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Marketing teaching associate professor brings industry experience into the classroom

Suzanne Ball, WVU B&E

With several years of successful professional sales experience, Suzanne Bal served as adjunct instructor for the marketing department at the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics for quite some time.

But in 2015, the marketing expert took on the role as full-time teaching associate professor for the College, shaping the lives of future professional salespeople.

“When I started eight or nine years, I found that my favorite part of teaching was the students,” she said. “These young men and women are smart and creative. You can see when they start thinking about something, and it’s just really thrilling. That is the number one reason I’ve done it for so long.”

But her passion to help students realize their potential and dreams is not surprising, especially when she discusses the reason she chose the marketing and professional sales route as a young professional herself.

“I like dealing with people. That’s the reason I really loved it — trying to figure out what motivated them, what moved them, what pushed them to make decisions – I just really like that whole process. That was the number one thing,” she said. “I like understanding people. I almost went into psychology, and then I found the same kind of thing in sales. It was all about building relationships.”

A graduate of The Ohio State University, Bal launched her professional career as an account executive at NCR Corporation in Washington D.C., and continued her fruitful career around the world as a program director for DENTAC in Berlin, Germany, and as an account executive for Mission Medical in Seattle, Washington. With that kind of experience, there are things she surely misses about being out in the field.

“The industry is really a challenge. I’ve found It’s much easier to teach it than to do it. So, I do miss that challenge. I had maybe 15 accounts, and we worked really hard on these long-term relationships, constantly trying to help them,” Bal said. “It was really more like a partnership, and I miss that. There would be all kinds of problems that would come up, and we would work together to solve them.”

After working for large corporations, Bal dreamed of owning her own business, and with her forge-ahead attitude, she’s made that dream happen – twice! She developed a corporate gifts program for area businesses in Fayetteville, North Carolina, known as Occasion’s Gift Baskets, which she sold in 2003.

“The thing that was really cool is when I worked, I worked for huge businesses. And it was great, but I wanted to own one and see what that would be like. So then, I go to the other extreme where I own my own business and I’m basically doing everything,” she said. “That was really cool, too. I never made a dime. Everything I paid myself went back into the company, but it was so rewarding to see something work. I had the training, I had the education, and I wanted to see if I could do this. And I did, and it worked really well.”

Today, she is still a small part of her second business – Inner Space Home Design, a small interior design business.

“I only help in it a little bit with sourcing and suppliers. Helping the business figure out who would be a good supplier and a not-so-good supplier,” she said. “When we started it, I handled the business side, and my partner handled the creative side.”

Bal strives to make sure her B&E professional sales students are getting this same experience by taking an experiential learning approach when it comes to teaching.

“It’s hard for the students to understand what I’m talking about unless they go see it. If I say something about ‘servicescape,’ I want them to see what I’m talking about. I want to put them in a room like in a restaurant, and ask them, ‘What do you smell? What do you hear?’” she said. “That gives them a good sense of what I mean when we discuss ‘servicescape.’ They really have to be able to tie the two together, so the more experience they can get is so beneficial.”

On top of hands-on experience, Bal leaves her students with a good piece of advice for the real world during each class.

“The biggest thing I tell them is to be honest with their customers; to be kind and respectful. And then to also try to do a little something every day. Some days you just don’t want to face people, and you need to because professional sales is one of those jobs where you have to take a little bashing,” she said. “I ask them to remember something positive that someone has told them, or write something positive and put it on a mirror they face every morning because I want them to remember they can impact another’s life positively by just being kind, honest and respectful.”