Few seek help from U’s sales office

Patricia Drey

The University’s External Sales Office needs more publicity, not more money, the office’s associate director said.

Although University policy requires academic departments that sell to external customers to go through the office, nearly half do not follow the rule, associate director George Ogbonna said.

About 40 percent of the departments selling to external customers do use the office. Ogbonna attributed the numbers to many people being unaware of the office.

The office’s two employees help academic departments set rates for their products, research markets and connect departments with corporate clients, Ogbonna said.

“The office has evolved into a business development consulting unit,” he said.

The office, created in 1996, also looks over contracts and oversees faculty members who do consulting work to ensure their work fits into the University’s mission of outreach. At the same time, officials do not want faculty members to take too much away from teaching and advising students, Ogbonna said.

For the office’s services, the University charges 3.75 percent of the profit from sales that go to the Office of Budget and Finance and cover the overhead for the External Sales Office, Ogbonna said.

Jackie Malling, executive director of the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank, which obtains, evaluates and distributes donated eye tissue for research and transplants, said her organization began working with the External Sales Office about a year ago.

The University exempts the eye bank from the 3.75 percent charge because it does not profit from its sale, Ogbonna said.

The eye bank charges a processing fee to cover the costs of receiving and disbursing eye tissue, Malling said.

The eye bank has distributed eyes at the University since 1960, Malling said, and never knew the office existed.

The office has alerted the eye bank to potential risks of its business and helped the eye bank make connections with other University offices that could help them, Malling said.

For example, through the External Sales Office, Malling said, she learned how University lobbyists can help the eye bank lobby at the Legislature for two statute changes.

“I think that the office helps connect the dots between resources we have at the University,” Malling said.

The office also helps sellers connect with risk management, legal, human and animal subject research, tax, and environmental health and safety experts.

To encourage academic departments to use the office, Ogbonna speaks to faculty groups.

In addition to working with academic departments, the office assists in contract negotiations with STA Travel and U.S. Bank, located in Coffman Union, Ogbonna said.

Currently, the office is talking with Clinique and Marshall Field’s about possibly selling makeup at Coffman Union.