Why employers love to work with this innovative sales program in North Alabama


Dr. Gillespie with students
Brian Morgan (far left) and Dr. Erin Gillespie (in purple) love making the sales program fun for the students. (UNA Sanders COBT)

One of the biggest obstacles to running or managing a business is hiring the right sales people. 

Luckily, there’s an amazing solution right here in North Alabama. We got an inside look at the Steele Center for Professional Selling and learned what makes their students so successful after graduation. Read on for all the details. 

Redefining sales

Students at sales competition
Sales competitions grant UNA students the opportunity to test their skills on a national level. (UNA Sanders COBT)

Did you know that the only USCA-affiliated center in the state is at the University of North Alabama? Named in honor of alumnus Robert H. Steele’s father, the Steele Center for Professional Selling is a full member of the University Sales Center Alliance—made up of only the top 70 sales programs in the world. 

The art of selling

The Steele Center emphasizes innovation, creativity and tenacity. Dr. Gillespie—the Director of the Steele Center for Professional Selling—loves to redefine the art of selling. 

When she first started her undergraduate degree, she associated the sales industry with all the negative salesperson stereotypes—pushy, arrogant and aggressive.

However, when she went back to school to get her MBA, her perspective changed drastically.

“When I was an undergraduate student, I said I would do anything in marketing except sales. After college, I took an advertising job but eventually decided to go back and get my MBA. I ended up discovering that I loved sales. I realized that it’s not at all about being pushy or aggressive, and it’s my personal mission to change students’ attitudes towards the industry.”

Dr. Erin Gillespie, Director of the Steele Center for Professional Selling + Associate Professor of Marketing, UNA

The universality of sales

Along with helping students unlearn aggressive sales tactics, Dr. Gillespie also emphasizes the universality of sales.

“Almost everyone is in a sales role. People don’t often recognize that, but think about when you’re going on an interview—you have to sell yourself to your potential employer. Or perhaps, when you are trying to tell your boss or colleagues about an idea you have—that’s selling.”

Dr. Erin Gillespie, Director of the Steele Center for Professional Selling + Associate Professor of Marketing, UNA

Hire top talent + save nearly $200,000

Students collaborating to practice sales at the sales center
The stats are in, and the needs for sales is up. (UNA Sanders COBT)

The number of jobs in the sophisticated sales space is continuing to expand, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, sales graduates report an average placement rate of 94% upon graduation. (Sales Education Foundation)

Unfortunately, SEF’s 2023 Annual Survey notes that over 60% of all first-time salespeople fail within a year of employment—that’s where UNA’s sales center comes in:

  • According to the SEF survey, students who graduate from formal university professional sales programs tend to:
    • Ramp up 50% faster than their non-sales educated peers
    • Turn over 30% less than their counterparts
    • Save an employer nearly $200,000 within the first 12 months of employment

A note for employers

If you’re an employer, you may be wondering how hiring a student from UNA’s Steele Center for Professional Selling could possibly save you almost $200,000.

According to SEF, the average cost to train a sales employee is $180,000+. However, when you hire a student from the Steele Center, they already have the training and experience necessary to tackle the job. 

“Our students know the sales process, and through our many experiential learning opportunities, they’ve already had practice putting what they’ve learned into action.  What this means for employers is that our students are ready to hit the ground running.  We frequently hear that our students are at the top of their training classes because we’ve equipped them with what they need to succeed.”

Dr. Erin Gillespie, Director of the Steele Center for Professional Selling + Associate Professor of Marketing, UNA

One student’s experience

Karla Cheatham former UNA sales student
Through the Steele Center, Karla Cheatham gained the confidence she needed to launch her career in Huntsville. (Karla Cheatham)

The Steele Center is open to UNA students of all majors. One former student—Karla Cheatham—majored in Data Analytics but decided to join the sales team her senior year. 

She placed in the top 10 for the National Collegiate Sports Sales Championship (NCSSC) Qualifier and in the Sweet 16 for the NCSSC Championship. She is now working at Boeing in Huntsville as a Procurement Agent.

“Being part of the UNA sales team significantly honed my negotiation skills, bolstered my confidence, and enriched my overall professional journey. As a student who didn’t even major in marketing or sales, this experience exemplifies the pervasive influence of sales in everything we do.”

Karla Cheatham, UNA Graduate + Procurement Agent at Boeing

Ready to find the right employee and save your company money? Register for the upcoming Career Summit on September 20 or become a corporate partner

Check out the Career Summit + become a corporate partner

Students practicing handshake
Through UNA’s sales center, students get plenty of hands-on experience. (UNA Sanders COBT)

Along with taking stellar classes and conducting internal sales role plays, UNA students travel all over the country to attend sales competitions at leading universities

That’s why many students of the Steele Center of Professional Selling now work with top companies like Adobe, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Paycom, Boeing, NASCAR, Disney, Cintas, Jasper Engines & Technologies, United Benefits, ALKU, State Farm, and more. 

Each year, the Steele Center hosts two Career Summits and Speed Sell competitions where employers can recruit full-time employees and interns. If you want to hire UNA’s top talent, register now for the upcoming Career Summit on September 20. 

“The Career Summit is a great opportunity to find your next top sales professional. You can spend the day with UNA sales and marketing students, have lunch, and get to know candidates for internships or new employee positions. There are additional opportunities that allow employers to see the students in action through sales role-play activities that morning.” 

Brian Morgan, Manager of Sales Partnerships and Experiential Learning, UNA

Become a corporate partner

If you’re a local employer wanting a more in-depth look at the Steele Center, consider becoming a corporate partner and receive benefits like conducting internal competitions and one-on-one sales exercises on UNA’s campus. 

“UNA partnerships keep the sales professional pipeline flowing. Our students receive support for experiential learning opportunities through the generosity of our partners. Our staff works hard to support our partners with students that can fill the job opportunities that they need. The UNA sales partnership really is a win-win.” 

Brian Morgan, Manager of Sales Partnerships and Experiential Learning, UNA

The time to find top talent is now. Register for the Steele Center’s Career Summit on September 20 or become a corporate partner today

Sponsored by:

North Alabama - Sanders College of Business and Technology
Lacey Muenstermann
Lacey Muenstermann
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