Episode 257: Empowering Students for Sales Success with Judith Anne Garretson Folse and John Ballentine

January 3 , 2024  |  By Brent Williams

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This week on the podcast Brent sits down with Judith Anne Garretson Folse, Department Chair, and John Ballentine, the sales program director, both from the Department of Marketing at the Walton College. The conversation focuses on the importance of sales skills in both your professional and personal life. Judith and John discuss their passion for creating opportunities for students to succeed in the marketplace by honing their sales abilities. The conversation also covers how the Walton College's sales program and sales competition, with its rich blend of academic and practical experience, is set apart from others. They also discuss their vision for the sales program and the potential for growth, underscoring the importance of sales in every aspect of commercialization and product marketing.

Podcast Episode

Episode Transcript

John Ballentine  0:00  
We get to tell the students I wish when I started as a sales professional, that I knew ABCD, and we get to talk to them about that, but not just tell them about the skills, having practice skills, but give stories, the context of those stories that we get to tell that we experienced and that and that goes in and failures and successes.

Brent Williams  0:07  
Welcome to the be epic podcast brought to you by the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. I'm your host, Brent Williams. Together, we'll explore the dynamic landscape of business, and uncover the strategies, insights and stories that drive business today.

Well, today I have with me Judith Folse, who is Department Chair of the Department of Marketing in the Walton College. And I have John Ballentine, who is the sales program director also in the Department of Marketing. So, Judith, John, welcome.

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  0:17  
Thank you. We're very grateful to be here.

John Ballentine  0:21  
So much of a blessing to be here. 

Brent Williams  0:23  
Well our topic today is going to be about sales and sales is, is a sales experience is something that I feel like had a big impact on my professional, professional journey. I spent five or six years in a sales role and I just think I have used those skills in every part of my career, and probably maybe, to some degree, every part of my life. And it's just made a big impact. And, you know, Judith, you've been with us now at the Walton College for about three full semesters at this point. And as you came in to lead the marketing department, one of the things we decided to really focus on was sales. So, you know, why was that so important to you?

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  1:13  
Well, really, at the end of the day, it's about students, and the opportunities that students have in the marketplace. And I spent my first year listening and learning and I listened to faculty, whether they were teaching one course, or they were teaching a full load, if they taught only one time, or if they'd been here for 30 years to get their perspective, and how I can help them. I talked to industry and industry was really insightful, and then learned from students what they valued, and recognized the potential opportunity for students here, not only in Northwest Arkansas, but really nationwide in terms of sales. So I feel like we have such an opportunity and really an obligation to help students be very successful. You know, John and I have talked about this a lot. And our goal is to create opportunities for students so that they can have satisfying lives and careers. And we are very passionate about training students so that they can execute well, and we look at our, our backyard and just the nation and everything is really about sales. You know, we listened to your podcast with Spencer Fraser from JB Hunt and that was very inspirational to us because it really echoes a lot of what we value. And we also look at is the commercialization process. And I know John will probably want to talk about that. But that sales happens in at all levels of taking a product to market and this commercialization, but even deeper within each section. So, again, student opportunities, we know that if you go and look at the labor market, the jobs are there. And we want students to be connected with us opportunities. 

Brent Williams  3:07  
When we started thinking about this initiative and John, I think this is one thing you and I talked about really early. And well, John is relatively new as an instructor to the Walton College, not new to the Walton College or the region in any way and been involved here for many, many years. You know, what we found is there's some studies out there that show very, very few university graduates take a sales class or have a sales experience, we learned that the Walton College was better than those averages. But still, there was a lot of opportunity there.

John Ballentine  3:44  
It's really fun to see how, you know, we crunched some numbers on that. Thanks for reminding me about that study, we crunched some numbers. And we know on average that Walton and University of Arkansas students, on average, have more opportunities to take a sales class we have the numbers are staggering. We had I think, in the last school year, we had over 700 students take a sales class, which is phenomenal, and bigger than a lot of other sales programs that we have in the country. Doesn't mean we don't have a lot of room to grow, because we do but but we're excited about that. And I just when you and Judith presented your vision for what we can do here on the sales program, it was very inspiring to me and just very thankful I get to help be a part of making that happen. But I can't say enough about how the experience that we have from an instructor base that's teaching our students is everyone has experience you know, in sales, and they know the value just what you spoke of earlier the value of the skills and the art the science of selling are to the students no matter what their job is.

