campus can join us. So we have students that are, you know, as you know Marketing and Psychology, Communications, Music Majors, and we’ve obviously realized that in Sales, or regardless of what role you ever are in, you’re always selling something; yourself, selling ideas or potentially selling a product. And so we’re really unique in that we kept it as a minor.
Khoula: Tell me a little bit regarding the educational curriculum of the Program for Excellence in Selling.
John: It’s a year and the goal is to match the training or the discussion in our curriculum on the science and the art of sales; basic sales foundations of sales process, we teach spin selling in our program. Working with companies like SalesForce.com to teach our students how to leverage technology to be even more efficient and effective sales people, walking them through transactional sales to key account selling, account management and even more so the aspects of sales leadership.
But what really separates us from the other 110 other universities that have a sales program is that we’re the only program in the country, if not the world, that requires our students – such as you – to sell a real product, carry a quota and if they don’t hit that quota they don’t move on in the program. So there’s a real world aspect to what you’re getting to learn in the program.
What we’ve found is when students are able to learn in class but also apply it in real world what our corporate partner is able to experience is a 50% faster ramp up and 30% less turnover when an under grad goes into an intricate level sales job; whether that’s in Retail or it’s B to B, B to C, inside or outside sales. We’re seeing a tremendous uptick in their ability to start their careers off strong and make a difference in that company.
Khoula: I also know that you started the gold program so tell me how did that go about.
John: Yeah, so I graduated from the Program for Excellence in Selling back in ’02 which I know feels like a long time ago for you, not so much for me, but we were much smaller then; we didn’t have the corporate support. While we did have amazing academic support here on campus through our dean and the marketing department, we were still developing that, you know, who we were. And so we were looking for new ways to find students to, you know, opportunities to engage the community and hone those selling skills and we had a professor that came up with the idea of the golf tournament. And I was fortunate enough to have just graduated from PS at the time and for whatever reason they thought it would be a good fit for me to help develop the golf tournament and make it into a viable option for the students to sell. And here we are, what, 13 years later, 14 years later and we have 700 people that plan to attend the golf tournament this semester which is fantastic.
Khoula: Absolutely, that’s very admirable. The Customer Relationship Management class is definitely one of my favorite classes in PS, very fortunate enough to actually exceed quota by 400% now being in the top 10%.
John: You exceeded quota at 400%?
John: Amazing. What was your experience; what do you think the hardest thing being a student brand new to sales, no sales background before you walked in, what was the hardest thing to get over, maybe the hardest thing it took a long time to grasp?
Khoula: Currently I feel that some of the hardest things to do are just getting over the objection. It’s hard to hear no a couple times but then it really forces you to grow a tough skin. As you said it’s a very transactional sale but one of my best sales was actually selling to one of our corporate partners Nationwide Financial Services and I feel one of the best parts was that just through the luck that the relationship with the customer, just figuring out what their needs are and just like you said, following through the spin process of selling. Just trying to figure out what the customer needs are and trying to solve problems and fulfilling that need.
John: Good. What was the one thing that surprised you the most about yourself, whether it was a skill set; something you didn’t really know you had in you before you started making these calls and engaging customers?
Khoula: I would say that has to be like confidence, definitely. Picking up the phone was very hard for me; actually going out and meeting with clients was very challenging as well but like I think I like to say that, you know, PS really prepared me to master the art of cold calling. And so tell me a little bit regarding the second semester; like when I transition into the second semester role what are some of the other sells that I – we have to make?
John: Yeah, so there’s really three areas we want to try and train from a real world perspective; you’re experiencing the transactional side right now. We have an account management sell where our second semester students are selling at a career fair. And so the students will manage the relationships of companies that just solely attend the career fair.
And we have a select few students of the 150 that we take 20 of those students, we put them into the Key Account class and these students are learning how to sell to C suite, right; C suite executives, more strategic sells. And so these students, as part of their product to sell, are selling partnerships that we – we form with these fortune 500 companies. And so it’s a really unique experience from in class learning the difference between selling to a purchasing agent and executive of an organization but nothing is better – in my opinion nothing is cooler than – thinking of – or than having a 22 year old, 23 year old student slide a $100,000 contract across the table to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and expecting that CEO to sign it.
Khoula: That’s incredible. So you would say transitioning into the second semester role and making those more customer relationship-based sales are much more difficult than the first semester?
John: So it’d be hard to say it’s more difficult, it’s just much different, right? In the key account sell it’s – you have to be much more patient. It’s much more about relationships high, deep and wide in an organization and so it’s different.
Khoula: And also you mentioned, John, earlier that you graduated from the program in 2003 and you’ve been with the program again for the past 4 years, so what motivated you to come back to the PS program?
John: You know, I mean without question this is a family. Over the time of me being gone I was still so connected to the program having worked for one of our partners, coming back and trying to recruit amazing students like you, but what the program does – the difference it makes in our students’ lives – is hard to leave. The opportunity to develop people that are walking through the same path that I walked through when I was student here is real important to me. But we’re doing some really big things here. 60% of our students – at U of H, let alone just our program – are working full time or part time and going to school. 40% of them are first generation college students, right? So there’s a – the raw material we get to work with here and develop them into the future leaders of our community, future leaders of these Fortune 500 companies, it gets me out of bed every morning.
Khoula: I wanted to ask why do you think the Program for Excellence in Selling is necessary for college students; why sales is so important?
John: Sales is important because you’re always selling yourself, you’re selling your ideas. But what we found, the whole reason the Program for Excellence in Selling was created 20 years ago is because the Chair of our marketing department Ed Blair realized that – or he just saw that so many of the students coming out of Bauer were starting their careers in sales. I don’t remember the exact number, it was something like 40% plus of marketing students were starting in sales, but they weren’t being trained on sales, we were training them on marketing. And so it was just a natural evolution of okay, well let’s start training the students on the science and the art of sales.
And so regardless of major I think it’s really important that learning how to sell, but also the connections you are going to make because you are actively engaging the community, the business community.
Khoula: Well John, thank you so much for sharing your perspective with me and coming out to the show.
John: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Khoula: Absolutely. Well that wraps up my discussion with John Pingel, the Director of Corporate Relations for the Program for Excellence in Selling, the number one sales program in the nation. My name is Khoula Mehmood and thank you so much Russ for having me on the show and this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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