Mary Jacobs, a veteran corporate sales manager and consultant, and director since 2013 of the Center for Sales Innovation at St. Catherine University, runs what she says is the only four-year degree program in business-to-business sales and health care sales in Minnesota. Although a relatively small major, Jacobs said it fills a niche for companies looking to diversify their sales ranks and also gives nursing and other students who take some of the courses an inside look at how to sell knowledgeably and ethically.


Q: What is your mission and how does this role fit you?

A: I joined St. Kate’s in 2013. My mission is to provide career-ready sales graduates who can hit the ground running at large and small companies with practical experience in selling through classroom sales simulations, regional and national sales competitions and internships. I didn’t necessarily aspire to the academic world, but this was a good fit for me. I’ve got a good sales background. I liked managing employees. And to bring this to St. Kate’s was a good fit. This is a great environment focused on developing women. We do a combination of guest speakers, whether experts in sales and negotiation, and I think they bring it to life.


Q: What is the Center for Sales Innovation at St. Catherine University?

A: The Center for Sales Innovation has a 16-year track record of helping women advance in sales talent excellence. We concentrate on three areas: a four-year degree in business-to-business and health care sales, a health care sales certificate; leadership forums for women and men in sales; and research in national sales trends. The center’s undergraduate curriculum is benchmarked against the best talent expectations of corporations for continuous improvement and relevance. It is tailored to real-world selling through mentoring, shadowing and interning experiences with corporate partners.

The center offers cross-industry sales leadership opportunities for corporations, including customized training and a monthly sales executive forum for local sales leaders. Men and women. These opportunities result in sales leaders’ involvement with our sales undergraduates through classroom speaking, buyer-seller role-playing, sales competition preparation and career preparation support. Our research has examined various topics, including the best practices of high-performance women in sales … and how to effectively ‘onboard’ millennials.


Q: How is the program unique?

A: The center started in 1998 as a direct result of corporations recognizing that their sales work forces had been predominately comprised of white males. 3M was a founding partner and provided financial support as well as curriculum development to launch the center. Strategic partners have also included: Wells Fargo, ING, Ameriprise Financial, Pfizer, Northwest Airlines, Ecolab, Tennant, Mead Johnson Nutrition. … The purpose is to create a diverse pool of potential employees, educated to work effectively in complex selling situations. Listening is as important as speaking. And problem-solving as important as persuasion. Students learn to manage the value proposition of a company, not just how to sell products. St. Kate’s offers the only four-year degree program in business-to-business sales and health care sales in Minnesota. Some students, mostly business majors and small-business entrepreneurship majors, elect to take a minor in either program.


Q: How do you measure success?

A: Part of my measurement for success is based on who wants to work with us, which includes 3M, Upsher-Smith, Owens & Minor, Taylor Corp., Proto Labs. These are just some of the companies that recruit and hire our students. Small businesses also contact me because they know how well-rounded and experienced our students are. When a company can hire a graduate who understands the sales process, communicates well, understands negotiation techniques, possesses hands-on experience … they get a career-ready sales professional who can impact their business immediately.

Another measure is sales students gaining job offers before starting their senior year based on successful summer internships. After this past summer, 11 of 14 interns have received part-time job offers for the school year or full-time job offers for after graduation.


Q: Is there an advantage to being a female-populated program? Is there demand for more women in sales?

A: There is clearly a demand for women in sales. Many of my conversations with corporations are about the growing need for qualified, diverse sales candidates. When companies find out about our comprehensive curriculum that includes negotiation, value-based selling and social selling skills, they are impressed and want to get involved on campus.


Q: About how many students graduate annually with sales majors?

A: Since 1998, we’ve had more than 200 students graduate with a sales major, minor or in the health care sales certificate program. We expect 15 to graduate in the 2014-2015 academic year. A lot of our students come to study nursing or pre-medicine and realize that’s not their calling. The health care sales degree is really appealing to them. They’ve had biology, physiology and anatomy, perhaps, and then they’re taking business and marketing courses. The science-and-health background makes them really good job candidates.


Q: To what extent do your industry partners design your curriculum?

A: They definitely have a significant role in curriculum design. We added a new required class, “Ethics and Integrity in Selling,” a few years ago as a direct result of 3M telling us it was a significant topic that college students need. We added value-based selling modules in our “Customer Intelligence” class this fall that teaches students how to sell a product or service based on the true intrinsic value to the customer and not on price alone.


Q: Are you able to place most of your graduates?

A: More than half of students have jobs before they graduate and several more will have jobs within a few months of graduation. A number of students that do internships receive job offers after they’ve completed their internships. Compensation varies with salary and commission, but an average starting salary is $45,000 to $55,000. We are growing our health care sales degree and certificate program as a result of a growing interest by students … both undergraduates and women re-entering the workforce or who have health care degrees in nursing or other degrees.