FBI Agent Turned Marketing Professor Relies on Rapport to Get the Job Done
Michael Huben, assistant professor of Marketing and Professional Selling, finds that trust and building rapport are two keys to successful marketing. He honed his skills at both, not only in sales but as a criminal investigator for the FBI.
An FBI agent from 1983 and 1988, Huben’s days in the Bureau were spent interviewing people, sending out subpoenas, delivering subpoenas, gathering evidence, and getting bank records within the New Haven, Connecticut and New York City FBI offices.
“Soft skills and emotional intelligence are critical to an FBI Agent and a sales professional,” says Huben. In his classroom lectures, he stresses the importance of establishing trust over time through empathy. “I had the best sales training in the world becoming an agent. The key to marketing is to have a plan to build rapport,” says Huben, who earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Bloomsburg. “You want to build trust, and that is one of the key things as an FBI agent, too.”
Huben recalls building rapport being part of the lessons of his own FBI training in Quantico, Va. “One of the guest speakers was an FBI agent who specialized in working organized crime cases. The agent detailed how it took him over a year to develop rapport and trust with an organized crime member. One of his tactics — every Saturday for several years the agent brought this person a coffee and paper from a convenience store,” says Huben. “It led to a conversation and eventually, he convinced the man to become an FBI informant, resulting in dozens of key convictions.”
As an example from his own casefiles Huben shares a fraud case he worked in New Haven, Conn. “A well-liked associate pastor of a church in central Connecticut defrauded dozens of his parishioners out of $4 million dollars. He told them he had a great real estate investment opportunity in Punta Gorda, Florida. Instead of the money going towards actual real estate investments, the money went into the suspect’s personal accounts.”
“Because the parishioners knew him and trusted the guy so well, it was difficult to get them to initially share documents and testimony with me. I had to work to build rapport and trust over the course of months,” Huben says. “Eventually, I got the cooperation of all the victims and the man was convicted in a very large white-collar crime case.”
Everyday day in the bureau would be tasking, but Huben remembers his last day as an agent with amazement. “I’ll never forget, I’m walking out of the FBI office, and I had 28 cases on my desk with frauds of over a million dollars. One person, one agent, had $28 million in fraud to investigate. It was the wild west out there. It was so bad with crime there. At that time, if you stole less than $25,000 from the bank, we won’t even pick up the phone.”
After serving in the FBI, he enjoyed a 29-year career with pharmaceutical company Merck, working in sales and marketing. During his time there, Bloomsburg University students and professor and department chair Monica Favia visited the company and were guided by Huben. He introduced them into the world of pharmaceutical sales, showed them the marketing and sales departments to talk to the leaders of the company, and gave a short presentation.
After retirement from Merck, he found he had too much free time. “One day, after about three or four months, I had too much energy. I was talking to my oldest daughter, and she says, ‘Why don’t you teach?’” He decided to look at his alma mater Bloomsburg and saw an adjunct professor position was open. Huben had an interview with the Favia, who had led the trip to his former company, and joined the faculty in 2018.
Huben is also a Professional U Fellow for the Zeigler College of Business since 2018 and advisor of the business fraternity Phi Sigma Epsilon, where they prepare students for the business world with mock elevator pitches, management, and marketing exercises. He regularly prepares students for the Keystone Sales Challenge, where students compete in sales competitions.
“The great thing is, working with these students that are so driven and so professional in all the sales contests coming up,” Huben says. “And frankly, I think that is the most rewarding experience.”