Lab Space Brings Marketing and Professional Sales to Life for UT Haslam Students

With its on-campus internship model, the Marketing and Sales Skills Lab aims to increase equity and access to experiential learning.

April 4, 2023

For many business students, professional selling and marketing are subjects they understand at a theoretical level but don’t get the opportunity to put into practice. The Marketing and Sales Skills Lab at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business is working to change that.

Alex Zablah, Gerber/Taylor Professor and head of Haslam’s Department of Marketing, says the idea for the lab originated in conversations about how the department could help students develop applied skills. “We wanted a ‘living laboratory’ where actual selling would take place — a type of on-campus sales internship. As that took shape, we began to consider similar opportunities where the space could also be used to help students develop applied marketing skills through hands-on work and deeper engagement with industry.”

The lab launched its first sales internship class in January 2023. In collaboration with partner Axle Logistics, students make calls to real prospects in an attempt to secure new business. The class is competitive — interested students must apply and be selected based on fit, readiness, ability and willingness to immerse themselves in the unique modality.

Unlike traditional courses that begin with a set curriculum and learning objectives, each internship class is tailored to its participating partner’s unique circumstances and needs. This gives students the chance to learn a specialized set of skills while engaging in real-world marketing and sales. Zablah says this hands-on, deep-dive approach, along with the level of interaction students have with the partners, is what sets the course apart.

“In typical applied learning courses, students may get a briefing from a real or imaginary client, apply course skills to try to solve the client’s problem and then report back. In the internship class, students have much greater exposure to the client. They develop an insider’s understanding of the client’s business, which helps them work to support the organization’s goals in ways that would not be possible when learning from a ‘regular’ curriculum.”

Sophomore marketing major Lilli Armstrong appreciates the new perspectives the sales lab class has brought her. “Working with Axle employees shows me that you determine your own success,” she says. “I would recommend this class for anyone who wants to be in sales, no matter what department. It gives you an experience that no other class can offer.”

Classroom Lessons in a Real-World Context

Lane Morris, the college’s associate dean of undergraduate studies and student affairs and John W. Fisher Professor of Innovative Learning, says this type of hands-on learning is a key differentiator of the Haslam undergraduate experience. “Action-oriented and experiential learning experiences create a multiplier effect, helping to apply lessons from the classroom in a real-world context,” he says. “With the guidance of our faculty, Haslam students can explore their actions, thoughts and emotions through reflective experiences, enabling them to bring greater value to their future employers.”

For Larkin Finney, a senior marketing major, taking the sales lab class in the same semester as the more traditional Professional Selling course has provided a more comprehensive understanding of the sales industry. “Taking the two classes at the same time has given me the opportunity to learn from multiple different perspectives and put the course lecture material into practice every day,” she says.

Increasing Internship Access and Equity

Christine White, the department’s director of partnerships, says the on-campus internship model is an important step toward more equitable internship access. “Housing challenges and relocation expenses present a struggle for many students who want to pursue internships outside of Knoxville,” she says. “By providing on-campus internships with a variety of partners, we hope to meet students where they are and offer a unique learning experience without the stress of navigating those challenges.”

Jenna Feck, a senior marketing major and president of Haslam’s Professional Sales Leadership Program, agrees the lab offers a valuable opportunity for students who can’t dedicate a summer to an internship. “If a student has to work or take care of someone during the summer, this is a great opportunity for them to have equal access. By having an internship program built into their syllabus, they are gaining impactful experience that works within their schedules.”

The lab, located on the fourth floor of the Haslam Business Building, is equipped with computers and software for sales lead access and tracking, as well as software for creating marketing content and specialized marketing tools. In addition to on-campus internships, the space serves as a hub where Haslam student groups, such as the Professional Sales Leadership Program and American Marketing Association, can conduct meetings, hold networking events, practice presentations and reserve quiet space for interviews. 

The lab’s current partnership with Axle Logistics is non-exclusive, and the college is seeking additional partners for new sales and/or marketing internships in the space. Zablah says the college wants to maximize the lab’s reach to benefit students and partners alike. “Our hope is to offer students choice in terms of whom they intern with on campus, and to ensure that a variety of partners have the opportunity to work with our students.”

For more information about partnering with the Marketing and Sales Skills Lab at the Haslam College of Business, contact Christine White.


Stacy Estep, writer/publicist,