Steve W. Martin is a lifetime student of the human nature of customer behavior. When not working with his clients, he teaches sales strategy at the University of Southern California Marshall Business School MBA Program. In 2012 he was awarded the USC Marshall Golden Apple Teaching Award presented to the professor who has had the greatest impact on their students as voted by the members of the graduating class.   He previously taught at the University of California Berkeley, Haas Business School MBA Program.

Teaching Abstract
Sales is more than a science. It is an art. Sales is the artful combination of structure and free thinking, process and people, and logic and emotions. Regardless of your area of business responsibility, you need to develop sales skills. Because throughout your career you will continually have to sell your ideas to colleagues, customers, and convince others to follow your lead.

These courses focus on the most important aspects of sales: how to create a sales strategy, manage the sales process, and convince skeptical customers to believe in you and your solution. In this course you will learn how to formulate an account strategy based upon customer politics, evaluator psychology, and the human nature of decision makers that are unique to every business. You will gain an understanding of how to manage the sales process. Finally, you will learn how to become a more persuasive person because successful customer communications is at the foundation of all sales.

Steve W. Martin USC Marshall

Steve Martin and Favorite Students… Fight On!

These courses provides detailed exposure of business to business and personal selling techniques.  Emphasis is placed on creating a sales strategy, the planning and delivery of sales presentations, and techniques to persuade people to change their opinions and beliefs in face-to-face meetings. This course will include lecture, class discussion, extensive in-class exercises, and student presentations.

Past Class Guest Speakers Include:

Adam Miller, Founder and CEO, CornertoneOnDemand
Tiffani Bova, Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist,
Mac McGarry, Senior Vice President of Sales, GT Nexus-Infor
Dave Carter, Senior Vice President, Sales CornerstoneOnDemand
Garth Moulton, Co-founder of
Frank Harder, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Philips Lumileds
Joe Vitalone, President of Americas, Mitel
John Schroeder, CEO and Co-Founder, MapR Technologies
Peter Riccio, Vice President of Sales, Successfactors

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation’s premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world’s leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 90 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.

USC Marshall Professor Steve W. Martin - Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople 


USC Tommy Trojanby USC Marshall News

Over the past decade, Prof. Steve W. Martin has interviewed thousands of top business-to-business salespeople who sell for some of the world’s leading companies. The findings indicate that key personality traits directly influence top performers’ selling style and ultimately their success. The are:

Modesty. Contrary to conventional stereotypes that successful salespeople are pushy and egotistical, 91 percent of top salespeople had medium to high scores of modesty and humility.

Conscientiousness. Eighty-five percent of top salespeople had high levels of conscientiousness .

Achievement Orientation. Eighty-four percent of the top performers are fixated on achieving goals and continuously measure their performance in comparison to their goals.

Curiosity. Top salespeople are naturally more curious than their lesser performing counterparts.

Lack of Gregariousness. Overall, top performers averaged 30 percent lower gregariousness than below average performers.

Discouragement. Less than 10 percent of top salespeople were classified as having high levels of discouragement and being frequently overwhelmed with sadness

Self-Consciousness. Less than five percent of top performers had high levels of self-consciousness.   

The evidence suggests that the personalities of these truly great salespeople play a critical role in determining their success.

Marshall Makes Its Mark at MIT Sloan Sales Competition 

MBA Students have Strongest Team Group Finish in Four Years of Participation in Top-tier Contest       
by News at Marshall

Marshall students made an impact in the prestigious 6th annual MIT Sloan International Sales Competition this fall, with the overall team placing third and Alex Sotelo '14, placing second in the individual component of the contest, which draws teams from leading business schools across the nation and the world.

"I was ecstatic. It reaffirmed that I know how to sell and can compete with the best in the world," said Sotelo, who is concentrating on corporate finance in Marshall's MBA.PM program.    

