Hey everyone, thanks for tuning into the Teacher's Lounge, Hub Spot's podcast for the education partner program. I'm Isaac Moshe your host for the podcast. Today we'll be talking to Greg Accardo, Director of the Professional Sales Institute at LSU. Welcome Greg.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Yeah, really excited to be talking to you today. So, I often talk about LSU's program when folks ask about an exciting, innovative program, when it comes to sales. So, it'll be great to get you on record here, talking a little bit about your program and how you've built it out.
Great, sounds like a lot of fun. Can't wait.
Yeah, so tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at LSU.
Yeah, well, you know, my role is specifically I'm the Director of the Professional Sales Institute. In the past, and I think you and I have discussed this, that, you know, sales education never was taken seriously in academic circles and university colleges. You had the academic and the research tenure people doing great research in marketing, consumer behavior, marketing analytics, brand management, but sales is always something that was over there, right? It was never part of what they did.
So, LSU had a class that was called Buyer/Seller Communications, and there was a gentleman who taught that class, man the name of Jim Parr. What he had was students taking the class who had no idea what they were taking and Jim would have a class of students, first day, and said, "Does anybody know what this class is about?" Nobody knew. So, yeah, Jim got frustrated and he said, "Look, we're going to change this or I'm going to quit." So, they said, "Well, okay, Jim. We don't want you to leave. We're going to change it to Professional Sales."
So, that was, kind of, the beginning, right? So, then around 2003, there was some other schools, like Florida State, who embarked on this path of creating these big academic units that were dedicated to professional sales. Lo and behold in 2014, they were given the blessing by the Board of Regents, which is the governing body for the university, to create this new academic unit called the Professional Sales Institute. It is a concentration for a student who's in marketing, they can take three classes in the Institute. We have sales management, we have professional sales and we have the sales practicum, which is the class where I use the Hub Spot platform.
In January of 2015, when I came in the door, there were 30 students who were enrolled in the PSI. My first class I taught there were 10 students in the class. Alright? So, it was just getting started. Well, here we are today, we have about 150 students who are in the concentration. I had two full sections, my classes are capped at 20 students each. I had two full sections in the Spring, and here we are in the Fall, we're teaching three sections of the practicum. We have four sections of professional sales, those students are 40 students each and they have a waiting list for all four sections. Same thing with our sales management class. Now there's two sections of sales management, they're full.
So, we're getting a lot of interest from students, not just marketing majors. Even though you have to be a marketing major to earn the concentration, we have other students from other departments taking the sales management and professional sales class because they understand how important this is.
Do you think that that demand was always there from students, or do you think that sales has become more legitimate as a profession? Or, what do you think is driving that growth because I think it's something that you folks are seeing at LSU, but I think more and more schools are saying, "Oh, sales is something that we should be teaching." So, I'm wondering what you think is behind that?
Everyone in business is in sales. Okay? Some people have a title that's sales, but everybody from the person who answers the telephone, to the CEO of the company, they're all in sales. Right? Everybody has to account for a product or service being delivered and everyone has a market. So, everyone, and most people, not all, but most people have competitors. So, there is a sales element in almost every business role today.
In fact, I think what you're seeing is ... There's some great books out there that I've read, that have cataloged and chronicled this movement in business education, with the importance focused on sales. We've had nearly 100% job placement for our graduates. I like to brag to people that, "Hey, you know, I have students who graduate with multiple offers", which is a good thing. I think, you know, you see a lot of news out there today about college education. It's over-priced and students are getting degrees and things they can't find a job doing. I think it's terrible. That's why it motivates us to build things into our program that have students more prepared than ever, so they can leave here and start hitting the ground and ramping up really fast.
What are those things? You're a student, you graduate from LSU, you went through the PSI, what are the skills that you have that are getting you to that nearly 100% placement rate?
