As managing director of Michigan State’s sales leadership minor, Jennifer Rumler is keenly aware of the value of corporate connections.
MSU’s unique program isn’t funded by the university – it’s supported almost exclusively by corporate partnerships.
“So, I have a sales job too,” she said. “I have to sell companies on the notion that investing in this program helps them develop their sales hiring pipelines.”
When recent graduates choose a sales job as default career rather than a destination, they might not be the best fit in that role.
“A good personality doesn’t automatically make you a good salesperson,” said Rumler, MSU Innovation Center’s 2021 Corporate Connector of the Year award winner. And when those employees aren’t successful in the job, that costs companies money through attrition.
“We ask businesses, ‘If we can provide you with students who self-selected to go into sales as a career and trained them with a required minimum of 500 hours of experiential learning, would you be willing to invest in that?’ ” Rumler said.
Currently, 16 companies have said yes.
Thanks to those corporate partnerships, MSU is developing a pipeline of creative problem-solvers ready to take on the role of professional salesperson. The program’s curriculum requires a sales internship to graduate, so corporate connections are essential.
“These robust internship programs very often lead to full-time positions for the students,” Rumler said. “We have a 100% job placement rate for the program for 10 of our 11 years. That’s not 100% six months after graduation – it’s before they graduate.”
Another key component of MSU’s program that appeals to corporate partners is an intentional focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Companies are looking to build DEI into their programs. I’ve been working to make students aware of the lack of diversity in sales for the past seven years – we knew it existed, but we didn’t know why,” she said. “We worked to expose students to the research behind the lack of diversity in the field and examined the meaning behind corporate social responsibility.
“What we’re doing at MSU is very much in line with what our corporate partners want.”
While the pandemic has made one-on-one networking opportunities a bit more challenging, new connections have emerged for the program and the students.
“We’re able to connect with people who are scattered across the country and around the world,” Rumler said. “Alumni in Boston and Texas can participate live in our sales competition. A woman in India arranged her schedule to be a judge in one of our virtual competition rooms. That wasn’t happening prior to the pandemic.”
Top executives at Fortune 500 companies who couldn’t leave their office to catch a flight and participate in an event on campus can easily hop on a Zoom call to be a buyer or judge in a student competition.
“They get to see where their corporate funding is going,” Rumler said. “It’s really opened things up for us and our partners.”