Build Bridges to Business

Published on July 15, 2007

July/August 2007 BizEd

Dr. Eli Jones Professor of Marketing Associate Dean for Executive Education C.T. Bauer College of Business University of Houston.

Dr. Eli Jones Professor of Marketing Associate Dean for Executive Education C.T. Bauer College of Business University of Houston.

For Eli Jones, selling isn’t about “closing the deal.” It’s about building relationships with the customer. Likewise, teaching a sales course isn’t just about teaching students the basics of selling; it’s about immersing students in the skills and responsibilities of salesmanship. He does this by placing them face-to-face with corporate clients throughout their coursework at the University of Houston’s Sales Excellence Institute (SEI), which he helped launch and directed for the last ten years. Jones was just promoted to full professor and an associate dean’s position in May, and so now passes along the direction of SEI to a successor.

“I really take to heart the idea of building a bridge between business and academia,” says Jones, who worked with several faculty and staff to create SEI’s programs. Of the nearly 1,000 students taking sales classes at Bauer, about 100 apply to SEI each semester; no more than 60 are accepted. Once they’re in the program, however, they’ll be presented with multiple opportunities to sell before they ever accept their first sales position.

“The first thing the students must do is sell themselves,” Jones explains. One of the students’ first assignments is to identify a company where they’d like to work. Then, they locate internal contacts and call to convince those contacts to become their mentors. Once students find mentors, they receive blue blazers that signify that a company will sponsor them throughout the curriculum. To land that first sale, “students must be able to show the value proposition of their request,” says Jones.

Students continue to sell for each subsequent course. In their customer relationship management course, for example, students work in SEI’s call center, where they make calls inviting companies to participate in the Institute’s annual golf tournament and fund raiser. They make sales calls to vice presidents and CEOs to sell spots at the school’s career fair, learning how to speak effectively to senior executives along the way. In their last course on key accounts selling, students meet with senior-level executives to convince them to become partners of the University of Houston and SEI. Jones and other faculty accompany students as they make this final sales pitch.

As a professor of marketing, Jones believes he must make sure his students have every opportunity to sell-and he integrates those opportunities throughout every aspect of SEI’s program. “I want to keep the program experiential,” says Jones. “At SEI, we not only teach courses and bring in speakers, but we also spend a great deal of time driving students around Houston to meet and engage in conversation with executives.”

Jana Marshman, who graduated with her BBA and an advanced certificate in sales in 2002, now works as a financial advisor for Ameriprise Financial Services in Houston. She says she didn’t truly understand the impact that SEI’s program had on her until she began working. “In the program, we were working for ourselves to surpass our own personal quotas. We were working not just to finish a project and make a grade, but to build a reputation that would land us a job,” says Marshman.

Through all those sales calls, she experienced “the rejection, nervous tension, and success that come with persistence,” she says. “After graduation, I felt more comfortable and confident in front of clients because it was nothing new to me.” Because of that confidence, she says, she was asked to teach new advisors within months of becoming an advisor herself. Those real-life experiences, says Jones, are designed to dispel misconceptions about what it takes to sell. “Too many people who haven’t had formal sales training believe they’re good at sales because they have the gift of gab. We convince students to take a hard look at sales as a profession, to show them that sales isn’t about being pushy or manipulative,” says Jones. Through “live selling” experiences, he adds, “students learn the art and science of sales.”

“I really take to heart the idea of building a bridge between business and academia.” -Eli Jones

Encouraging Innovation

As students grow more sophisticated, they’ll undoubtedly demand more multifaceted learning experiences. But how well business schools meet students’ demand for fresh approaches often comes down to two factors: the faculty’s time and the school’s money.

Professors who believe they don’t have time to integrate innovative concepts into their courses should look at innovation in a different way, says Deborah Streeter of Cornell University. “I challenge any teachers to tell me they don’t have time to innovate,” she says. “Even if they can’t innovate on a large scale, they can take small steps. They can find something great that other people have done and bring it into their own classrooms.” As to money, that’s an issue for the business schools themselves. When asked what institutions can do to encourage new approaches in their classrooms, these educators offered the following suggestions:

Put Innovation In The Budget.

“The difficulty with innovation in business schools is that there’s always a point where faculty must be approved to proceed, based on whether there’s money for it in the budget,” says Jay Bernardo of the Asian Institute of Management. “Business schools that reserve funding for innovation, add divisions for new development, and set targets for their faculty for innovation will see their faculty push their curricula forward the most.”

Reward Innovation.

Business schools are in growing competition for faculty expertise. On top of that, it’s no secret that good business professors with practical experience are often highly sought after by industry, which can offer them higher salaries. To keep their best and most passionate professors on board, business schools must keep them interested, engaged, and rewarded, says Yew Kee Ho of the National University of Singapore Business School.

“What keeps many professors in the business school is their passion for education,” Ho says. A school that doesn’t reward innovative faculty-with competitive salaries or other benefits-“will lose some of its best professors to industry.”

Be Multidimensional.

Many schools value only two forms of faculty output-teaching and research. Eli Jones of the University of Houston suggests a third area is equally valuable to a school’s reputation and bottom line: community service.

“Business schools need to have multidimensional faculty who can teach, research, and engage in community outreach,” says Jones. “Deans of the future will have to think about their business schools and their faculty in multidimensional ways and allocate resources to faculty for community outreach. A business school can’t survive if it’s not serving its community.”

Tolerate-And Even Embrace-Failure.

“Schools that really want their teachers to become well-known for innovation will have to allow faculty to fail sometimes. Many institutions don’t do that so well,” says Streeter. “If people aren’t in environments that tolerate some level of failure, if they’re not encouraged to innovate, they’re simply not going to do it.” The payoff to business schools comes in “reputational capital,” say these professors. The more the public perceives a school to have innovative faculty, the more students will be attracted to its programs. And the more visible a business school’s faculty is in the community, the stronger its reputation will become. That alone, they argue, makes these efforts worth paying for.

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Bauer College of Business

The C.T. Bauer College of Business has been in operation for more than 60 years at the University of Houston main campus. Through its five academic departments, the college offers a full-range of undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees in business. The Bauer College is fully accredited by the AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. In August 2000, Houston business leader and philanthropist Charles T. (Ted) Bauer endowed the College of Business with a $40 million gift. In recognition of his generosity, the college was renamed the C.T. Bauer College of Business.