Brent Williams  4:52  
Yeah, those skills do matter. You're right no matter you know, if if you're directly selling if you're not doing directly selling, you're indirectly selling. Well, one of the, you know, you mentioned this, John and I us pitch this, both of you, and however you want to answer it, you know, you mentioned our the, the instructors that we have teaching sales come from a real practical background. You know, one thing I love about the Walton College is this unique mix in our faculty have, you know, a faculty members that have spent their careers in academia, you know, really going deep and developing expertise. And then, you know, we also have a significant part of our faculty that's coming from practice, you know, that has amazing experience, and they're bringing all that experience and our student leaves, you know, at the end of their undergraduate career, with a real mix of experience in that way. And I think that's really, really good. But in this particular area, we've really chosen to go, at least right now with really experienced people in sales. What are some of those dynamics that you see in the classroom when you're teaching sales? Like what are you encountering with our students? 

John Ballentine  6:09  
That's a great, fun question. Because when we think about I mean, just, we have over 150 years of practical experience, collectively, and our group of instructors is teaching in the sales program, which I love to brag on, because that's real live experience. And what it means in the classroom is, it means we get to stand in front of the students. And we get to say, hey, students, this is what we experienced in life and in our careers. And this is how we use the the art and science and the skills that we're trying to train you, we get to tell the students I wish when I started as a sales professional, that I knew ABCD, and we get to talk to them about that, but not just tell them about the skills, having practice skills, but give stories, the context of those stories that we get to tell that we experienced and that and that goes in and failures and successes. And I think when I share the failures I had, or the the choices that I made, that didn't turn out the way I had hoped they might, in class, I know all of our instructors do this, it's so impactful for the students, because they can they can feel and they have they, they can empathize with those mistakes. And they say, okay, I can learn from that, and not have to make that same mistake. So I think getting to share the wins and the losses with the students is so impactful.

Brent Williams  7:33  
How do you all in your program define sales? Because you have to start there, right. And I actually think that's a really, really important part of the educational process. 

John Ballentine  7:44  
No, question. No question. We we talk about how prestigious an opportunity in sales is for a student. And we know based on that numbers, that anywhere between probably 50 to 70% of Walton College graduates are going to have the opportunity to accept a prestigious job in sales. So really talking about the nobility of the profession. And that came out when you were talking with Spencer, so clearly, and I love the conversation you guys had. But sales is a profession of problem solving is a profession of value creation. And we create value for our own companies and sales professionals and for our clients as a company. I'm recapitulating what he said, through the practice of solving problems and as soon as I ask why do you enjoy sales? I said, I enjoy sales because I like solving problems like fixing things. 

Brent Williams  8:36  
Yeah. Because you like solving problems. And you like working with people to do it. Right. You know, and that's what I love about the sales process. And Judith, one thing I feel like you've done really well, since you've been here is you've been you one, you've been very strategic, first of all. And two, you've really been focused on how you get industry engaged. And I assume sales is an opportunity for industry to engage? 

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  9:01  
Absolutely. You know, we want to build a program that is rigorous and relevant and offers resonance. And we really are seeking partners who want to lean in and help us with this process. So we have great sales competitions here on campus that have been traditions for years. And I'll be honest, I came in with one lens and have had a couple of paradigm shifts since I've been here.

Brent Williams  9:30  
Okay, I'll tell you gotta tell us about that. 

