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Alumni in Action

WSB Alum Scott Finkelmeyer Shares Five Lessons From a Career in Sales

By Chris Malina

November 2, 2023

Lessons learned with WSB alumni
Business careers can come in all shapes and sizes. In this series, Business Badgers reflect on lessons they learned over the years that shaped their unique careers and led to professional success.

Scott Finkelmeyer (BBA ’99) knows the importance of being a chameleon.

After all, when you’re pitching your product to everyone from biomedical engineers to hospital CEOs, situational adaptability is key. It’s also one of the qualities that’s made Finkelmeyer successful over a 24-year career in sales, including roles at both Siemens and GE HealthCare, where he specialized in selling high-end medical imaging systems. Now, as enterprise sales director for, he deals in artificial intelligence software to further enhance those same devices.

That adaptability also gives him an edge up in a new location: the classroom. In recent months, Finkelmeyer has guest lectured at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management and the Wisconsin School of Business, where he’s mentoring students and sharing some of the most important lessons he’s learned from a successful career in sales.

Create the right atmosphere

Before coming to WSB to study marketing, management, and human resources, Finkelmeyer—a native of Waukesha, Wisconsin—learned his first foundational business lessons while working at a local pharmacy throughout high school.

In addition to building customer service skills, Finkelmeyer got direct insight into sales and learned how to create an atmosphere of excitement around products—one where the market comes to you and not the other way around.

“Every summer, we’d have a sidewalk sale and would sell 12-packs of Coke, two for $5, and we’d have lines of people wanting that,” he says. “Even if the sale price wasn’t all that different, there was an atmosphere around that environment that made people want to stop by and make a purchase.”

Sales isn’t always what you think it is

Finkelmeyer says sales is a wonderful career if you love people, problem solving, being creative, and moving fast.

In many ways, it’s just like a political campaign.

“You’re trying to see every different person who could vote for you and get them to like and trust you,” he says. “Most days go by very fast, because you’re engaged with customers all over your territory and solving their problems.”

One misconception Finkelmeyer frequently hears is that sales careers are all about generating leads and cold calling clients. He says that while being assertive and making the first approach is part of the job, it’s really the long-term relationship building that matters the most and is essential for retaining business—especially with complex medical technology.

“I was probably criticized more by my customers for not seeing me enough, despite me being there frequently,” Finkelmeyer says. “Once you sell $2 million worth of stuff, you have $2 million worth of issues. There are service teams to help rectify issues, but clients always come back to you first when they’re frustrated. It really keeps you on your toes.”

People over product

To be truly successful in sales, Finkelmeyer says it’s important to understand the product you’re selling—but even more important to understand the people making the purchasing decisions.

“Knowing their processes, how they all relate, and how they’re going to make this million-dollar decision—understanding that whole landscape and being myopically focused on them is key,” he says. “I really try to ask about goals, initiatives, and strategies. Because then I can think about how our product relates into that and I’m not providing information that isn’t relevant.”

When in doubt, Finkelmeyer offers one simple tip for getting information out of potential customers—don’t say anything.

“Looking back on the early days of my career, I wish I’d asked more questions and just sat back and listened,” he says. “Even when there was silence, I could have allowed a few extra seconds because they might say one more thing that could help me understand them better.”

Work smarter, not harder

As someone who routinely racked up 30,000 miles on his car each year, while eating more than a few meals out of vending machines, Finkelmeyer admits his early days in sales could be grueling. However, he says balance and success can coexist in sales—even if it means occasionally working against your instincts.

“As a competitive sales professional, you always think you can win every deal,” Finkelmeyer says. “I remember making the six-hour round trip to a medical center in rural Arizona—basically an entire day to pursue one account, and I probably went there 10 times. I never won anything over there but kept trying. I should have stopped and said, ‘you know what, I’m not going to spend my time there until things change and it makes sense for us to pursue a relationship.’”

And while nobody wants to hear no for an answer, especially in sales, Finkelmeyer says it’s important to know when to move on. He remembers a first meeting with a hospital executive who didn’t mince words upon walking into the room: We’re buying from your competitor and will not be accepting bids from any other vendors.

“I immediately considered all my sales angles, but as I slowed down and thought more about it over time, I realized that he had saved me a lot of time and energy,” says Finkelmeyer. “That allowed me to refocus and spend time on the deals I knew I could win.”

Trust is everything

It might sound cliché, but building deep trust with clients has its rewards. Finkelmeyer saw that directly when he moved from Siemens to GE HealthCare, selling similar products to the same customer base, and watched as his past clients lined up to follow him.

“They trusted me, they made the move with me, and I was humbled by that,” Finkelmeyer says. “We flipped a majority of those customers within 18 months. These clients wanted to work with someone who was going to be there not just during the sale, but after the sale, too.”

Earning trust means something different to everyone, but Finkelmeyer has his go-to methods: paying strict attention to detail, playing by the rules, being mindful of company politics, and customizing each sales pitch and presentation to each unique client—especially when it’s not your typical customer.

It’s something he once experienced when his company was contacted by a private university looking to make a $10 million purchase of imaging equipment—for animals. With so much at stake, and with an atypical client, he took matters into his own hands by doing some research with his alma mater.

“I spent a whole day with the imaging department at the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, seeing how they performed X-ray and MRI scans on dogs, cats, and even horses,” Finkelmeyer says. “I then went one step further and bought the two main textbooks on veterinary imaging and even interviewed the authors of those books. So, when it came time for the pitch, we didn’t pull out a standard presentation. We had a researched, tailored presentation just for them, and we ultimately were awarded the contract.”