First of all, we have four really great partners, who are really involved in our program, who want to source these students right out of the program. But, beyond that, we go to great lengths, and you and I have talked about this in the past, of taking our students from the classroom setting and moving them into a business setting to get the experience. You know, I've said this many times, you can only lecture so much on a topic. If you don't get any real, practical experience in sales, you're going to struggle a little bit in the beginning.
So, how do you give them that experience?
The way it was done in the past, in the Fall semester we have a really great relationship with LSU student media. LSU student media actually governs the LSU newspaper, there's an LSU radio station, there's ads on the transit buses that go around the campus and take students from their apartments and dorms back and forth. So, we have the students sell the ad spaces during the semester, as a sales project. We put them in sales teams, usually as five people to a team. The team has to elect a sales manager.
The way we structured this is, we only deal with the sales manager. So, the manager is responsible for their people being at class, they're responsible for their team members getting something done with their task on the sales side. They have to make a certain amount of phone calls, they have to email, they have to do drop in appointments, but the manager is responsible. If somebody's not in class, I ask the manager, "Where's your team member? Why aren't they in class?" They'll get on the phone and start texting, "Oh, his car won't start." "Not my problem, that's your problem. You figure out how to fix it." Okay? You're responsible. You're personal issues can't get in the way of the objective. So, I try to push them a little bit. Some of them don't like it, but you know what, it's a great introduction to what it's going to take for them to be successful in sales.
Now, fast forward into Spring, we do a gold tournament. So, we have a great time in the Spring. We have this big, Professional Sales Institute golf tournament and the class sells the golfs teams to companies, and they sell the whole sponsorship. They sell the door prizes, but the students get to play golf with the companies that buy a golf team. So, that's worked out really well, we've brought out a lot of companies.
We play on the LSU golf course, we play the tournament in the morning. There's a restaurant across the street from the course, walk on sports bar, we have a big back porch party. We give out awards. It's a networking session for the students for the rest of the day. This is usually the second to last week of school and students are getting ready to graduate. So, they get to meet a lot of these great companies that bought a team, just for the fact that they wanted to come meet these students and network with them on the golf course. The students got the sales experience.
You can put this on your resume. "I was a sales manager on a college sales team, and this was our results." Companies want to see results. They want to see that you accomplished something, you had goals. Now, I'll have a team that may go out there and they will not sell anything, that's okay, but I want them to experience that because that's what's going to happen to them. You ask your sales team, "Do people not return their phone calls?" Absolutely. "Do they not return their emails?" You're right, they don't return our emails. Well, I want them to experience that here, so that I can explain to them that, "Hey, this is part of the sales process."
I'm curious for those softer skills like, resilience. Really giving the students experience of what it's like to be a sales rep, if you've had any cool transformations of someone who, maybe, didn't? Or wasn't sure if it was the right fit for them, and then, you know, really flourished in coming to that challenge? Or, you know, maybe even in on the other side, students who realized, maybe this wasn't for them, but at least they got the full taste of what being a sales rep was like?
I've had experience on both sides of that equation. I had a student last semester who wanted to be the sales manager on the team, right? So, after about a month I got an email from that student, asking if she could quit as being a sales manager. That she did not like it. I said, "Sure you can quit. You find someone else on your team to come in and take the responsibility." But, that's a win in my book because now I have a student who knows what it means to be a sales manager. It means that everyone's problems on your team, are your problems. So, she realized that, "Hey, I can't do this."
I think that was a great lesson. I think you have a lot of college students leaving university programs, going into the business world, thinking they can just take over the world. They find out, a lot of times the harder way, that, "Hey, this is a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be."
Going the other way too, I've had some students who have come into class who were scared to make a phone call. Who ... You know, we do phone role plays, where I'll stand behind the students. We'll put a telephone on a desk, it's not plugged in. I'll stand behind them and they have phone script. They face the class and we have, "Okay. Go ahead, just say, 'Ring, ring'. Say, 'Hello'", and then I'm going to answer standing behind them and they cannot do a phone call. I really joke with them, that, "some of you have beaten yourself with the phone handset. You've got black eyes and bloody noses." But, they really panic on a fake phone call.
