Kelsey Bingham Furman University Alumni

Kelsey Bingham '11

— Financial Sales Executive

To recent graduates who are interested in business-to-business sales, I would highly recommend pursuing a formal sales training program at a large, established company, much like the Summit Program at IBM. These types of programs are designed to equip new sellers to be successful, so the training you receive is unmatched.


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

After graduating in 2011 with a double major in economics and political science, I accepted a position with IBM as part of the company's Summit Program for recent graduates. As a Summit hire, I went through 12 months of sales training, which consisted of formal classroom education as well as informal job shadowing and mentorship by experienced IBM sellers. My first job after completing the Summit Program was in software sales working with enterprise clients such as FedEx, Hospital Corporation of America, and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. I learned extensively from my clients and colleagues in that position, but after a few years, I discovered software sales was not my passion and was ready to learn something new.

I enjoyed working directly with clients but quickly realized my interests and skills were better suited for helping clients determine how to acquire the technology they needed rather than which solutions to acquire. This realization led me to an opportunity with IBM Global Financing in early 2015. In my current role as Financial Sales Executive for IGF, I structure technology leasing and financing solutions for healthcare and government clients across the country. I have had the privilege of working with CFOs, CIOs, and procurement officials to create custom financial solutions that enable my clients to acquire the technology they need to help their businesses grow.
What motivations fueled your career path?

I surprised many of my friends and family when I turned down a job with the Department of Defense and accepted a position with IBM my senior year of college. This decision was both a personal and professional one. My fiancé (now husband) was beginning optometry school in Memphis, and I was not fond of the idea of spending four years living 900 miles apart. On a professional level, the opportunity to begin my career at an established global company like IBM and to work with a diverse set of clients (small and large, public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit) would give me unique exposure to and experience in the corporate world.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?

The most valuable resources in my own professional development have not been tools or books or assessments, though there is certainly value to be found in those things. I have grown the most professionally as a result of the people I have encountered who have been honest and open about their own professional journeys and helped me identify my own strengths and interests. My advice would be to seek out friends and mentors of all ages in a variety of positions. Learn about their experiences, ask good questions, and remain open to their perspectives. I believe that approaching one's career with humility—acknowledging that we can learn so much from other people—can open doors and illuminate paths we might not otherwise have considered.
How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?

To recent graduates who are interested in business-to-business sales, I would highly recommend pursuing a formal sales training program at a large, established company, much like the Summit Program at IBM. These types of programs are designed to equip new sellers to be successful, so the training you receive is unmatched. Additionally, successfully completing a well-known sales training program can open doors for future job opportunities.

How is success defined in your career field? (How did Furman prepare you to be successful?)

On paper, success in any type of sales is defined simply by how much one sells. Most salespeople are measured against a sales target or quota; they are "successful" if they meet or exceed that quota. I have learned that success in business-to-business sales depends on my relationships with my clients and my ability to add value to their organizations. If I can truly understand the challenges my clients are facing and provide them a solution to help them overcome those challenges, I am successful. My experiences at Furman equipped me with problem-solving and communication skills, which are essential for me to add value to my clients and are critical to my success.

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

I wish I had known I did not need to have my entire career perfectly mapped out from the start. When I was getting ready to graduate from Furman, I believed the decisions made at age 22 would determine my entire career trajectory. In reality, each experience has taught me more about myself, and uniquely prepared me for the next step. Setting goals and pursuing a path to reach them is a wise and prudent thing to do, but you also have to be flexible and recognize your aspirations may change along the way.
What additional education or certification is required/recommended?

I joined IBM with only my bachelor's degree, and while some of my colleagues have advanced degrees, many do not.

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

I believe my liberal arts education has equipped me to adapt and flourish in a business environment. Learning to solve problems creatively, to view a single issue from multiple points of view, and to think more broadly about the impact of my decisions have all played a part in my success.
Any final advice for students or recent grads?

My advice to current students and recent graduates would be to stay open-minded and flexible when it comes to making decisions about your career. There is no single path to success or career fulfillment; it truly is a journey, and that journey looks different for everyone. At some point, you may find yourself in a job that you hate or working for a boss with whom you simply do not see eye to eye. Learn from those experiences, pivot, and move on.


Were there particular courses within the economics department that were especially useful in helping you identify your career or that ended up helping you to be successful in your career (maybe unexpectedly)?

The principles I learned in my microeconomics courses at Furman—opportunity costs, trade offs, incentives, etc.—heavily influence both the way I make decisions and how I seek to understand the decisions of others. Understanding decision-making, or at least understanding how to think about it, is incredibly important in business, and I find myself frequently recalling the concepts I studied and the conversations I had with my peers and professors.
Were there particular projects or activities from any of your economics courses that were especially useful?

The group discussions held in my senior seminar on economic globalization taught by Dr. Cook particularly influenced the way I think about and approach my career. As someone currently working for a multinational corporation with fingerprints on both the developed world and the developing world, I am constantly considering the broader impact and possible unintended consequences of my own decisions and those made by executives within my company.

Were there particular "engaged learning" experiences (e.g. internships, study away, research opportunities) that were especially useful?

I had the privilege of participating in a number of "engaged learning" experiences while at Furman, including internships with IBM and with the NSA, participation in the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, and a semester abroad in China. Each of these experiences was meaningful and memorable for different reasons, but perhaps the most impactful was the semester I spent studying and traveling in China. Immersing oneself in a foreign culture is both a humbling and enlightening experience. During my four months in China, I learned how to respectfully navigate a society different from my own. This skill is invaluable in the business world; even though I am not currently doing business internationally, working with a diverse set of clients with different corporate cultures requires that I can understand, respect, and adapt.
Any other "highlights" from your experience in economics?

While I truly enjoyed every course I took in the economics department, the highlight of my experience was the faculty and their sincere love of teaching. I frequented the department's offices and regularly found myself having a career conversation with Dr. Peterson, discussing the effectiveness of foreign aid with Dr. Cook, or posing questions to Dr. Jones about the macroeconomic impact of a recent policy decision made by China's government. Each of the faculty members was willing and eager to answer questions, offer advice, and engage in lively discussions. They taught me about demand curves and price optimization. They taught me about the relationship between inflation and unemployment. They taught me about market failures. Most importantly, though, they taught me how to think.

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