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  9:32  
Okay, so when I was on my listening and learning journey, I really wanted to absorb every single thing that I was learning. I talked to as I told you, I talked to people from industry and I had a first of all I went to the sales competition and most universities that have sales programs, they will coach students and then they will take them to these different competitions out of state, and they'll take maybe six to eight students for a few competitions a semester, when I went to our sales competition for the first time, I was completely blown away. When I saw the caliber of the judges who were there for the students, very other serving, and I saw the sheer number of students who competed, I said, we don't need to go anywhere. We have such an opportunity right here to train our students in sales. And to witness the students running up to the professors after they went through their first round and seeking encouragement and strategies was just really wonderful to watch. And I am very proud of the fact that we've been very intentional on growing that sales competition. And we can speak to that a little bit, I can share the numbers, they're, they're ingrained in my brain because I'm so happy. The first in Fall of 2022, we had 45, excuse me, 56 students compete in the sales competition, in the spring, we had 98, the following spring. And in fall of 2023, we had 145.

Brent Williams  11:12  
I like your growth rate.

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  11:13  
Yeah, we do, too. We're very proud of it. And I'm so proud of this sales team that we have in place. So that was my first paradigm shift, I said, we can serve a greater number of students, we can impact the lives of more people, and we can serve our industry. And you could see that industry really is wanting to be a part of this. I mean, they're coming to the competitions, they are leaning in, they're encouraging students, it's amazing to really see that. And I know, we'll probably talk about that, again, the pride that we have in executing our sales competition with excellence.

Brent Williams  11:50  
So you've got 700 plus students taking the sales class, and then you've got 150 or so now in the fall of 2023 going above and beyond that, in getting this deeper experience. The sales competition is something I love as well. John, tell us a little bit about how it works. 

John Ballentine  12:12  
Okay. Sure, it's, uh, it's pretty simple. We have we invite industry to come in and sponsor a case. So they help we work with the industry partner, to write a case for the students to present. And they can the case can be somewhat simple. But basically, you have some a little bit of research you need to do about the product line or, or the company, what the product offering is. And then we have a specific ask, so there's a close that the student is going to look for. And then they schedule a follow up. But the the organization we have in the morning, students compete. And in the afternoon, we we choose the top six students, and then afternoon they compete in what we call the finals. So that's the basic situation we need about somewhere between 30 to 60, judges, you know, for a two day event

Brent Williams  13:10  

John Ballentine  13:11  
So and our industry partners have really responded to show up for that. But the students present, and they have a rubric to go through. And basically we follow the steps of the sales process. And there we asked them to follow those steps to the sales process to close the deal and, in a 10 minute, 15 minute presentation. And it's a roleplay. So it's a little bit contrived environment. But the idea is to practice and get gain confidence and understanding how this can flow. And then when we really want to train the students, you have to uncover the needs of the client. So you can tie the your solution to their need, and then understand what objections they may have and overcome those objections. So that's what we asked them to do in the roleplay. 

Brent Williams  13:54  
So I heard a story from one of you,and I don't remember which one actually, I heard it from maybe both from the fall competition, about a group that actually really didn't have the confidence going in. But the competition made a major, major difference. And so this is about learning. Right? So this is about learning and role playing. But this is so much about confidence. 

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  14:20  

Brent Williams  14:21  
One of one of you tell that story. Yeah John, go ahead.

John Ballentine  14:23  
The well, first of all, almost every student are in this in the fall of 2023. We did some team competitions. And the idea was to increase the number of students we can get through. They have that experience but it's so fascinating to see how nervous and concerned the students are and they do a lot of work. And they put a lot of work into getting ready for this and do a good job and we mentor coach. But there's a lot of maybe fear is not the right word, but concern going into the competition. But once they make that first presentation and they walk out, it is so much joy for me to see the faces of the students light up, and have that confidence in almost in every case, they say I gained so much confidence from doing this. And in the fall competition, we there was a team of students that presented, and they weren't really expecting to do well, but they did exceptionally well. And they were chosen to go to the finals. And I can distinctly remember, their professor was standing next to me, Mr. Fairman. And the team came up to us, and they looked at us with this great concern. We can't we can't do it, we can't go to the finals. We're so nervous, we just we're not ready. And Trey and I looked at each other and said, you're ready, you got this far, you can do it. And they, they did it. And guess what? Got second place in the entire competition. So fun. And you know, the students, the students that come to and participate, they get job offers, the industry, people are there because they want to hire great students and there, there will be jobs that come out of.

