VCU Center for Professional Selling prepares next generation of sales talent
by Wendy Martin
Wayne Slough has an eye for professional sales talent. The associate professor of marketing and director of the VCU Center for Professional Selling often approaches students who excel in his popular class, “Introduction to Personal Selling,” to convey the promise he sees in them.
Looking back, some students describe how Slough’s boost of confidence altered their career aspirations. Others say they did not anticipate how much the VCU Center for Professional Selling – its sales-specific curriculum, clubs, career fairs and national collegiate competition opportunities – would enhance their sales skills and professionalism.
But, as they near graduation, most agree that they never dreamed the center would put them in the position of having to choose among multiple job offers.
Such was the case with Gustavo Rivas, a recent graduate from the VCU School of Business with a degree in marketing and a concentration in personal selling. Rivas was in his sophomore year and taking Slough’s introductory sales class when Slough approached him.
“We did a lot of role play in his class,” Rivas explains. “He told me that he thought I’d be a really good fit in sales, that I was a natural salesman. I knew I wanted to do marketing, but he got my confidence up. I decided to join the sales fraternity [Pi Sigma Epsilon] and pursue a concentration in sales.”
By the time he graduated, Rivas had received three job offers. He ultimately joined the sales force of a Fortune 200 pharmaceutical company that regularly recruits on the VCU campus.
For the past five years, the profile and success of the VCU Center for Professional Selling has been on the rise. Since 2018, the Sales Education Foundation named the VCU Center for Professional Selling a “Top Sales University.”
Sales-specific career fair
Today, most of VCU’s sales students participate in Advance! – VCU’s sales industry career fair that attracts approximately 20 sales recruiting companies to campus each fall. Companies that participated in the past include:
Haley Automotive Group
Landlock Pest Control
State Farm Insurance
Tiffany & Co.
Total Quality Logistics
Megan Kiefer, executive director of recruitment with Northwestern Mutual, said her company saw the event as a chance to “get in front of talented students.”
“With some internships, young people just learn about a product or service, but they aren’t taught how to strategically acquire clients. We pair them up with senior financial advisors who teach them how to be a financial advisor and how to build client relationships.”
Julie Whitaker, an agent with State Farm Insurance, runs her own 11-person business and hires one or two interns each year. “The first VCU student I hired never even came to our booth,” she laughs. “I saw him schmoozing the crowd and working the room. It was clear he was the kind of person we need in sales, so I actually went up and introduced myself to him.”
Sales internships and competitions
Despite having a father in the sales industry, Nick D’Amato, a senior marketing major with a concentration in personal selling, says it took a sales internship with a Richmond television station for him to realize that it was his calling.
“At first I thought I was going to be shadowing the sales team. But after a couple weeks, my supervisors said, ‘We think you can do this’ and they turned me loose to reach out to advertising clients. I closed two accounts for them. After the thrill of that first sale, I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
D’Amato and Rivas both served as president of VCU’s sales fraternity and were members of VCU sales teams that competed in collegiate sales competitions in university venues around the United States. At a recent International Collegiate Sales Competition in Orlando, Fla., VCU placed 28th among 81 competing university- and college-based sales programs.
“Industry partners sponsor these competitions because they want to meet, interact with and ultimately recruit our students,” says Slough. “Our selling students are way ahead of the curve as far as being prepared for sales positions upon graduating college.’”
“I got to speak to a lot of good companies at the competition and was able to land a job,” D’Amato says. He entered into a non-binding agreement with a company that buys and sells industrial equipment to contractors and construction companies. “They have five locations in Virginia and asked me to name my top three. They’ve told me that when I graduate in May, they will try to place me with my top choice.”
Chris Campbell, another recent graduate who majored in marketing and earned a concentration in personal selling, describes his participation in collegiate sales competitions as “the single best decision I made at VCU.”
Before arriving at VCU, Campbell spent summers waiting tables and managing a fireworks stand where the owner rewarded his talents with the autonomy to make deals and bundle products. At VCU, he had already begun working with State Farm when Slough convinced him to pursue a concentration in personal selling.
“In class, Professor Slough really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I had to do role plays in front of my classmates. Having someone push me and do the structure of a sale was incredibly beneficial. As a sales intern with State Farm, I used what I’d learned every time I sat down with a potential client. And I brought all of that with me to the competition.”
Campbell also attended the career fair at the International Collegiate Sales Competition in Florida. “I talked to a number of firms I was really interested in and have several concrete leads for sales positions. I never would have had these options if I hadn’t attended competitions.”
VCU School of Business recently announced it now offers all students across the university the opportunity to pursue a sales minor.
“Before, the only students who could take selling classes were in the School of Business,” says Slough. “Now, any student across our entire campus will be able to have a Sales minor that they can attach to any major.”
“VCU Center for Professional Selling is committed to preparing the next generation of professional sales talent,” says Slough. “Our program is growing and we continue to attract reputable industry partners. We’re excited about our national rankings, our performance in national collegiate sales competitions and the job offers our students are receiving.”