Executive-in-Residence Daniel Strunk was one of four people recruited a decade ago by Marketing Chair Sue Fogel to create what has become the nation’s largest sales management education and industry-outreach programs at the Driehaus College of Business. 

Strunk teamed up with fellow Executive-in-Residence David C. Hoffmeister (MBA ’03), longtime Marketing Professor Joel Whalen and Adjunct Professor Clancy Ryan (MBA ’02) to lead the launch of DePaul’s undergraduate and graduate courses in sales leadership and the Center for Sales Leadership, which Strunk manages. The program now offers 11 courses in sales management, enrolling 900 students, and has 46 corporate recruiting partners. It has been featured in The Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg Businessweek.

Strunk brings 30 years of executive experience in packaged and sporting goods sales, marketing and customer management to his role at DePaul. Below, he discusses the program’s growing prominence and success in preparing students for rewarding professional careers in sales. 

Q: How has DePaul’s Sales Leadership Program grown since it was founded?

Dan Strunk (DS): Since it was introduced in 2004, the Sales Program has enjoyed explosive growth, based on providing students outstanding career opportunities.  It evolved to encompass The Center for Sales Leadership in 2009. We started the program with one class and 35 students; today we have 11 classes and 900 students taking courses in any particular term. We have a partner-centric program, meaning that our corporate partners provide us the financial and in-class executive support necessary to develop our sales students. We have grown from five corporate partners in 2004 to 46 partners today in three categories (business-to-business, consumer packaged goods and food service).

Q: What kind of student should consider going into sales leadership? 

DS: At the Center for Sales Leadership we believe great sales people are built not born. We believe that business analytics are the key to creating value in sales. Some schools use Gallup and Chally personality testing to determine sales capability, but we have not seen any real evidence to support that contention. We prepare sales candidates two ways: technically and attitudinally. Technical preparation is a straightforward process that  provides students the core competencies required to fulfill sales responsibilities.

What is not as clear cut, however, is how to dispel the barrier attitudes that students have regarding the term “sales.” Those attitudes are the result of our literature and Hollywood propagating the perspective of sales. “Death of a Salesman,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Tin Men” are but a few examples of plays and movies that have negative stereotyping.

We find it is important to ask students to describe their perfect job. Invariably our students describe the core elements of a sales representative, such as accountability, financial reward, the ability to believe in their products and, finally, the opportunity to work with people. More importantly, after exposure to a single sales class, 35 percent of students state they will pursue a sales career. It is our experience that students of all personalities and backgrounds can be taught to be outstanding sales people. At the Center for Sales Leadership we prepare students at the graduate and undergraduate levels and with specialization in business-to-business, consumer packaged goods and food service industries.

Q: What is the career outlook?

DS: Career opportunities abound in sales. According to Manpower, a recruiting consulting firm, sales positions are the most difficult positions to fill worldwide. Selling Power Magazine estimates that over 34,000 jobs are created annually for sales professionals. What we know is that according to the DePaul Educational Landscape Study, 100 institutions teach sales in at least one class and 26 universities have a sales center with four or more classes, but that all of those schools combined graduate only 3,000 qualified students for those jobs each year. Our partners’ recruiting appetite for talent has increased by a factor of three this year. Consider three of our partners—3M has tripled the internships they are seeking this year, Pepsi has doubled their requirement and Textron has come to our program with over 20 jobs to fill. Careers in sales are at a premium today and for the long term as well.    

Q: How has the business community supported the program?

DS: Our partnerships have increased 100 percent in the last three years as companies learn that hiring for sales positions from other companies is no longer successful because of a dearth of quality talent and significant diversity and cultural concerns. If not from other companies, then where will they recruit? What companies are learning is that college campuses are the only source for quality talent, yet their recruiting programs are woefully inadequate to keep up with their demand.

3M, our first partner, has been investing in college recruiting and sales curriculum for 20 years for just this reason. Since 2011 our program partner count has increased from 18 companies supporting our program to 46 partners contributing to student recruitment, our research agenda and a healthy partner community. In 2011 we graduated 170 students per year; today we expect to graduate 200 students per year and look to expand our sales concentration and minor population to 220 students in 2014. We expect to grow our business partners as our student population expands. 

Q: How has the program’s faculty contributed to its success?

DS: All faculty members recruited to support our program have significant related business experience. We understand that to prepare students for the business world our instructors need to be able to relate to our partners’ functional needs and bring that perspective to our classrooms. Teaching in the classroom is perhaps only half of the requirements for our faculty members. They also need to be able to provide career counseling and support for our students as they explore new career choices and think thorough issues like business focus, long-term growth opportunities for a company and relocation. DePaul’s business faculty members are part of the reason that our students are so productive when they reach the work environment because our students have been coached to succeed.

Q: What kind of research does the Center for Sales Leadership produce?

DS: Research is a principal source of value for our business partners. Our partners benefit from exposure to talent, participation in our business community, and access to faculty members and to the research we commission each year. Our research mission is to increase the body of practical knowledge for the sales community. We field a variety of studies to support our partners. Every two years Executive-in-Residence David Hoffmeister and Assistant Professor Richard Rocco field a Sales Best Practices Study, which reviews those sales practices that shape successful companies. In addition, they both collaborate on the Sales Education Landscape Study that tracks the growth and quality of sales education on college campuses across the country. In the consumer packaged goods sector we have completed two category management studies. The first was a review of the practice of category captaincy. A second study focusing on collaboration of category management partners is being developed presently by Associate Professor Nina Diamond and Assistant Professor Marina Girju. These studies are intended to improve the body of knowledge of sales and to provide our business partners competitive advantage in the workplace.  

Q: What kind of attention has the program received?

DS: Center for Sales Leadership faculty members take the promotion of our program very seriously. Faculty members have been invited to serve on the boards of three major industry associations: The University Sales Center Alliance Board, The Category Management Association Board and the University Sales Education Foundation Board. These positions allow us an opportunity to extensively communicate DePaul’s commitment to industry service. In addition, our faculty members are invited to speak at industry conferences around the world. This past year I spoke at eight conferences, providing exposure to the university’s perspective on professional selling and category management. Other faculty members have had similar opportunities. Participating on these stages provides significant exposure to our program. Finally, publication and publicity is important to presenting the DePaul brand to the business community worldwide. 

While we contribute to magazines through interviews and write articles for Selling Power Magazine and various blogs, perhaps our high point was the inclusion of an article written by Fogel, Rocco, Hoffmeister and myself titled “Teaching Sales” that appeared in the July 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review.

All in all, we have done a good job of communicating who we are and what we do, but as with everything else, improvements can be made. We expect to make great progress in program recognition in the​ ​next year.​​​