B&E students go head-to-head in first-ever sales competition

March 27, 2015

students participate in the first-ever sales competition at West Virginia University.

On March 14, students put their skills to the test, thought quickly on their feet and put their salesperson hats on in the first-ever sales competition at West Virginia University.

Sponsored by the College of Business and Economics, the sales competition was offered to West Virginia University students and those from other universities in the surrounding region. The result was 12 students from B&E, as well as six students from other universities including the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University, who are looking to pursue a career in sales.

The half-day competition was at no cost to the students, and kicked off at noon with a luncheon to give students a chance to meet and interact with the judges. The panel of judges was comprised mostly from the Professional Sales Advisory Committee at B&E, a group of 12 working sales professionals who assist the marketing department with curriculum guidance, internship placement for current students and more. 

Two rounds of competition were held, and the pressure was on for the participants.

“The first round was a sales role-play situation, where the students were told to assume the role of a seller who was pitching a computerized sales tracking tool, and they were tasked with calling on an owner of an office supply store that had a sales force,” said Mike Walsh, chair and associate professor of the marketing department. “There were a series of breakout rooms, and we had a number of graduate students volunteer to play the parts of the buyers.”

Students presented themselves to the buyer in front of a panel of judges in the room, and they were given 20 minutes to do so, as time management was included on the scoring sheet as part of the challenge. Participants were then evaluated on a number of different criteria, and the goal was to secure the buyer’s agreement to submit a written proposal.

Four finalists were identified, and these students were sent off to an intensive second round where the buyer had objected to the proposal, and the sellers had to quickly think on their feet to put their proposals through. The remaining students worked on their elevator pitches in a hypothetical lightning round, working as a salesperson of a textbook publishing company that is trying to secure an exclusive contract with WVU, for the University to only sell books from that company.

“A number of people would be involved in this decision in the real world: professors, deans of individual schools, the provost, CFO of the University, the president and even students,” Walsh said. “We gave the students quick biographies of the six personas, and I gave them names. The students would then wait outside the door of a room where the judges (who had taken on these personas, nametag and all) were standing. As an individual would walk out of the room with a nametag on, the students were challenged on the fly to walk up, introduce themselves and figure out who the person is by the name on their nametag.”

In less than a minute, students were given the job of figuring out who the person was, explaining who they are representing and what the situation is, and tailoring their pitch to the specific persona and that persona’s concerns. The goal was to have secured the person’s business card and have set up an appointment for a phone call by the time the person reached the doors of the Mountainlair.

“Students were incredibly nervous, because there was a lot out of their control. They didn’t know who was going to come through that door and it really made them think on their feet, which is a pretty important life skill in itself,” Walsh said. “We did this for several rounds and took turns. It was very neat because the judges commented on how the students were getting better each time, and really mastering what this was all about.”

The group wrapped up with the second round and retreated to a local restaurant, where the winner was announced as Dorian Evans from Duquesne University. The four finalists received plaques, and each participant received a t-shirt and certificate.

The competition was the first of its kind, and there are plans in place to host another such competition in the fall, Walsh said.

“It was a great thing, something you can’t teach in the classroom. This is the real world,” Walsh said. “There are big national competitions just like this one, and most students aren’t in the position to be able to go. This was an opportunity to bring that type of experience here to campus, and it was great to see them interacting with each other and networking with their counterparts from other schools.

“The students were very enthusiastic all day – none of them had ever been through anything like this, and they were stoked. There was one official winner, but at the end of the day, all the students were ‘winners’ by getting a ton of valuable advice and feedback on their salesmanship.”