Starting this fall, WSU Pullman students can earn a certificate in professional sales – helping them develop persuasive communication skills for a career in sales or another field.

The certificate program is open to all majors, and no business courses are required as prerequisites.

“We’re excited to bring the certificate to the Pullman campus,” said Ron Pimentel, scholarly associate professor for the Carson College of Business and director of the Professional Sales Program, which started about 15 years ago at WSU Vancouver.

With the addition of Pullman students, the program is expected to grow rapidly within the next few years.

“Demand for trained sales professionals exceeds supply, and our industry partners in Washington, Oregon and Montana want to hire more of our graduates,” Pimentel said. “I tell students that having these skills will give them security throughout their careers.”

The college recently hired Bitty Balducci, Kevin Chase, and Alec Pappas, new tenure-track faculty who will teach sales classes in Pullman. In addition to teaching sales, their backgrounds include professional sales experience and research in the science behind sales interactions.

“There is no better feeling than helping students find a career they love while helping our industry partners hire talented sales employees,” Chase said.

Business-to-business sales

Business-to-business sales are the program’s primary focus, but the coursework also includes topics such as persuasive communication within organizations.

About 50% of business students take an initial position in sales after they graduate, according to the Sales Education Foundation. For marketing majors, the percentage jumps to 88%.

Students often picture sales jobs as “the guy hawking cell phones at the mall,” said Alberto Sa Vinhas, an associate professor in Vancouver and faculty member in the sales program. But working in a business-to-business sales environment is much different.

“It’s more about solving customer problems than pushing a particular product,” Sa Vinhas said. “The most successful sales people focus on really interesting customer problems and helping find solutions.”

In the program, students job shadow sales professionals and take part in twice yearly sales competitions judged by industry professionals. Top contenders advance to the Pacific Northwest Sales Competition and the National Collegiate Sales Competition.

“There’s a lot of exposure to the reality of working in sales,” Sa Vinhas said. “Some students decide it’s not for them. For others – including students who initially think they’re shy – we watch their confidence build and see them just take off.”

New center for sales

Besides the expansion of the certificate program, the college is developing a new Center for Professional Sales on the Pullman and Vancouver campuses. The center will focus on academic research and strengthening ties with industry.

“We want to build closer relationships with industry partners while building a reputation for academic research in sales and the teaching of sales,” Sa Vinhas said.