This year's contest included three phases. The first, a preliminary round in which 195 students from 27 top-tier b-schools including Columbia, Wharton and the London School of Economics took part, required participants to create a compelling five-minute telephone sales pitch in a hypothetical scenario. Judges selected the top three students from each participating school who were then invited to MIT Sloan in Cambridge, Mass., to take part in the final round, held on Nov. 3.

The two phases of the final round included a group case pitch in which participants were asked to role-play selling a global retailer on buying licenses for Microsoft (another of the contest's sponsors) Windows 8 software. Meanwhile, in the individual one-on-one phase, students were tasked with selling insurance analytics services aimed at lowering the costs for a hypothetical telecommunications company. The goal was to successfully meet with a senior vice president of human resources so that they could advance to a meeting with the company's CFO and CEO.

Sotelo, who said he had six years of selling experience as a founder of an engineering-based sales company focused on environmental cleanup products, credits Marshall adjunct Professor Steven W. Martin with inspiring the school's strong presence in the contest.

The three-member team, which included MBA.PM students Michael Exner '13 and Ryann Carissimo '14, were members of Martin's "Sales Management: The Art and Science of Sales" course. Martin has encouraged Marshall students to take part in the MIT contest for the past four years.

"This is our highest team competition finish in the four years USC has participated in this elite contest. Alex's second place finish is a great follow up to USC's win in the individual part of the competition last year," said Martin.

An Individual and Team Achievement 

Marshall MBA Elliot Servais takes first at MIT international sales case competition       
by News at Marshall

A team of five Marshall MBA students competed in the MIT Sloan Sales Competition in Boston on Nov. 5, with Elliot Servais taking first in the individual competition. Also competing for USC were John Eastman, Andrew Kim, Sean Flynn and Chris Kilby. The competition attracted talent from 14 of the 15 top national MBA programs for a case competition designed to test sales strategy.

Servais secured the win with a case involving medical insurance and how rising costs are affecting the industry. The individual round of the competition included a small, interactive panel with high-level professionals in the field.

“For me sales is more about listening and asking the right questions than being able to pitch,” said Servais. “Everyone thinks sales is about being smooth and gregarious, I think that’s less of the case--it’s more about providing solutions for the client’s needs.”

Flynn also won an impromptu speaking competition at the start of the weekend asking why their team deserved to win. Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and the London Business School among others made up the audience for the opening banter.

“The experience amongst the USC team members was truly unique,” said Kilby. “This 72 hour sprint to completion allowed us to learn about one another and build lasting friendships.”

Among Heavy Hitters, Marshall MBA Scores Top Spot in MIT/Sloan Business Sales Competition

USC MarhsallStudents Show Ingenuity to Mollify Tough Customers and Impress Top-Notch Clients

By News at Marshall

This was only the second time that USC Marshall MBAs had competed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Business Sales Competition, but their showing was first-rate, as Cynthia Chew (MBA 2011) won second place in the individual competition and, along with teammates Anjali Putnam (MBA 2011) and Ed Galvan (MBA 2011), impressed the judges with polished presentations.

All three Marshall team members were from Steve W. Martin's "The Art and Science of Selling" class (MKT 599). Martin, who teaches in Marshall's marketing department, also led last year's Marshall team and encouraged all of his students to compete against a field of their peers who represented what Martin calls the "heavy hitters" of MBA programs—including Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg and Haas Berkeley.

The fourth annual MIT/Sloan Sales Competition, a competition designed "to challenge the managerial sales skills of today's top business school students," included three phases, the first of which was conducted over the phone and boasted over 120 registrants from 14 MBA programs—a record turnout. Each registrant was asked to mollify an angry customer who was played by a judge from Microsoft, one of the competition's sponsors. The top three competitors from each school would then go head-to-head on at MIT/Sloan in Cambridge, Mass.

Chew, who has worked in finance, where she said it was critical to "understand the customers and their needs, to empathize and produce solutions to their problems," scored 100 percent in the first phase. Putnam and Galvan earned Marshall's next two highest scores to qualify for Cambridge, where they would compete as a team and as individuals in a "dynamic case competition exploring real-life sales situations" for a total of $6000 to the top three students with the best performances.

