St. Kate’s sales graduates share tips for success
Knowing how to communicate is key in the sales profession. This skill was evident in the five St. Catherine University sales alumnae who spoke to two classes on Tuesday evening. Each was articulate and engaging — and exuded a positive confidence that's typical of a St. Kate’s graduate.
Mary U. Henderson, associate professor of business administration, orchestrated the alumnae panel with Lynn Schleeter, Center for Sales Innovation director, to offer students in the “Advanced Sales: Strategic Account Management” course some real-world insight into the sales profession. Visiting students from Assistant Professor Sara Rand’s “International Marketing and Management” class brought the audience to nearly 25.
The panelists were Azure Barbeau ’04, sales consultant at a medical device firm (she requested that her company, undergoing management changes, not be named); Kerry Lovera ’08, strategic operations initiatives manager with GE Capital; Jessica Schmidt ’08, clinical sales representative with Johnson & Johnson; Shannon Schottler ’08, business analyst with Target Corp.; and Nicole Sheedy ’06, strategic sales account manager at Delta Airlines.
All of them majored in business-to-business sales at the University, except Barbeau, who chose the specialized field of healthcare sales. St. Kate’s has the only healthcare sales program in the United States offering a minor, a major and a certificate.
“There were so many things I learned at St. Kate’s that I still draw on every day at work,” says Barbeau, who provides technical support for orthopedic implants and instruments during surgeries. Those lessons included how to network and plan for the future.
“As a junior, I formulated my own business plan — an idea of my end goal and what I’ve done so far,” she says. “Look around the room, your peers are going to compete for the same jobs — now, multiply that by 50 for the other people out there. What is it about you that’s special? Yes, your St. Kate’s education. But you need to be able to say what makes you a unique person.”
Recently, the Sales Education Foundation named St. Kate’s among the Top Universities for Professional Sales Education in 2011 — the only in Minnesota to make the cut.
More strategies for success
Schmidt, who also works directly with surgeons in the operating room, says St. Kate’s business-to-business sales program — and the professional selling courses in particular — “paved the path for me” despite the weak job economy. One of her strategies for success in sales: Being flexible, or knowing how to adapt to a changing or stubborn marketplace. “There are two to three long sales cycles each year,” she say. “You also get told no on a regular basis.”
Lovera, who’s been in business-to-business sales for 13 years, echoed Schmidt’s sentiment about adaptability. “Be okay about adjusting the course,” she says, adding that individuality, good listening skills and creative thinking are equally key for success in professional selling.
“Individuality is about making a personal connection,” Lovera says. “You are the face of a company, but make sure you have strong relationships inside your company as well — with everyone including with the receptionist.”
Sheedy, who manages Delta contracts for several corporations and agencies on the West Coast, says her education at St. Kate’s “gave me a good foundation to be ahead of everyone in the sales field.” Her tip to students: “Know your customers and their specific needs because that’s how you can service them better.”
Schottler, the Target business analyst and only panelist with both selling and buying experience, recommends The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. “I read it for a class at St. Kate’s, and I have gone back to it often.”
The business bestseller is required reading in St. Kate’s “Business Practicum” course. [Photo: The Advanced Sales students and the panelists.]
The panel discussion went nearly 15 minutes past the allotted hour, also addressing compensation and work hours.
“You have to start from the bottom,” says Barbeau, the orthopedic sales consultant who works solely on commission. “I didn’t graduate and make $80,000.” According to the panel, two upsides to meager entry-level pay: flex hours and travel opportunities.
Students made a beeline for the panelists after the discussion to ask more personal questions and exchange business cards. “Weren’t they great? I still remember where they sat in the room,” says a beaming Henderson, of her five former students.