Students from across the country, and as far away as Scotland, came to the NIU College of Business in November to practice the “art of the deal.”
The World Collegiate Sales Open tested some of the best student-salesmen in the country, with representatives from professional selling classes at NIU, Ball State, Louisville, University of Indiana, University of Toledo, Elon University, Baylor University and the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, Scotland.
While there are a number of student sales competitions held at universities across the country each year, organizers of the NIU event sought to add an additional level of realism to the event.
“Most of these contests rely solely upon sales-call role plays,” said Rick Ridnour, one of the founding professor’s of NIU’s Professional Sales Program. “But in reality, salesmen rely very heavily on using the telephone and e-mail to get those appointments, so we introduced those elements.”
That is a crucial difference, said Robert Peterson, Ridnour’s colleague in the NIU Sales Program. “In other competitions you assume you have an appointment, but out in the real world, appointments are not guaranteed; you earn them,” he said.
In fact, just to be invited to the NIU event, students had to begin participating months in advance, sending e-mails and leaving voice mails attempting to get appointments with a dean of the business school at fictitious Priceworth University.
Those who succeeded had their telephone skills further tested in the early rounds of the competition when they had to navigate past a secretary acting as a “gatekeeper” for the dean. Some talked up the value of their product, others played upon urgency, while at least one offered to bring the secretary lunch.
Students also learned that a career in sales has its ups and downs, as they competed in a round that required them to give an “elevator pitch” while taking a 22-second ride in an actual elevator with a purchasing agent from the fictitious college.
Participants thrived on the realism.
“This is a huge challenge and, from what I’ve heard, mirrors real-world business experiences,” said Tyler Reynolds from Elon University.
In the end, NIU fared well in the contest, securing two of the top three spots. The overall winner of the competition was G. Carl Hairston, of Elon University; Ashley Schulter and Sabrina Pugliese (both of NIU) took second and third place, respectively; while Reynolds placed fourth.