Weston AgriFood Sales Program Prepares Students For Career In Competitive Market

Weston AgriFood Sales Program Prepares Students For Career In Competitive Market

Louis “Manny” Acosta ’21, who graduated with a sales minor from the Weston AgriFood Sales Program in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University, isn’t worried about finding a job. In fact, you could say a job already found him.

Weston AgriFood Sales Program Prepares Students For Career In Competitive Market
Louis “Manny” Acosta ’21 graduated from the Weston AgriFood Sales Program with a sales minor. (Courtesy photo)

“I was giving a presentation on a specific cardiovascular drug as part of Texas A&M’s collegiate sales competition, and one of the representatives of the pharmaceutical company that made the drug heard my presentation,” Acosta recounted. “Soon after that, they made me an offer to be a pharmaceutical representative for the company. In fact, I’ll be working in the Austin area as a dedicated rep for that same drug I presented about at the competition.”

Acosta is just one example of current and former students in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who have gotten a solid foothold in a sales career as a result of the lessons and practical experiences provided through the Weston AgriFood Sales Program.     

About the program

“The program is designed to prepare students for a career in business-to-business sales,” said Clark Springfield, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service professor of the practice and program director. “The classes in the program are essential to students looking to pursue a career in professional sales, wanting to expand their professional network or explore career development opportunities.”                      

Springfield, who has more than 30 years in sales management and marketing training, was appointed as interim program director in 2019. He took over for Kerry Litzenberg, Ph.D., who had provided leadership for the program until his retirement.

The program began in the early 1990s and later expanded its sales and special topics classes. In fall 2017, a sales minor was recognized for the Department of Agricultural Economics.

A man stands at a podium behind a bunch of dinner tables with people at them. Dr. Springfield speaking at sales event.
Clark Springfield, Ph.D., speaks at a Professional Sales Summit recognizing the top 10 sellers from the Food and Agricultural Sales class and top sales team from both the Advanced Sales and Sales Management classes. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)
 

Over the years the program grew to include business-to-business selling, a foundation sales class, shadowing opportunities with professional salespersons, developing and giving presentations, customer relationship management, negotiating and building emotional intelligence.

He said the program’s goal is to provide students with the resources they need to be successful by teaching beyond the classroom, including creating high-impact, role-play scenarios with state-of-the-art technology and bridging the gap between industry and academia.

“We work with a wide variety of industry representatives and corporate partners to meet employers’ growing demand and introduce the students to different industries,” he said.

Program graduates have found careers in sales or sales management in agricultural products and equipment, medical devices, insurance, cyberspace and technical industries, and other fields.    

At the end of this semester, there were 225 students in the program representing many departments in the College as well as 29 departments outside of it. So far, more than 140 students have completed the sales minor. Another 27 are on track to complete it in December.  

Building the program

“The program gained even more momentum with funding and participation by industry, especially that of Graham Weston ’86, who made a sizeable donation to get the sales minor up and running,” Springfield said.

Photo of one female and two males,  Codie Wright, Graham Weston, Dr. Clark Springfield
Graham Weston, center, for whom the program is named, flanked by Codie Wright, left, and Dr. Clark Springfield, right. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Weston, for whom the program is named, is the co-founder and former CEO and chairman of tech giant Rackspace Hosting Inc. Weston earned his degree in agricultural economics at Texas A&M.   

“Students in the program are exposed to products, services, customers and competition,” Springfield said. “Our goal is to prepare the student to make an immediate difference in their new sales position. We train them to be prepared not only on the technical aspects of sales but also the more personal and human aspects.”

He said the program provides a minimum of 150 hours of classroom training in sales, including at least 25 interactive role-play opportunities for students to practice their sales and interviewing skills with industry professionals.

Real-world experience: Performing what you practice

“Our philosophy has always been you perform what you practice,” said Codie Wright, who completed the sales class and now serves as assistant program director.

Weston sales program student practicing selling with industry professional
A unique aspect of the Weston AgriFood Sales program is the opportunity students get to practice their sales skills with — and get feedback from — industry professionals. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Wright said that, in addition to building students’ technical skillsets and providing practical experiences, the program emphasizes the development of soft skills and the application of emotional intelligence.

“It’s important that the students learn to understand the buyer’s needs and to communicate empathetically with others,” she said. “These skills not only prepare them in business-to-business sales but are also extremely useful in the event they need to apply them in the role of sales manager. We give students behavioral and personality assessments to help them with self-awareness and provide them with a better understanding of themselves and their buyers.”

She said a significant portion of the real-life, hands-on training in which students learn to apply these soft skills and emotional intelligence comes from their role-play experiences.

“We provide students with multiple opportunities to prepare for and interact with industry professionals so they can better understand how to present effectively and get insights into what some of the buyers’ concerns and issues might be.”  

Only hiring the best, employers seek program graduates

Julia Jordan ’10, another former student of the program and now managing director at the Dallas-Fort Worth-based Goosehead Insurance, said the company, which has offices throughout the U.S., has hired numerous graduates of the Weston AgriFood Sales Program.

“Texas A&M is our favorite college to recruit from,” she said. “In 2021, we have hired about 75 A&M graduates from various business and marketing programs. At least 20-25 of those we hired this year were graduates of the Weston AgriFood Sales Program.”

Jordan described the relationship between Texas A&M and Gooseneck Insurance as an organic one.

“The work ethic, desire to be coached and humility the students learn in these programs translates naturally into our corporate culture,” she said. “They are exactly the type of people who thrive in our company. We not only have dozens of Texas A&M grads who are salespeople, several have also grown into managerial and supervisory positions.”  

She noted that what sets the program apart for their company is their representatives’ opportunity to work directly with Weston AgriFood Sales Program students.

“Students get to have true-to-life practice sessions with us and get our immediate feedback as professionals who already know what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “It helps them develop the hard skills they need and to learn all the sales process steps. They get a solid and realistic idea of what they need to excel in a sales career.”

Acosta said the program thoroughly prepared him for his new sales position as a pharmaceutical representative.

“The Weston AgriFood Sales Program gave me the opportunity to practice and apply what I learned with people who were in the industry and get their feedback. There’s no other program like it. It really gave me an advantage in establishing my career.”

Paul is a communications and media relations specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. Based in San Antonio, Paul is responsible for writing advances, news releases and feature stories for Texas A&M AgriLife agencies, as well as providing any media relations support needed.