They'll go through this class and it will teach them how to focus on the little things, and they get a little bit of confidence. Where they [inaudible 00:11:18] as confidence, and you'll see them growing through the semester. That they don't have a problem at all sending out a pre-approach email, doing research, making that phone call and trying to see setting up an appointment. You know, the realize that, "Hey, I have some skills I didn't realize I had."
Sales is not easy. Sales is hard, it's harder today than it's ever been. Even with the technology and the tools, it's still a hard occupation, but it's a well paid occupation. You can make a lot of money. You're really enjoying it. You can help a lot of people. You have to come here and fail. Make the mistakes, learn from those mistakes We can show you, after you've made that mistake, there's a better way. Do it our way and let's see if it's easier.
Yeah, I'm glad you brought up the technology because, do you think part of that failure and that struggle is learning how to take a sales process and put it into the software as well? I mean, there's so many layers to it now too, where not only do you have to understand the sales process, but you've got the director, aka you, that's saying, "Well, how's your team doing?" Where's the visibility into what your teams doing?
That's one of the great things about Hub Spot. See, Hub Spot gives me the ability to watch on a dashboard. Okay, I get to see the emails, the phone calls, the activities that are going on. It helps me to show them the really intuitive data that, "Okay, you're not focusing enough activity and intention in the front end of the sales cycle." Okay? You have to fill your lead funnel. You've got to get the numbers in there to get the results in the backend.
So, the tools available allow us to be able to show that really intuitive, that, "Hey, look, here it is." It's black and white. I can show you where you're failing. It's a pretty great platform where they can see that, "Okay, I'm not going out and I'm not finding enough leads. I'm not doing enough research for qualified prospects." How many email did you send this week? "Well, we sent two." That's not a good start. You should be sending two before lunch. Okay?
It's like, you've got to focus on the front end of the sales cycle. Let the backend take care of itself. So, yeah, I mean, the technology that's available, specifically through what you guys provide, allows us to use that and leverage it in a really meaningful way.
What do you think that is, those skill sets that you want every student to graduate with to be successful?
Okay, first of all, you know, technology is not going to help you make your quota. I could give you all the technology, I could give you everything to help spot on, "Here it is." It's not going to be a replacement for work ethic and focus. So, what I try to tell my students is, number one, focus on the little things. Don't focus so much on that big shiny object out in the distance, which may be a commission check. No. That will take care of itself if you focus on the front end of the sales cycling, the little things. What do your numbers look like? How many people are you contacting a day?
So, what I try to get them to realize is that, CRM has been one of the greatest developments in the world of sales, God, since the computer. But, CRM in and of itself, is not a [inaudible 00:14:38]. It is only, simply, a tool to help you organize your time and your prospects.
I think, your program actually has the luxury of having several different courses, so it can be tough if you have only one sales course, or even two sales courses. It sounds like, and please correct me if I'm wrong, you've set this up so that the students are learning professional selling in its own context. Or learning sales technology in its own context, and then coming to this practicum stage armed with the baseline knowledge. So, that actually helps them be in a situation where they can fail because they have some context. They have a little bit of knowledge, and then they go in and hit the ground running. Did I get that set-up correct?
Yeah, you did, and look, ideally we want a student to go through a progression. They'll take sales management, professional selling, then they'll come to the practicum class. The goal is, is take everything they've learned in the other two classes, come to the practicum and do it.
Is that ever really abrupt for students? Where they thought they were good at sales because they did well in the first two courses, and then it actually comes and they're like, "Why haven't I closed a deal yet?"
Absolutely. It happens all the time. I think you get, kind of, this false sense of confidence that, "Wow, this looks easy." It just rips it all to shreds with that first phone call where someone hangs up on them.
Better now than in their first job.
Exactly. So, yeah, but that's the whole point. You know, they have great classes out there, all over the country, on, 'How to Sell', on sales management, on theory, practice. But, until you pick up the phone and you start making dials, and have someone who's rude to you. Or show up for an appointment and you get stood up, they decided that they don't have time to see you that day and they look the door. So, you have to be prepared to deal with the adversity when it hits you.
