Within four years after graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Adrian Casanova, ’19, now leads as regional vice president within Pacific Life's Retirement Solutions Division in Washington, D.C. Coupled with hard work and a passion for sales, his experience in the Center for Sales Excellence at the College of Business led to a series of promotions at Pacific Life and a successful career post-graduation.
"Even though I majored in advertising and public relations, I knew I would need to sell my ideas in a future career. I developed these skills during my experience with the Center for Sales Excellence. They provided me with opportunities to connect with employers with the real possibility of being hired on full-time, which put me on my path to starting my new position as regional vice president," said Casanova.
Named a "Top University for Professional Sales Education" by the Sales Education Foundation (SEF) each year since inception in 2014, the center offers two certificates in sales excellence through specialized curriculum designed to enhance communication skills, relationship-building abilities and how to sell yourself professionally. Chad Mardesen, associate professor of practice in marketing, explained how sales is beneficial to any major.
“Regardless of their major or professional and personal goals, everyone can benefit from understanding the basics of the sales process. Learning how to ask good questions, build relationships, negotiate, identify value equations and the list goes on. In every walk of life, you will sell something so you need to be good at it,” Mardesen said. “If any student has interest in a career in sales, the sales certificate is often the biggest item that employers like to see. That experience benefits any student professionally and personally.”
Casanova learned the importance of sales training when he took a job selling roofs and gutters door-to-door to pay his way through college. The sales courses offered at Nebraska Business helped him hone his skills and solidified his interest in a future career.
Due to the center's corporate partnerships, sales students have numerous opportunities to connect with employers in the classroom. Casanova first learned about Pacific Life when Sean Murphy, senior director and head of internal wholesaling at Pacific Life, spoke in Mardesen's class. The three talked after class and grabbed lunch a few weeks later. The connection led to Murphy hiring Casanova at Pacific Life right out of college.
“Adrian came in with a good foundation for success. My initial impression was that he was fearless and had a natural resiliency, which is so critical to sales. He had a proactive mindset, a drive for self-development and a natural ability to build relationships quickly,” Murphy said.
Casanova fondly recalled selling sponsorships for the annual Center for Sales Excellence Golf Tournament and competing in national sales competitions. Core components of the sales program, these hands-on experiences teach students how to prospect for new customers, approach a potential customer, ask questions and deal with failure, quota pressure and success.
“I loved raising money for the golf campaign because this is what we do in sales – you have to ask for business. It was simple in theory but reaching out to businesses as a 21-year-old to ask for money is difficult,” he said. “These examples were the most impactful from my time at Nebraska. It’s the real world, real people and outside of the classroom.”
Faculty like Mardesen, who worked for companies like Nike and served as the tournament director of the Cox Classic, a golf tournament on the PGA Tour, bring a wealth of experience to Nebraska.
“I tell a lot of stories to cement understanding of concepts we're covering. Every theory has an example and it's often those examples that make things real and memorable,” Mardesen said. “Students don't show up to class with zero understanding of concepts, but rather as experienced sellers, buyers and marketers. I try to let my experiences lead the way to them sharing their experiences. When it works, it creates a wonderfully organic learning experience.”
State-of-the-art technology within role-play rooms allow students to practice pitching and get real-time feedback on their techniques, honing their communication and selling capabilities. The experiential learning, facilities, networking and Casanova’s hard work enabled him to make a strong impact in his career at Pacific Life.
“We’ve made tremendous strides in putting our people in the best position for success, but in sales, there’s always going to be an element of a numbers game and you need be able to stay positive. Adrian displayed that early on in his territory, where he was able to adapt to our sales process to uncover new opportunities and deepen relationships,” Murphy said. “He was then able to help coach his peers to improve their process and conversations. Adrian also flexed his skills through recruiting events to help us attract new candidates.”
As a sales professional and senior director, Murphy sees several benefits of students having sales training and education prior to graduation.
“There is a simple understanding that sales is challenging, and the thing you’re really selling is yourself. Sales education can put them on a substantially shortened learning curve, which results in deeper relationships and more sales earlier in their career than for those without,” he said. "Adrian moving from an entry-level role to a field role in under four years is a rapid ascent and there’s no way he does that if his journey hadn’t started years earlier at Nebraska with the Sales Excellence program."
Graduating with his sales certificate, Casanova joined a community of nearly 400 alumni of the program. Now, in his new role, Casanova is acclimating to his new home in D.C., enjoying all the city offers, including watching the Washington Commanders and Capitals professional teams play.
Published: February 9, 2023