In a world crowded with competition, these students are a commodity in high demand.
Major companies travel thousands of miles to recruit them before someone else does.
They garner attractive job offers months before graduation. And they earn impressive salaries.
They are sales majors — all preparing to work in one of the nation’s largest industries. Few universities offer a specific major in sales. High Point University has strategically developed such a curriculum with faculty, facilities and partnerships.
These are the types of innovative programs launched in the Phillips School of Business this year, along with a new space and opportunities that bring students of all disciplines together. Everyone learns to sell their own talents regardless of their major.
“Every student should be able to sell themselves,” says Larry Quinn, director of the sales program. “Our mission today is to prepare them for that.”
A Solid Future in Sales
Quinn arrived at HPU three years ago after working four decades in the business world as a top executive in sales and marketing. His experience included assignments at EDS and Xerox in technology services, publishing and computer equipment businesses.
He’s passionate about teaching sales to the next generation for two reasons.
First, many sales reps are in the baby boomer generation. They are beginning to retire and leave thousands of opportunities open to the next generation.
Second, he knows the benefits of a life in sales. It rewards those who work hard, find solutions to challenges and understand that competition breeds innovation.
He founded the university’s Selling Club in 2013, and in a few short years, it’s grown into one of the most high profile groups on campus.
It’s well-known around the country, too. The Selling Club competes with other university selling clubs at regional and national intercollegiate meets. Students go head to head in pitching products, making cold calls, and, in many ways, selling their own potential.
“These competitions also happen to be ideal job fairs,” says Quinn. “Fifty to 60 major corporations such as IBM or Hewlett-Packard invest major funds to serve as judges at the competitions. That’s because they know these students are the best. They’re better than the people they hired last year from Monster.com. They not only say they can sell, but they prove they can.”
Seniors who attended the most recent competition all received job offers or scheduled interviews at company headquarters. The juniors landed internships.
And Quinn received rave reviews from recruiters about the potential of HPU students.
“These companies want to visit HPU and pluck students directly from our campus,” he says.
Focused on Growth
Selling competitions are part of the experiential learning component for sales majors. A facility that opened this fall allows them to get out-of-the-classroom training directly on campus.
The Sales Education Center opened in Cottrell Hall, home of the Flanagan Center for Student Success, this year to serve as a home for all students — those in sales and those not — to practice their pitches, bringing to life the vision for students to be able to sell themselves and their talents.
It features three distinct spaces designed to reflect growing industries where students will work. The first space is a financial setting, the second is a technology-based setting similar to Google and Apple, and the third is a health care setting.
In all three spaces, students are recorded making cold calls and conducting mock interviews.
“A 20-minute call will be recorded and critiqued on a rubric that’s the professional standard,” says Quinn. “When we build a portfolio of these videos, recruiters can look through them and find students they think will fit well within their company.”
Kathy Elliott has a simple definition for entrepreneur.
“They’re people who see problems and solve them.”
That’s why she describes the new Belk Entrepreneurship Center, where she serves as director, as a neutral zone for all students and disciplines.
“Business majors are naturally connected to the word entrepreneurship, but I want other students to know they are welcomed and encouraged to use our space, too,” she says. “Whether they’re studying dance, physical therapy or designing furniture, entrepreneurs exist in every field.”
Prior to working at HPU, Elliott spent 17 years with the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, rising to vice president of entrepreneurship and small business. She’s experienced in working with business development organizations, entrepreneurs and small businesses, so she knows the steps from idea to execution.
In the center, she assists students in drafting a sound plan and pitching to investors. She invites entrepreneurs who’ve found success to present on campus or visit the center. And she teaches students the fundamentals of landing start-up funds.
They write their ideas on dry-erase walls and discuss them with each other. A business major may have a great idea but needs a computer science major to help make it happen. Then the two need a marketing major to take their product to the public.
Putting Puzzle Pieces Together
Quinn and Elliott are cut from the same cloth — they know their programs are different, but they see the value of collaboration.
In the Business Plan Competition, for example, Elliott brings angel investors to campus to judge students’ plans and award start-up funds to the ones that have the greatest potential. Nearly $100,000 in funds has been awarded through the competition so far.
This year, she added layers to the preparation process. Part of what students are doing is selling their idea to the investor.
That’s where Quinn comes in.
When students need to prep for the Business Plan Competition, they use the Sales Education Center.
And when sales majors have a new idea for creating a product or service, they can use the Belk Entrepreneurship Center.
And every other major can take part. In these new centers, it all comes together.
It’s happened for so many already.
Like Josh Walston. Before venturing to the selling competition with Quinn’s club, he was considering an offer from a flooring company in Charlotte. But VMWare approached him after seeing him in action at the competition and offered him something better. They asked him to take a high-level sales position with the software company in Austin.
Then there’s Emily De Lena and Sara Kirkpatrick.
They’re business majors and student-athletes on the track team. During their training, they noticed a need for a device that would literally run around the track with them — pacing them during a race. The device will allow a runner to see a computer generated line in order to know what time or distance they have to beat.
So they developed a plan with the help of Elliott and pitched it at the Business Plan Competition, sponsored by BB&T.
They won. Coming in second place, they received $5,000 to build their product.
These students foster an entrepreneurial mindset on the HPU campus. So do Elliott, Quinn and their new centers.
And so does the vision HPU President Nido Qubein set out when he said all students should be able to sell themselves.
“At High Point University, we graduate job creators, not job takers,” he’s said at numerous events to parents and students. “That doesn’t mean everyone has to launch their own company. It means they must create value wherever they go.”