The Professional Sales Forum
TOM VAN DORSELAER is on a mission to connect students with the sales training and resources they need to succeed. Many students come to class with misconceptions about the definition of professional sales. “It’s not about convincing customers to buy something they don’t want—it’s about understanding customers’ needs and solving their problems,” says Van Dorselaer, executive director of the Professional Sales Forum, introduced last year by the Department of Marketing. “The way you get to understand their needs is through great communications skills. We teach students to listen actively, ask open-ended questions, and use the customer’s comments to draw conclusions.”
The Professional Sales Forum is designed to connect companies to the college’s educational programs, to leaders in the field, and to each other. The forum hosts events for corporate partners twice a year, providing opportunities for students to mingle with industry leaders and demonstrate their skills at sales competitions. Currently, 23 companies take part in the forum, including AT&T, Whirlpool, Cintas, Ryder, and PepsiCo.
The forum’s three main goals represent its purpose to build connections between academia and industry leaders. A speed networking event is the focal point of the fall gathering, while the spring meeting centers around education and includes guest speakers, breakout sessions, and a sales competition for students.
Joe Bindner, a senior majoring in finance, sat next to a vice president of sales at a forum event and agreed to stay in touch after their conversation. Later, Bindner was invited to interview at the company. “One of my interviewers was the VP I had already built a relationship with, which made a world of difference,” Bindner says. “I’d had the opportunity to pick his brain weeks before the interview and learn what was important in a candidate.”
Bindner values the experience he’s gained through involvement in the forum. “It creates a professional yet comfortable environment where students can enhance their consulting, problem solving, and sales skills,” he says. “Ultimately, it connects us with lots of high quality employers.”
Student Paige Breske says the forum sets Haslam’s program apart because it includes top-tier companies across many industries. “Students who take advantage of these opportunities to network with great companies get a leg up when it comes to finding their dream careers,” Breske says. Through the forum, she has connected with recruiting managers for top companies including AT&T, Ryder, and E. & J. Gallo.
Ultimately, Van Dorselaer wants the forum to provide value for corporate partners as well as students. “We want to understand their needs and what they want from us, and respond to that,” he says. “We stay in close touch with them and try to cultivate long term partnerships.”
Companies benefit from hiring Haslam’s marketing graduates, many of whom have taken courses in the college’s top-rated supply chain program. “The talent that this program delivers is beginning a transformative change in our organization and driving our business strategy,” says John Sharpe, CEO of StaffSource, a specialized staffing agency and forum partner. “With the level of talent in the Haslam graduates we hire, the needed training time has dramatically decreased and our productivity levels have increased.”
Sharpe attributes the forum’s success to Van Dorselaer and his team’s emphasison relationships. “They understand that part of the success factor is in the relationships we have back and forth between partners and faculty,” he says. “Those relationships are the mortar that holds the house together.”