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Spring 2005 - Sales

Destination Purdue > Spring 2005 - Sales

Students buy into careers in sales

By AJ Pheasant

"Yes! I will buy!" Those three words were enough to let Drew Jacobson, an agricultural economics major at Purdue University from Lafayette, Ind., know that he had received an A on the final project of his beginning sales course.

Biltmore Estate
David Downey

Jacobson feels that his project has prepared him for his career. Jacobson learned from this course that sales is a growing field with rapidly expanding opportunities. He used the final project, called a "Ready, Set, Sell presentation," to prepare him for a career goal of serving as a military officer.

"Sales have historically had a bad image," said David Downey, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University. And this image has prevented many students from considering the opportunities that come from a career in sales. "However, that image is rapidly changing, especially in agriculture where many of today's new technologies are brought to the farmer by highly trained and technically competent salespeople," Downey said.

Downey believes students need to prepare for a career in selling, especially in today's global economy. "Several years ago we determined that well over half of [the] students graduating from the [College] of Agriculture that were not going back to the farm were going into sales and service-related jobs in agribusiness," said Downey.

Is sales for me?
By AJ Pheasant

How do you know if a career in sales is for you? David Downey, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, says to succeed in sales, you should:

  • Understand the product.
  • Know the producer's business.
  • Be a proactive salesperson.
  • Know the customer's needs.
  • Prove your ability to follow through.
  • Show technical competency.
  • Have honesty and integrity.

Sales is a helping profession and Purdue has clearly developed into the preeminent university in sales because it has the largest professional selling program in the United States, said Downey. AGEC 331 (Principles of Selling) is designed to teach sophomores, juniors and seniors the basics of professional sales and marketing. The course is devoted to helping students become the salespeople commercial producers want.

"Companies want students to have selling experience, so practicing their sales tools with actual buyers in the field is a different, useful experience," said Jay Akridge, director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business.

This innovative, hands-on, agri-sales training course that Downey developed is not limited to a single real-world experience. Students also are required to spend a day in the field shadowing a professional salesperson to learn about selling first hand.

"Dr. Downey developed the first curriculum in the United States for a four-year bachelor's degree in agricultural sales and marketing," said Frank Dooley, administrator in the Department of Agricultural Economics. "He built the right model, as this basic sales course structure has been adopted by 40 universities," Dooley said.

This course has grown dramatically since it was developed by Downey over 25 years ago, and it now serves students from across the entire campus. Today more than 400 students from as many as 78 different majors enroll in the course each semester.