For the group case competition phase at MIT/Sloan, Chew and her teammates were asked to role-play, acting as representatives from a tech company that had partnered with Microsoft, pitching the company's products and services to a client. The panel of judges included representatives from Microsoft and other companies, and Chew, Putnam and Galvan grabbed the opportunity to get professional feedback immediately after the presentation. "The contest's major sponsor was Microsoft so they were the ones to impress," said Chew. "They said we had one of the top presentations and that we were very polished."

The students' scores from this phase also determined how they would place as individuals in the next phase, which involved each competitor in a one-on-one sales pitch. For Chew, this was where what she had learned in Martin's sales class really applied. For instance, he advised: "You have to build a personal rapport," which for Chew, translated to shaking hands with her "clients" and making sure she asked about how their weekends. Also important: "You can’t badmouth your competitors," Chew said.

Before they had left for Cambridge, Martin had helped to prepare them, even inviting one of last year's Marshall team members to speak to his class about her experience at the MIT/Sloan contest. Since Martin’s professional background is in software, "he helped us tremendously in understanding the art and science of sales management for this competition," said Chew. "Sales is about building a relationship, asking the right questions and providing the right solution. He spent a lot of time outside the classroom to make this happen."

Martin said he encouraged all of his Marshall students to compete because "I want them to learn how to perform on the spot. This is a practical contest with a lot of applicability in the real world," he said.

"I believe sales is what drives any business. Every scenario was definitely real-life and very applicable," said Chew. "The way the judges wanted to see you handle (each scenario) was not just a classroom exercise."

Marshall's team ended up placing well, with Wharton taking home the win; while Chew placed second, tying with a competitor from Wharton, a mere two points from the No.1 spot, which went to a student from MIT.

"Team USC did a fantastic job, and Cynthia's second place win in the individual competition is a tremendous accomplishment!" said Martin.

As for Chew, who is interested in working for a company like Microsoft, participating in the MIT/Sloan competition also offered her a chance to meet Microsoft recruiters and build relationships and contacts, adding: "It was fun to meet MBAs from other schools," she said. "This competition was so far the highlight of my one and a half years at Marshall."

USC Marshall Excels at mike robertson amy greene tom schellSales Case Competition

By News at Marshall

Marshall MBA students traveled to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the Sloan School of Business Sales Competition. This was the first year that USC has participated in the competition that draws a competitive field of 39 students representing 13 top business schools, including Haas Berkeley, Kellogg, Wharton, Babson, MIT, Stanford, Harvard, London Business School, Boston University, Tuck, Carnegie Mellon University, and Columbia. USC was represented by part-time MBA students Amy Green, Tom Schell, and Mike Robertson, while full-time MBA students made up the other teams.

USC's team members made an impressive showing for their first time attending the competition - Green finished 17th, and Schell and Robertson took 27th and 28th, respectively.

The Sloan Sales Competition included three phases, the first of which was a five-minute phone sales pitch – and in a first for the contest, all three members of the USC team received perfect scores on this round, as did fellow Marshall MBA student Nishan Baliji. The individual and group sales pitch rounds took place at MIT on October 17.

For the group sales pitch, the team created a 25-minute presentation, participated in a Q&A session with the panel of sales professional judges, and then received their comments and critiques of the pitch. "Getting feedback from these individuals was one of the highlights of the event," said Schell, while Green adds that their feedback was both positive and constructive, including "things we really needed to hear."

The students point to their experience in a new sales course taught by Professor Steve Martin and their ability to apply the strategies they've learned from him as one of the keys to their success in their first sales competition. The course, MKT 599 "The Art and Science of Selling," emphasizes an "indirect" approach to selling, which Schell adds helped them "assess the true needs of our customers," and position their product and services in the most appealing and memorable.

The USC team highly recommended that other MBA students consider enrolling in Martin's course and participating in the sales competition. "The knowledge I gained from this competition could not have been found in the classroom," said Schell.

