Thomas completed her second semester studying Sales Management in the Commerce Department this May and has already received a promotion at work based on what she learned in one unique class — a class that changed everything for her.
Patrick Lindsay, associate lecturer in the Commerce Department, describes his Commerce 363 Personal Selling course as the kind of class every working person could use.
“Everybody has to sell, no matter what type of work you do,” Lindsay said. “You have to sell yourself, sell your ideas. This skill applies to almost anyone.”
This past spring, Thomas was one of his most eager pupils. Tuning into the online class during her lunch hour at work, Thomas brought an enthusiasm for the material that energized the entire group, Lindsay said. She was the first to volunteer for demonstrations and the first to ask for critiques of her assignments.
“I was impressed with her commitment,” he said. “She was really engaged.”
Thomas said the course came at an important time in her career and her personal life. She had recently returned to work after a difficult pregnancy and birth due to Guillain-Barre syndrome. She was working at her family’s wholesale fuel distribution business, Hightowers Petroleum in Middletown, and they were anxious for her to make some contributions to the company’s business model. She also had some new motivation in the form of her infant son, Jasiah.
“Before I had my son, I kind of felt like I was at a standstill,” she said of her job. “Now I wanted to know how I could do more. I had this new drive to do well.”
Her family was eager for her to excel, too, she said. Once she graduates, she will be only the second person in the family to finish college. As part of the fourth generation to work in the family business, she feels some of the weight of the company’s future on her shoulders.
Sales and promotion are always at the forefront of company initiatives, so Thomas said she knew where to focus her efforts. After the Personal Selling class started, Lindsay asked each student to work on a pretend product to sell and promote. But Thomas had a real one: the fleet card program for Hightowers' customers. She threw herself into the project and wanted Lindsay’s continual feedback on how she was doing.
The lessons involved real-world scenarios, where students needed to pitch their product, follow up with customers, and analyze their work. For Thomas, this was day-to-day life, not hypothetical.
Because she was on the job, her co-workers — many of them family members — could listen in on the class. They saw her learning important skills, like building rapport with customers by using positive body language and communication skills, such as active listening and strategic questions. She began applying what she learned right away.
“They saw the work I was putting in,” Thomas said. “It gave me an instant leg up when dealing with customers. Before, I was intimidated talking to customers. Now, I could talk to them like I’d known them for years.”
Thomas had been working as an operations clerk at the company, but with her new confidence in customer relations, she began taking on more account management work.
At the end of the course, she pitched her fleet card innovations ideas to Hightowers’ management, and they loved it. She was promoted to a permanent position in account management, years earlier than she originally thought she’d be ready.
“Before I started at Miami, my new job would have been too intimidating for me,” she said. “Today, I’m looking at how far I can go. I feel more energetic at work. I want to move up.”
Thomas expects to graduate in spring 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in Commerce, Sales Management major.