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NIU hosts global sales competition

March 6, 2012

Reverse Job FairSeasoned sales professionals love to tell war stories about the pressure of trying to close a deal.

Very few of them, however, have faced anything like the finals of the World Collegiate Sales Open, held Friday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25, at the NIU College of Business.

There, the final four contestants had to persuade a “client” to sign on the dotted line, knowing that the top sales students in the world, their coaches and professional salespersons from some of the country’s largest businesses were analyzing their every move.

None of that fazed Joshua Woolls, a University of Akron student who clinched the deal, earning $2,000 in prize money, and an unbeatable story to tell interviewers as he pursues a job in the months ahead.

Woolls was the last man standing in a competition that began with 192 students from 28 business schools around the globe. The  competition began in October, with students participating via telephone and Adobe Connect – the software that also happened to be the product each student was trying to “sell. Their “customers” were actually seasoned sales professionals recruited by the Professional Sales Program at NIU to judge the competition.

From that initial group, judges selected 20 finalists – including a team of three students from Austria, and a one-student team from the United Kingdom – all of whom traveled to NIU for the final round.

The contests emphasis upon telephone and online skills, are what sets the WCSO apart from other collegiate sales competitions, said NIU Professor of Marketing Robert Peterson, who was named the Outstanding Faculty Coach at the event.

“The WCSO is uniquely dynamic in that it covers everything a salesman will do,” Peterson said. “Leaving voice mails, getting past a gatekeeper, making a pitch to a CEO in a moving elevator – those things aren’t done in any other competitions.”

World Collegiate Sales Open logoThe goal is to make the experience as realistic as possible – and it works, said Justin Jawor, of Bolingbrook, who is studying international marketing and earning his professional sales certificate. For the last two-and-a-half years, Jawor has traveled the country on behalf of an organization that encourages companies to provide internship opportunities for students around the globe. He found the competition tougher than facing his clients.

“I think the real world might be a little bit easier,” Jawor said. “When you are a student selling, people give you a little bit of a break, but not here. But that is good. This is to prepare me for when I am not a student anymore.”

The challenges facing contestants were magnified for the international competitors.

“We had to make a lot of adjustments to compete in a U.S. competition,” said Lisa Pecnik, part of the Austrian contingent. “There is a different language and different customs you have to adjust to,” she added, noting that Americans are much more likely to ask direct questions than Europeans.

When students weren’t role-playing the sale of a product, they were busy selling their talents. The afternoon of the first day was dedicated to a reverse job fair, where potential employers visited booths set up by students looking for jobs, rather than the other way around.

Reverse Job FairStudents also got several opportunities to socialize with sales executives.

Such interactions helped some of the participants at last year’s inaugural WCSO land jobs, including  runner-up and NIU graduate Ashley Schulter, who now works for White Lodging and served as an early-round judge at this year’s event.

“The experience of competing was great because it walked you through the entire sales process,” Schulter said.

“Sometimes in the classroom you focus on the various segments separately, or get caught up focusing  on the face-to-face sale.This makes you think about things like phone skills getting past the gatekeeper, and other important aspects – things I do every day now.”

Woolls walked away with the top prize of$2,000, followed by Zororo Makama of Michigan State University in second place ($1,500), Corey Kravitz of NIU ($1,000) and Casey Klauck of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater ($500).

NIU sales student Chareen Bogner also did well in the competition, taking first class in the Voice Mail and Appointment Call categories.