As industry demand for sales professionals continues to grow, a long-time business executive who knows the need firsthand has stepped up to support an up-and-coming academic program in the Eastern Kentucky University School of Business.
A $1 million gift from Louis and Maribeth Berman, of Louisville, has enabled the School’s Center for Professional Sales, which now bears the Bermans’ name, to secure space and equipment, increase faculty support and provide for scholarships and more competition opportunities for students. The program currently offers a sales certificate, but will expand to encompass a minor in Spring 2021, followed by a major.
Mr. Berman, senior vice president with AssuredPartners, has spent much of his career in commission sales and “studied many different sales strategies and concepts. Many people think that if you have a good or outgoing personality, then you’d likely be good at sales, and that just isn’t always the case. There are proven strategies, methodologies, concepts and plans that students can study, and even an introverted person can master sales skills. Understanding proven sales strategies and concepts can help graduates in many situations and professions.
“Having spent most of the last 40 years hiring, training and mentoring sales people, I recognize the need for a pipeline of more sales professionals. Most recently, at my company, we have been looking to sales programs across the country to recruit new sales professionals. Additionally, sales people are high-income earners and have the personality to give back.”
That has certainly been the case with the Bermans, long-time EKU benefactors whose support has included a $4 million planned gift to the University, announced in 2019.
“Maribeth (the former Maribeth McBride, a Richmond native, 1992 EKU grad and former University administrator) and I are excited about our gift to support the growth and success of the program,” Mr. Berman said. “We are passionate about helping young people obtain their college education. Many business grads’ first jobs out of college are in sales, so a sales minor, and eventually major, would be a great investment for not only business grads, but also other majors.”
Currently, more than 60 EKU students are pursuing a sales certificate through the program, with more enrolled in one or more classes, according to Executive Director Dr. Lee Allison, who spent decades in sales prior to joining the Eastern faculty. The Berman Center for Professional Sales includes sales labs, made possible by the Bermans, where students hone their sales skills via recorded role-playing sessions. The practice is paying off even before the students graduate, as evidenced by EKU students’ top showing in a sales management simulation at Florida State University and other impressive performances in national competitions.
Allison noted that the Center’s experiential model allows students to “repeatedly make practical application of their knowledge to building relationships, effectively listening, communicating and influencing others, and practicing self-discipline and self-reliance, establishing a strong sense of self-confidence and competence in their field of expertise.”
Google and Dell executives, speaking at a meeting Allison attended earlier this year, confirmed that they expect such “soft skills” from new hires, yet often find them lacking. “They maintain these are far more important than any other skill set apart from business acumen more generally.”
Mr. Berman and Allison agreed that the recent addition of Ed Gogol as program manager and Dr. Lixun Su as a faculty member would significantly boost the center. A CPA early in his career, Gogol built a successful tech business and was recently president for sales with a Fortune 100 tech firm. He will now focus on fund-raising, promotion, coaching and overall planning for the center. Allison called Gogol a “technology wizard” who “brings a perspective of an entrepreneur and builder” to the center. Su, a former faculty member at West Virginia University, also has experience teaching sales and assisting with sales competitions.
Allison predicted that EKU’s professional sales program will be a strong draw nationwide within five years. “As we attract students earlier and get them into the labs and competitions earlier, we expect to accelerate the acquisition and refinement of their skills such that EKU students will be beating out students from the best, and most-established sales programs in the world.”
She added the center will expand its offerings to include executive training for corporate and executive stakeholders in the area.
“It is impossible to overstate the benefits that accrue to the University, our students and our service region as a result of the Bermans’ commitment and philanthropy to Eastern Kentucky University,” Allison said.
“Our hope,” Mr. Berman said, “is that EKU becomes known for the Berman Center for Professional Sales and that it used as a recruitment tool. We are committed to helping EKU grow this to be a program of distinction.”
For more information about the EKU chapter of Pi Sigma Epsilon, the only national co-ed professional fraternity in the fields of sales, marketing and management, visit www.pse.org/eku/.