Mike Tran/the Gauntlet

Business class lets students make dreams come true

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Senior marketing students in the Haskayne School of Business are gaining real world sales experience in the Selling Smiles 101 program. As part of the course, assistant professor of marketing Derek Hassay requires his students to establish their own independent contracting businesses selling Cutco Cutlery to raise funds for the Children's Wish Foundation. After five years, Hassay's students have raised more than $100,000 and granted wishes for 11 children.

"We are one of the largest third-party fundraisers in Alberta and we are just a class at the university," explained Hassay.

In December 2008, the last time the sales management course was offered, Hassay and his students raised $43,141 to help two girls go to Disney World and granted other wishes.

Although the fundraising target this year is $25,000, Hassay is optimistic his class will raise much more.

"The hardest part about selling is rejection and actually getting out the door to do it," Hassay said.

"Moving beyond theory in the classroom students learn valuable, practical skills."

Teams of students are provided with a small sales budget funded by private donations and corporate sponsorship of the class. They also receive sample kits from Cutco.

Students who assume the role of sales managers are faced with the challenge of leading, motivating and inspiring their team said Hassay.

He allows sales managers the possibility of firing a team member but would rather they work through the problems.

As Cutco products may have little interest for university students, Hassay explained that his class has to legitimately prospect.

"I find people in the community, especially those involved in sales and marketing, really love this class because it is so hands-on, so experiential, that they want to know how they can get involved and how they can support it," said Hassay.

While sales don't affect a student's mark, peer evaluation of other team members' performance is an integral component of the evaluation.

"There tends to be a lot of peer pressure," said Hassay. "There are always students who are extremely keen and this tends to rub off."

He described the program as incredibly rewarding for his students and for himself.

"It became so much more than just an experiential learning project," said Hassay. "It became this transformative experience for the students."

He said some students want more than money and a business career. A number of his former students continue to fundraise for the Children's Wish Foundation and have gone onto positions in the non-profit world or humanitarian causes.

Leslie Lamont, a 2009 U of C graduate, is an alumna of the course. Lamont, who now works at Holt Renfrew as a personal shopper, never saw herself taking a sales role before the class.

"It's one thing when people walk into a store, wanting your business. It's a different context going to people's houses where you are more likely to receive rejection," reported Lamont. "It's scary to put yourself out there."

Hassay explained he wanted to make it difficult for his students to sell a product they had no experience with.

"It was a very expensive, high end product, so they would face rejection," he said.

Lamont said the program kept her on her toes through the semester. She appreciated that it was infused with experiential learning, something she hopes other instructors will include in their classes.

The 70 students registered for the course met the recipient of this year's wish Oct. 1.

This year the recipients are a family of ten travelling to Hawaii in February. Kyatt Van Dellen, age nine, suffers from cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus and other health complications.

The Selling Smiles Program inspired similar classes at Michigan State and Illinois State. Other universities in America and Canada are also interested in jumping on board.

Class partner Vector Marketing Canada received the Canadian Direct Sellers Association's 2009 Make a Difference Award in recognition of the class.