Selling success

The National Strategic Selling Institute has become a program with top-level teams.

What began as a single class is now considered among the top sales programs in the country.

K-State’s National Strategic Selling Institute now offers a fast-growing major — and its companion teams stand with the nation’s best.

As a part of the Department of Marketing, the NSSI is a point of pride for both the College of Business and Kansas State University. As the only university in Kansas offering a major in professional strategic selling, K-State is able to recruit top sales talent through its selective application, innovative curriculum, nationally ranked faculty and unique extracurricular enrichment opportunities.

Since the launch of the major in professional strategic selling in 2018, enrollment has grown 16.5% each year. Graduates from the NSSI find 99% full-time job placement and an average starting salary of $56,000.

Within the sales curriculum, students are taught the fundamental skills that ultimately make them successful in the industry. Among these skills are the ability to coach and be coached, how to score prospects and customers, how to manage a sales pipeline and how to maximize return on investment for time and resources. The use of role plays allows students to practice their skills in a realistic setting and directly apply what they are learning in the classroom. Throughout a student’s time in the NSSI, they will complete a minimum of five role plays.

When asked how the NSSI differentiates students in the workforce Kellie Jackson, instructor at the NSSI, and Dawn Deeter-Schmelz, director of the NSSI, said: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sales-related jobs are expected to rise 7.1% over the next ten years. Given the demand for sales talent, it is not surprising that approximately 30% of business graduates and 80% of marketing majors accept a sales position immediately after graduation. However, not all of these graduates have taken a sales class and understand what it means to be a sales professional. On average, students who have completed a rigorous sales education develop a strong set of skills and professional attitude that can help them make the most out of their sales career opportunity.”

A key resource for students to expand their sales knowledge is participation in the sales team. The sales team holds both individual and team titles on a national level, among which are the RBI Sales Challenge, the International Collegiate Sales Competition and the Great Northwoods Sales Warm-up.

In addition to the sales team, students can also interview for the sales ambassador role, in which they attend professional development events with sales leaders, meet with prospective students, connect with corporate partners, assist in the prospecting of companies and volunteer at events.

One of the hallmarks of the NSSI is the opportunity to connect students to professionals. During the Sales Career Fair, which takes place once each semester, students meet with professionals who are hiring for both internships and full-time positions.

The connection between students and professionals is widely made possible through the corporate partner program. The NSSI currently has 21 corporate partners, and the program has raised more than $825,000 since 2013. The support from corporate partners enables branded events, speakers, sales competitions and more. Most importantly, corporate partners add to the business networks of sales students.

The connections made with corporate partners have been especially beneficial for strategic selling graduate, Blake Bontrager. Although Blake started his time at K-State in a completely different career track, he was drawn to the professional strategic selling program because of its relationship-centered approach and the opportunity to help others solve problems.  

“The National Strategic Selling Institute at Kansas State was too good to pass up. As I toured the business building for the first time, the NSSI suite, facility and role-play rooms made me feel as if this program cared deeply for its students,” Blake said. “The NSSI has created its curriculum to help students gain real-life sales experience while providing opportunities to network and connect with highly respected sales professionals.”

Blake says that the opportunity to learn from professional speakers and meet industry leaders at the Sales Career Fair have been among his favorite parts of being a sales major. Getting to interact and connect with professionals who have made an impact in the sales world has taught Blake about how to be successful in his own sales career.

The growth of the NSSI over the past decade wouldn’t be possible without philanthropic support. Other than faculty salaries, the NSSI is entirely self-funded. Through donations, the NSSI is able to provide students with professional speakers, career development opportunities and new sales technology.

A donation from Larry and Pat Kendall has been critical to the success of the NSSI, establishing a state-of-the-art sales lab and a funded program coordinator position. Doug and Vicki Hill, in conjunction with Edward Jones, have also provided a lead gift to the NSSI. Through this collaboration, the NSSI was able to hire an instructor and add additional courses, a key component of the launch of the major in professional strategic selling.

Kellie and Dawn commented on the support of donors by saying: “Without a doubt, our donors and corporate partners have provided the foundation for our success. Donors have provided funding that allowed us to hire student workers, staff and adjunct faculty and improve our technology. Donors to our annual benefit auction, raising $515,000 to date, have provided scholarships and merit awards for our students. We do not doubt that our donors and corporate partners will continue to play a key role in the future growth and success of the NSSI.”

The program’s first decade of growth

August 2011: Dr. Dawn Deeter is hired in the College of Business Administration to develop and lead the National Strategic Selling Institute.

October 2011: The first K-State Sales Team is established. Three students participate in the Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

March 2012: The first Sales Week takes place, with five companies attending the Sales Career Fair.

May 2013: The first NSSI Benefit Auction takes place, led by 15 students in the advanced selling course, raising $11,000.

August 2013: The certificate in Professional Strategic Selling launches, bringing two new courses: sales management and advanced selling.

August 2013: The corporate partner program is established.

December 2013: The first student to earn a Professional Strategic Selling certificate graduates.

November 2014: The Sales Team wins its first competition at the RBI Sales Challenge.

March 2018: Enrollment in the certificate reaches more than 200, necessitating new faculty and staff hires.

August 2018: The major in professional strategic selling is established, just one of 19 in the United States at the time.

October 2021: 253 students are enrolled in the professional strategic selling certificate or major, with nine faculty and staff members.

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