(Ames, Iowa) — Sales is at the heart of most business enterprises, which is why leaders at the Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business created a new sales program and a dedicated sales space in the new Gerdin Business Building expansion, which is now open.

Named after Ivy alumnus Dan Houston (’84 marketing), chairman, president, and CEO of Principal Financial Group, and his wife, Joanie (’83 physical education), the Houston Professional Sales Suite is the new home of the Ivy Sales Program. The sales program prepares undergraduate students so they are ready for a career in sales as soon as they graduate.

The Houston Professional Sales Suite was dedicated in a small ceremony Thursday morning, which included Dan and Joanie Houston, Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen, her husband Robert Waggoner, and Raisbeck Endowed Dean David Spalding.

“Creating a new sales program for students is an example of how we are setting our students up for success,” Spalding said. “We already have real strength in this area and we are building on it. This is a unique program in Iowa, and we expect it to be the best in the Midwest.”

In addition to the sales suite dedication Thursday, Ivy students were honored during a Celebration of Student Excellence in Sales.

The Ivy sales program recognized student leaders and top performers from the Pella Sales Competition and the Vermeer Sales Competition during a live, virtual event. Featured speakers included Spalding and Houston.  Awards were presented by Mark Core, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Vermeer Corporation and Carrie Naig, director of sales distribution and development for Pella Corporation. Both companies are partners in the Ivy Sales Forum, a collaboration between the Ivy College of Business and industry partners to advance the growth and effectiveness of professional sales.

The excitement around the sales program has been growing in anticipation of the Houston Professional Sales Suite opening.

Leaders at the college believe so strongly in the sales program they recruited a nationally recognized researcher and author who has experience in building a sales program to lead the way — Raj Agnihotri, Dean’s Fellow in Marketing.

“Hiring Raj was key,” Spalding said. “He built a successful sales program at the University of Texas-Arlington. Raj has the experience and the personality to launch a great program that not only benefits students but the companies who will hire them for internships and full-time employment.”

The Ivy Sales Program, part of the Department of Marketing, fills a need as demand for sales in marketing classes has grown over the years. In January 2021, the program will move into the Houston Professional Sales Suite, a state-of-the art space located within the new 45,000 square foot Gerdin Business Building expansion.

The suite allows space for sales education and real-life practice.

“Students will walk in and greet someone at a front desk as if they are coming in for an actual client meeting. They will meet with an industry representative and make their sales pitch,” Agnihotri said. “Students will be recorded so their work can be reviewed and critiqued later. It’s going to be amazing.”

Having a sales program within a business program is the perfect match.

“We teach business. We understand the market,” Agnihotri said. “Today, students want to be job-ready. Their parents also want that.”

One of the core areas where businesses are looking for talent is in professional sales area.

“A career in sales 15 or 20 years ago is different than sales careers today,” Agnihotri explained. “This is not your father’s business school. Today, we’re talking about digital selling, artificial intelligence, and business analytics. We’re talking about global perspective and sales. It has become complex. It has become analytic.”

Ivy Sales Forum

In addition to the new undergraduate student program, the college also created a support system, the Ivy Sales Forum, a collaboration between academia and industry. The Ivy Sales Forum is a partnership of up to 20 members who strive to advance the growth and effectiveness of professional sales. These corporate partners provide relevant experiential learning opportunities to students in the professional sales certificate program.

Professional Sales Certificate

Students from any major at Iowa State University are able to earn a professional sales certificate, which helps them in their job search after graduation. The demand for graduates with a background in sales is high. Students in the program will learn in the new sales suite and enjoy the benefits of the latest technology to set them up for success.  The certificate program was officially started in January 2020.

This semester, more than 100 students are enrolled in different sales classes that are required for the Professional Sales Certificate.

Gerdin Business Building Expansion

The four-story Gerdin addition was designed with students in mind. It includes 40 percent more space, seven team rooms, the Kingland Hub common space, 35 faculty office spaces, and five additional classrooms. Students will start using the new team rooms and Kingland Hub this month. The new classrooms will be used when the spring semester begins in January. Wallace Road, east of the Gerdin Business Building, re-opened November 5.

The 45,000 square foot addition cost $28 million. More than $18 million in private gifts helped fund the expansion, including a $7 million commitment from the Gerdin Charitable Foundation. Iowa State University provided $1 million. The college will pay the remaining $8-9 million.