Should Salespeople and Sales Managers Get an MBA?

Posted on Heavy Hitter Sales Blog

It was a great honor to receive the USC Marshall Business School MBA Best College RankingsGolden Apple Teaching Award last year. The award presented to the professor who has had the greatest impact on their students as voted by the members of the graduating class. Here’s my thoughts about salespeople and MBAs…

Should you go back to school and get an MBA?  That can be a difficult question to answer. Since there are over 400+ different universities that offer MBA programs across the United States, let’s first take a look at the three basic programs you have to choose from.

Full-Time MBA Program: You drop everything you’re doing to head back to school full time and live on or near-by campus.  Admission to most full-time MBA programs require several years of work experience and they’re not easy to get into. For example, USC’s 2013 MBA admission rate was only 27% of the 1,800+ applicants. You will also need to take the GMAT test (which is like the SAT test you took in high school on steroids). Preparing and taking the test is not going to be fun either.  Plan on spending a minimum of $100,000 for tuition (plus living expenses) to complete a two year program at a top 25 school. I know students who have amassed loans totaling over $150,000 to complete their studies.

Part Time MBA Program: Classes for these programs are conducted on weekday evenings and weekends over a two year period. The good news about these programs is that you’ll be able to continue to work (if you don’t travel too much). The bad news is you will be swamped with assignments, readings, and studying for tests. Your schedule will be fully booked and you will have very little free time for yourself or your family during the school year (20% of USC’s part time MBA students are married and the average is 28). The costs of these programs are about the same as a full time MBA.  Depending on the university, your classes may be conducted separately or integrated with the full-time MBA students (which I prefer).

Executive MBA: These two year programs are specifically designed for more “senior” managers who work full time.  For instance, there are 119 Executive MBA students in USC’s 2013 class. The average age is 38, average work experience is 15 years, and their average income is around $170,000. The curriculum of these programs is more real-world project/problem/case study based (as opposed to classroom-based). It costs about $120,000 to complete USC’s EMBA program.

So, have you been thinking about getting your MBA?  Here’s my “general” rules of thought.  Be forewarned, these are only my generalizations based upon career stage and I can guarantee that your personal situation is unique.

Salesperson late 20s-early 30s: This is the best time during your career to get an MBA . I strongly recommend you pursue a part-time MBA if you can honestly answer yes to the following question, “Do you have the wherewithal to preserve through two hard years of studies?” If you plan on having a long sales career, an MBA will be extremely useful in several different ways. First, it can separate you from the competition in the customer’s eyes and provide you with a more polished/sophisticated business acumen. It will also help you get to the next stage of your career faster and increase your network of business connections immensely.  Maybe you have been in sales for a few years and don’t feel a sales career is right for you. Why not go back to school full time?  Trust me on this… this is one of the few times when you will have the opportunity to re-chart your life’s direction.

Salesperson Mid 30’s-early 40’s: If your family obligations aren’t too considerable and your work schedule is manageable, I would recommend pursuing an Executive MBA.  Yes, it is a lot of money. Yes, it is a lot of work.

Salesperson late 40’s and up: Focus solely on your job and maximizing your income. Sock as much money away as possible and spend as much time as you can with your family.

Sales Management Recommendation: Regardless of your career stage and whether you are a new or seasoned sales manager, get an Executive MBA! You’re going to learn tons of new stuff from some incredible faculty and work on projects with talented (and well-connected) classmates. Equally important, it may make the difference between getting that big promotion, landing your next job, or having the new business venture you have always dreamed about funded.

I have one final piece of advice regarding an MBA…  Your Mileage May Vary.  I have personally witnessed students who have leveraged their MBA with great success. Conversely, I also know students whose expectations were never met.  In one respect, an MBA is just another business tool like your smartphone or laptop. You can use your phone to cold call a prospective client and then your laptop to write the proposal that results in closing a multi-million dollar deal.  But, you have to know how to use the tool and most importantly, take the initiative to use it.