Brittany Knowles knew one thing going into college: She was going to pursue marketing no matter what. A sales job in the future? Not even on the radar. But she then took an introduction to sales class at The University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas), and it completely changed her way of thinking about the field. In fact, it inspired her to pursue even more advanced sales classes through the Jindal School of Management at UT Dallas.
Now working as a field sales intern at Liberty Mutual, Brittany is completing her last electives to graduate this year and has a full-time sales job offer when she’s done. Here, she shares her experiences about learning sales early on, why it’s important, and how she fell in love with it.
Why did you decide to take a sales class to begin with?
I was actually just taking the intro class to the program as an elective. I didn’t really have a passion for sales. In fact, I had a rather stereotypical view of salespeople as being pretty pushy and just wanting to get you to buy something. But I quickly learned the difference!
Early on in the class we went through a 15-minute role-play, going through the needs assessment, setting the agenda, and making sure you cover everything. An advanced student came into my intro class, and he was so confident, so good at speaking, and not at all scared to go up in front of others and role-play. It was inspiring. I thought, “Wow, I feel uncomfortable doing this. I can't believe he is so comfortable with it.” After that, I knew I wanted to be a part of something that develops my communication skills and helps me demonstrate value very easily just by talking to someone.
How do you actually learn sales in a class?
It’s definitely not from textbooks. It’s really extensive, from lectures to learning how to use LinkedIn effectively, workshops, and boot camps based on actual product selling. There’s also a “speed-selling” competition, which kicks off the program. It’s actually the most nerve-racking experience you’ll ever have … especially when it’s the first time you’ve done anything like it.
The “speed selling” is a two-minute elevator pitch about yourself to 20 different employers. It's like speed dating, but literally with employers who are also sponsors of our sales program and recruiters. Each employer gives you a minute of feedback after your pitch, and then you switch tables and on to the next one. As we progressed through the different employers, the elevator pitches about ourselves became better and better based off feedback each time. You’re really learning to refine how you deliver and what to highlight in a very short period of time.
How are you using what you’ve learned in the sales program for your field sales internship?
What I've learned from the sales program is that you have to present a product the way you want the consumer to see it. You have to ask the right questions to get to know what they're looking for in a product — and then tell them what you have that will help and how it's different from the others.
My internship is in the insurance industry. A lot of agents haven't grasped these ideas because they're so focused on the price of their product and how customers often price shop in insurance. It's more than just price. You have to be in control of the conversation. Be the consultative person and say, “Hey, I know that you're shopping around for price, but that's not the only thing that matters. What else do you care about when it comes to insurance? What else do you look for in the service?” It’s all about asking the right questions, getting the best information you can, and then presenting those things to the customer based off of the information you received from them.
Why should other students — especially those who think they’ll never go into sales — consider taking sales courses?
A sales program isn't just for someone who wants to go into sales. It's for everyone who wants to expand their communication skills. It gets you used to talking to different people — and you're going to have to do that in any job. It’s better to learn this while you're in school and just for a grade, rather than when you're out in the professional world. And you’ll be much more attractive to potential employers, too.
It's hard to find people my age — in a millennial age group from 20 to 25 — that know how to communicate well in person because technology has become such a large part of how we communicate now. A lot of our personal, face-to-face interactions have become kind of watered down. A sales program gets you out of that. It builds up your own confidence to where you believe you can go up to someone and say something.
What’s your biggest takeaway from learning sales in college?
“I knew I wanted to be a part of something that develops my communication skills and helps me demonstrate value very easily just by talking to someone.”