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  16:18  
Yes, some of the judges were coming out to us, asking us about some of the students, how do you pronounce that student's name, we want to go talk to that student. And it was really exciting to see how much the judges were leaning in and you know, getting involved and recognizing the talent.

Brent Williams  16:35  
I wAnnea I wAnnea go back to that moment for that student or student, this group of students, likely life changing, you know, potentially at least. And those are the moments here in an educational process that really, really matter. And, you know, I assume that not only in the sales competition, but throughout your classes that they're very experiential, I assume you see many of those kinds of moments? we do we see

John Ballentine  17:06  
We do, we see them all throughout the semester. And what we see is, you know, our sales instructors, they start the semester, being perceived by the students, as teachers or instructors well, by the end of the semester, they're seen as mentors or coaches. And, and I love that shift that happens, because it's true, it's and if we're interested in and, and all this, the care that, that this group of instructors all of the Walton College professors really, but we care so much about the life and career of the student and their success. But seeing that manifests itself in the coaching opportunities that we have, just to help the students get ready for the sales competition, or the career fair, or a job interview, or their first role is, is where I see that manifestation of that care and that of that mentorship. So it's fun to watch that, but, but to your point about the confidence building and the life changing, I had a student after one class, and it was it was life changing for me to hear this, but the student said, Mr. Ballentine, the skills that you're teaching us, what you're teaching us to do, and how to work and how to relate to people, and how to uncover people's needs, is going to change the way I do my work. My other classes that I take is going to even change the way I talk to my mom.

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  18:32  
I loved it when he shared that story with me.

John Ballentine  18:35  
So and that's kind of the life changing part of that, but you take it to the next level when you go to the sales competition, you get in this team of students that talked about, they got to present twice in the same day to a different set of judges. And again, that confidence and that that confirmation and affirmation that hey, you can do this is really so valuable. But the gold, the gold nuggets in what we do in the sales competition is the feedback that the judges give the students after they present both in the morning, and in the afternoon. They get a chance to give feedback and I got to share with the finalist. In the fall. I said, guys, you, you, teams, you people, you students we get to we get to nitpick you on some things because you did so well. You did so well. You went above and beyond and you presented a very classy and very well organized case presentation that we get to critique you on some things that a lot of people don't get a chance to critique you off. So you're getting to the next level of learning here and that's where the gold is and

Brent Williams  19:51  
I love that feedback process coming both from from our faculty and from industry. Back to the students, you mentioned several industry members have engaged I think you said you need you need lots of judges first of all, I'm sure that's one way. Sure they're engaging in classes who are some of the some of the partners that's really come alongside you all?

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  20:15  
Well, in our sales competition, we've had case sponsors like General Mills, and Kimberly Clark. We've also had Tyson and Cintas. This, in the last fall competition, we had Fastenal, as well as Sanofi and the brands that were part of that competition were aspercreme and icy hot. And we've got great judges that are coming from all CPG and non CPG companies. So we've got Hershey's, we had a Hershey's person participated both days, I think, full days, both days and was very, very involved. And we could probably talk about how we streamed the finals for the first time this year. And thanks to the competition, but we've got industry partners that, you know, John's been doing a great job reaching out to new partners, and who are very interested in opportunity to be K sponsor. So we have a great retail advisory board. Obviously, you know about that board, since that's been something that you have been able to continue for the Walton College, great group of people, many of the brands I mentioned are on that board, obviously Walmart, very, very involved in what we do. But we're we're actually having other companies that are reaching out and talking with us about, hey, how can we be more involved, and it's those partnerships that are going to allow the students to excel, you know, we really want to have these student engagement opportunities. You know, you and I have talked about that. We want the companies to come and lean in and serve as judges, but really work alongside the students, allow them to shadow them, create internship opportunities for them, we want to host networking events with them, we want to help our industry clients, our partners. So there's a great opportunity for them to be more involved if they've been involved or become involved.