The people who are really successful, high end earners in sales, they understand that, but they persevere. They keep their work ethic going and they focus on the little things.
I'm glad that you mentioned high end performers, because you've actually mentioned one thing to me that I thought was so awesome, in how you close your loop with the students. That you've actually been surveying them to hear how they've been doing.
I'm curious, how that's been going? So, a couple things, how it's been going? What you ask them? Then, of course, you know, you say, you're always selling, is that stuff that you're then turning around and either, using it as collateral to get people to join the program, or to expand the mandate of that? I mean, I know a lot of folks who are building out programs themselves could take a page from your book in that.
Well, you know, when I was first hired, my department chairman Dr. Nedrick and I, decided that, you know, we're going to start measuring the success of this program. So, what I was doing in the beginning was, basically sending an email out to all the graduates about two months after they went through graduation. Just a real, simple, "Hey, could you ... I would like to know, could you report back confidentially, who you're working for, what's your starting salary, commission structure? Are you working full time? Your age?", just to start collecting some data.
Well, once we partner with Hub Spot, I was like, "Well, I need to take this to a different level." So, LSU, like other universities, we have access to Qualtrics. So, what I did was, this summer I built a Qualtrics survey that's about 15 questions, that I'm sending out. I've already sent it out to the 47 students who graduated from the program back in May. The survey basically was the same thing as before. It wanted to know, "Who you're working for, what was your base starting salary, what's your commission structure?" We also ask, "What's your annual dollar volume quota?"
We want to see, what's the economic impact of this program to the rest of the world? You know, if our students, as a whole on average, and we've done some research on this in the past, asking this question. We're looking at an economic impact close to two-hundred million dollars a year.
On dollar volume and quota, but also put information there, I want to know if you are, or are not, Hub Spot certified, Inbound sales? Hub Spot CRM? Did that certification have an impact on getting your new career? I also want to know, is CRM an active part of your daily duties in sales? So, we're going to start to track some of this. In fact, I just shared a conversation with one of our academic associate faculty members, tenured track, who does a lot of research in that space. He and I may take that survey, and we're going to start, kind of, tinkering around the edges and start using it and sending it out to past graduates.
We want to see, you know, what's the amount of effect of, not only CRM education and Inbound sales, but what are they doing on a daily basis that relates to that? How much in bound are they doing, versus out bound? CRM, how much CRM activity do you have to deal with on a daily basis? What's the outcome of that, is it resulting in more sales, or not.
So, we're using some of those data analytical tools to start capturing some of this, and this is our first semester to start using it with the graduates. But, no, we're really curious, we want to see, what is their experience with Hub Spot and what has it done for them on the back end, on the outcomes of their job search and their careers?
I'm curious, you know my brains just spinning with the number of different ways that you could use this, but I would imagine that you'll be able to tweak and update your programming to stay on top of industry too, by talking to these students.
Absolutely. That was also one of the goals in this, is to see, to make sure. In fact, we put a question at the end, "What recommendations would you have for us to better prepare future students for the job market, based on what you're noticing now?" One of the things we ask the students is, "Is compared to your peers, how well were you prepared for a career in sales?" We want to know, how do they feel they were prepared as compared to their peers? So far, the results have been pretty high.
Cool. I'm curious, what advice do you have to schools that are thinking of teaching sales? I really liked what you were saying about how, sales is such an important part now of the business education. What advice do you have for, maybe that professor out there, like you, who wants that mandate of sales? How to do that?
There's a lot of great material out there for sales education, unlike in the past. There's some great textbooks, there's a lot of paths like this available. There's Hub Spot, it's available also. You have the Sales Education Foundation, which is a great partner to help and assist. USCA, kind of schools that are members, or were a member of the USCA, and the Sales Education Foundation.
