Christopher Plouffe, the new Gary W. Rollins Endowed Chair in Sales at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, says his target audience isn't just business students because students in other disciplines often end up in sales careers.
"The target audience is anyone at UTC, ultimately," says the first appointee to the post established as part of a $40 million gift from Gary W. and Kathleen Rollins to the College of Business in 2018.
Plouffe, 52, is serving as a faculty member in the marketing and entrepreneurship department, where he's teaching sales and marketing courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
He says companies have "an insatiable demand" for graduates with sales credentials. Over time, he plans to get the word out to companies about the sales program he's crafting at UTC.
Once students earn credentials, he'd like to set up an institute that will act as a repository between students and companies in need of salespeople, Plouffe says.
Plouffe was born and educated in Canada, and is now a United States citizen. Holding a sociology degree from Queens University, he worked for Hewlett-Packard Canada in marketing and public relations and later began selling supercomputers.
"My story was like a thousand other professionals," Plouffe says. "I had no training in sales."
He says he entered a master's in business administration program and was hired by a professor as a research assistant. While he liked his time as Hewlett-Packard, he enjoyed working with and impacting students, Plouffe says.
"The seed had been planted," he says. Plouffe pursued his doctoral degree, and in the fall of 2001, was hired at the University of Georgia to teach strategic marketing courses. Later, he was hired at Washington State University to build a sales program from scratch, much as he's doing at UTC, he says.
"It has taken off the last 10 years in particular," he says. "What we're doing is being done at other business schools around the country."
Early this year, Plouffe was at New Mexico State University teaching basic and advanced sales classes when the coronavirus pandemic crisis hit.
"Those were fully face-to-face [classes] and not COVID-friendly," he says. "We had to change those classes to do everything online."
Plouffe says there was no choice but to offer mock sales classes over Zoom, but it was successful.
"Using these modalities is powerful. It's powerful what you can do," he says. "I see selling changing permanently as a result of these, and for the better in some respects."