A Q&A with Lisa Simon on the New Sales Minor

This coming fall term, Cal Poly students will have the opportunity to take their selling skills to the next level by beginning a minor in sales. The new minor will include coursework in selling, sales technology and current marketing trends alongside Learn by Doing opportunities like corporate tours, ride-alongs, selling projects and more. Students interested in pursuing a sales career will have the time and resources to hone their skills while making important industry connections, a combination that engenders career readiness and future success.

Marketing faculty Lisa Simon is Cal Poly’s sales pioneer. She has spearheaded sales initiatives and programs in the Orfalea College of Business since 1998, when she started teaching sales courses. In 2005, she began taking students to sales competitions and in 2008, she introduced sales as a senior project. Now, with broader coursework in place, she’s helped establish a sales curriculum that’s both foundational and innovative. By combining essential sales skills with technology-based projects, the new sales minor will prepare students to thrive in their future sales roles.

See what Simon had to say about the minor:

Q: What’s most exciting for you about this new minor?

Just being able to witness and demonstrate the importance of sales to companies, both in and out of the classroom. We’re helping students launch their careers in sales. The companies that they’re working for are gaining career ready, adaptable and empathetic employees. And all of this is helping Cal Poly to raise its profile and develop stronger industry connections. It’s a win-win-win, and when you can positively impact so many people at once like that, that’s always exciting.

Q: What can students expect from this minor?

This is going to be a deep dive into important sales topics. We’re going to cover selling skills, personal branding, sales technology, sales trends, presentation skills, and we’re going to have experiential projects like competitions and role plays. Before, we skimmed all of this in very limited time, but now that we have three specific courses devoted to it, we can really dig in. Students should expect to gain the practical and technical skills necessary to help them launch a successful sales career, as well as a thorough understanding of how sales fits into overall business strategy. This minor is also open to students outside of the business majors, and those students will have a comprehensive introduction to sales and how it applies to their respective fields.

Q: How will this minor prepare students for their careers?

Sales skills are very versatile skills. Everyone in every profession sells something. Communications, Agriculture, Engineering, English—even if you’re not explicitly representing a product, you could be selling ideas, information or research. When you’re applying for jobs, you’re selling yourself and your qualifications. Sales is everywhere, so the knowledge and skills offered by the minor are highly transferable and applicable in every field.

Q: How will corporate partners and alumni be involved?

There are a lot of former Orfalea students who are already thriving in sales careers. We have students making names for themselves at companies like AWS and Oracle, and as a result, these companies are hiring more of our students. Our alumni are paving the way for future students to land sales jobs. And many have stayed in touch by participating in the Sales Development Program as guest speakers or judges for our sales competitions. I’ve already heard from a number of alumni who are thrilled about the minor and want to be involved. We want to facilitate connections between these alumni and our students in the form of ride-alongs, corporate tours, networking events and internships. This way, our students are making valuable connections, and we’re also raising Cal Poly’s visibility among potential corporate partners.

Q: How is this minor different from the Sales programs at other universities?

I think our main differentiator is the technology aspect of our curriculum. Technology is drastically changing the way industries operate, and sales is no exception. Our students will have hands-on training with CRMs, analytics, Hootsuite, and more, so they’ll be tech savvy and ready to adapt to new technological advances.

Q: What else should students and alumni know about the sales minor?

Sales plays a large role in establishing business environments, whether those environments are ethical or not. I think the ethics of sales is often overlooked, and it’s something I weave into all of my courses. My core values are integrity, gratitude and kindness, and these are just as essential to sales as any technical skills. The students who complete this minor will be helping to create the next generation’s business cultures, and if those cultures are infused with these ethics and values, it’s going to make the business world a more inclusive, caring, community-focused place. Students should be excited that they’re gaining skills not just to sell a product, but also to catalyze positive change in the world.

For additional information on the sales minor, contact Lisa Simon at lsimon@calpoly.edu.