My number one recommendation would be this, number one, you've got to find a way to get the students out of their comfort zone. Sitting in a classroom, taking notes, taking a test, is not going to teach them how to sell. They've got to get out of their desk and get out of the classroom and get some real, practical experience in sales before they're going to get to that point where they're really qualified to hit the ground running.
Second thing is, is you cannot discount this enough, is reading. I make my students, every semester, read two sales books. I tell them that ... And these are the two really, simple books. They're not that hard and they're really great. One's a strategy book and ones an overall sales methodology book. I want them to get in the habit of reading sales books. If you're in sales, you have to keep reinventing. You have to invest in yourself. You've got to invest in your skills and your knowledge, and the only way to really do that, is to read.
So, you need to get on a habit and start reading about 25 pages a day, 50 if you have time, but you've got to get in the habit of reading sales books to keep reeducating yourself. You cannot discount that enough. I think that's one of the real simple things, a lot of faculty overlook, is the importance of reeducating yourself once you leave the university.
Yeah, it's imparting them with that lifelong learning gene. Making it a habit of being a successful sales rep, is you're going to have to keep at this and you're going to have to be hungry.
Well, look, all your top performing sales professionals, they all have one thing in common, they are habitual readers. They're constantly reinvesting back in themselves by reading. They're reading all the new research, they're reading the new methodologies. Inbound now, it's the new thing in social media and social selling, if you're not educating yourself and keeping up with the technology and the new methodologies, you're going to fall behind. The world will leave you behind, if you allow it to happen.
I will say this, for someone who's just starting out, every university out there has an alumni association, okay? I don't know if there's a school that doesn't have an alumni association. Go to your alumni association and offer to bring in your students to sell for the alumni association as a project. You know, work within your organization and the alumni association. There's other groups on campuses that, you know, they may be really easy. Maybe the students themselves could come up with a product that they can sell, or partner with a local charity.
There's some really easy, non-profits out there available. You just got to, kind of, get creative and know where to look.
I love it. You know, I can't think of a better thing to wrap up with, Greg. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm not sure if you had any final partings words, or thoughts, that you wanted to drop in here before we wrapped up?
I'll just leave you and the audience with this, you know, sales is about two things and this is what I tell my students on the first day of class; sales is solving problems and helping people achieve goals. That's it. It's not anymore complicated than that. So, if you take that approach and you can put Hub Spot in the mix on this. Okay, Hub Spot helps you to connect with people who have problems that you can solve, or goals that they need help to achieve in.
So, you take a platform like Hub Spot, and it helps you connect with the people where you can do that. The two things you're going to do in sales on a daily basis, in your whole career, is you're going to be the problem solver or the person who helps someone achieve a goal. That's it.
Nice and simple. Perfect parting words. Whatever system you are using, those truths remain the same.
Love it. Greg, you've built a really awesome program, so thank you for taking a minute to stop and share it; the structure, the vision, the day-to-day, the logistics, with our audience.
Appreciate you having me.
Without a doubt. So, folks, thanks again for listening. This has been the Teacher's Lounge, Hub Spot's podcast for the Education Partner Program. The Education Partner Program provides colleges and university professors with everything they need to teach leading courses in marketing, sales, entrepreneurship, and communications. That's software, resources and a community of professors, all for free. Until next time folks.
Greg is currently serving as the Director of the LSU Professional Sales Institute, Department of Marketing. Extensive work developing and executing strategy, acting as the industry liaison, chief fundraiser, managing the LSU Professional Sales Institute budgets, overseeing internships and placements, overseeing & coaching the university sales team and sales competitions, job fares, and other PSI events. Teaching two sections of undergraduate classes for Professional Sales and Sales Practicum. Also teaching Professional Sales and Negotiation Tactics & Strategies for LSU Executive Education. Successfully launched a CRM education program in partnership with HubSpot for all current, and future, LSU PSI students. Facilitating corporate partnerships and relationships for ongoing university research projects focusing on sales & sales management.
He also serves as an industry consultant to assist, advise, and oversee the reorganization of sales strategy and sales team development.