John Ballentine  22:18  
This is something that was very evident to me. As we grow the competition as we get more industry clients involved, and we get more students involved. We have this was somewhat of a revelation to me, as we think about the commercialization of sales, I visualize it as a pyramid. And the pinnacle of the pyramid is when we deliver products to retail and we have a team of salespeople that work with the retailers to do all the things that they do, they're very special to get the products into retail, but behind that, and we want to train the entire sales force that's behind and underneath, lifting up that pinnacle of getting the products to the retailer. And you can break that all the way back down to the farm, right to if it's a food product, okay, the farmers need tractors, somebody's got to sell the tractor, they need agricultural chemicals we've got to sell them that, we need seed, we got to sell them that, we got to transportation people have to move that product to the silos and the finance people have to help with financing the tractor so we have this commercialization of sales pyramid that all I can think of. And it was so evident to me in this last fall that we're that our client base is expanding to where we're filling more of that commercialization sales pyramid up, because we've got packaging companies, International Paper joined us for the first time and brought two sales professionals and their HR person that's building rebuilding their entire sales training program, they engage with us and engage with the students. And it was so fun to see their engagement with that, we had transportation companies, you know, that are coming and giving great feedback, we have a Fastenal with their support that they give to the complete supply chain for running manufacturing operations that are required to to win this consolidated distributors has been a very good supporter of us. And they provide all the electrical equipment and packaging, line integration and all these things to company. So seeing this, seeing this flesh out in this I visualized as a as a parameter, support for the pinnacle of getting our products to retail. So it's fun to see that come into fruition. And as that happens, our geographies expanding too. We had people fly in from Ohio to be a part of the sales 

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  24:46  
And Memphis, drive over from Memphis. Yeah. And the one thing that we really loved when we think about this commercialization because John presented it to me and I said we've got to talk about this at the Retail Advisory Board meeting because it really just shows that sales really occurs throughout the process, like John said, it starts at the farm with the seed. And it ends up as it may be a cereal box that's on the shelf at Walmart. But what we loved about Spencer conversation was that you have sales within the organization, you mentioned earlier that you have external sales, and you have internal sales. And I think a lot of people recognize that, you're probably going to be selling your ideas internally, more than you're selling them externally. And you're going through the exact same process, you know, really understanding what the need is within your organization, because eventually your other serving, you're focusing on your clients. But we loved how Spencer talked about, you know, uncovering the needs, providing value, as John mentioned, but he also talked about the operations team and the engineering team. And he said, the operations teams, I mean, that's really the closing team, because the fact that they're able to gain the trust of the client, because they're showing how they can actually execute. So it starts with maybe the salesperson or the front line person who's working with a client and understanding what the needs are, and then going back to different teams and identifying potential solutions, and then presenting them. But it's the entire company that's really selling, and delivering. So when we talked about the commercialization process, where we kind of took a step back and said, wow, now that we've listened to Spencer, it's even deeper than we envisioned it as being in terms of opportunities for students in sales. And so you need to look at the different industries that have opportunities for students, you've got the financial industry, you've got CPG, you have industrial sales, you have consultative selling. And then we also have opportunities to help engineering students, and other students really at the University of Arkansas, within the one college and outside the Walton College, really gain these transferable skills and be successful in the marketplace. And this just makes us so excited to think about the impact that we can have. And that goes back to that paradigm shift that I had, you know, where we can serve more students and impact their lives, you know, give them the confidence to be successful because of the competitions. And we're actually expanding our competition from a two day competition to a three day competition. And we're identifying different ways that we can continue to elevate the competition and the program. So for the first time, in the fall of 2023, we had team selling, because we recognize that there would be a that really mimics what happens in the marketplace. You walk in and you have a team of people, Spencer's podcast once again, talking about teams. And so we thought this is a great opportunity for students to work as teams, and in their role playing, and it was allowed us to touch more students, but also allow them to gain greater skill sets that are more transferable.

Brent Williams  28:20  
A  couple of things strike me from all of that. One is that this this program, in terms of industry engagement, there is an opportunity maybe for any company, to engage in this it doesn't it doesn't matter what you're producing, what your what your service is, how you're engaged in, in the value chain, you can engage whether you're big or small, actually.

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  28:47  
Absolutely, we, we believe that our purpose is to be other serving. And we would love the opportunity to work alongside companies that really want to hire students who can uncover the needs of their clients, and help them excel in the marketplace and build teams.

John Ballentine  29:09  
Absolutely the one I've just been listening to you talk Judith and and connecting the one of the questions that Brent asked about, what is it we teach our students and when it comes to the art and science of selling. And here you you reminded me about this. When you reference to operations, people making the clothes and building that trust, and we teach, we talk about this every day in class that sales professionals operate with under the highest level of integrity and build trust for their clients. If you don't have that trust that you build with the client. You don't have an opportunity to engage that client understand what their needs are. And I had we we're so blessed to have so many great people that are able to come in and deliver helped over content in our sales class and one of, one of the sales development managers at or director of sales and development at Simmons Foods comes and talks to my class, every semester, Adam, come talk toward at the end of the class and he walked in, he said, okay, students, I want you to tell me the most the number one thing that a sales professional needs to develop in order to be successful. And several students answered questions that were all very close to accurate. But finally the one student said, trust. And he says absolutely, if you have to start there. And I think that's when you asked, sourcing professionals what's the most important thing about sales, professional? Trust and integrity. So I didn't want to gloss over that. Because that's really what Spencer was talking about our operations people come in close, because they proved to me exactly, we do.

Brent Williams  30:52  
Such a such a great point and such a it's so critical, right? That we're teaching our undergraduate students that is the core, because it's going to set them up for success going forward. So I guess the takeaway for me, if I'm a company that wants to engage in the sales program, there's probably a place for me. So reach out to John Ballentine, if you're listening and want to engage. You know, the other key takeaway for me is that there's really an opportunity for the Walton College through this program, because it doesn't matter if you're a marketing major, you know, or if you are a civil engineer, or if you're in poultry science, you know, and anywhere in between, probably a sales experience could help you. So we, we have an introduction to sales class, we have an advanced sales class for developing and implementing sales applications. We also have sales analytics in the program. So you know, it sounds like to me, you're starting with really foundational concepts of you're solving students, you're solving problems with sales, you've got to start with trust and integrity. But in the program, we're going all the way to I like how are you applying technology to sales?

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  32:12  
Yeah, absolutely. I'm really proud of the team that we have in place our sales team, and that we're able to offer, you know, these four different courses will be in our fourth, like John said, in spring of 2024. Because, you know, for sales analytics, we're using insights to guide a lot of these decisions. And we really need that in today's age where all of the decisions are based on on data. And we anticipate even more growth in terms of digital, I really loved how I keep going back to Spencer, but I loved how he talked about the fact that then that relationships are always going to be key in sales. But the digital world is changing the way that we actually deliver content and conversations on some occasions, with the clients helping us shape the content, so that the students who go through that course are getting cutting edge opportunities to excel when they hit the their first sales job. 

Brent Williams  33:21  
Well Judith and John, I am so proud of both of you and all of the team that you've put together and what you're doing. I think, you know, just a few, I don't know, it feels like a few short months ago that we really started pursuing this vision in in a strong way. And the progress made is tremendous. The the growth in the program and the number of students engaging has well exceeded my expectations. I can't wait to see what you all do in the future. Thank you for spending time with me today.

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  33:55  
Thank you for the opportunity, we're very excited for the future. 

John Ballentine  33:59  
It'll build out your vision Brent, this is 

Judith Anne Garretson Folse  34:01  
Just a lot of fun. Thank you.

Brent Williams  34:01  
On behalf of the Walton College thank you for joining us for this captivating conversation to stay connected and never miss an episode. Simply search for be epic on your preferred podcast service.

Brent D. Williams

Dr. Brent D. Williams serves as the Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas and holder of the Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair.

With a deep commitment to fostering excellence in business education and thought leadership, Dr. Williams brings a wealth of experience to his role, shaping the future of the college and its impact on students and the business community. A native Arkansan, Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Business Administration from the University of Arkansas, specializing in supply chain management.

As the Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Dr. Williams is focused on advancing the college toward its vision of being a catalyst for transforming the lives of its students and a thought leader in business.