“We have been participating in this competition for many years, and I believe that this is the highest finish ever for an NIU team. The students really pulled it together,” said Charles Howlett, assistant director of NIU’s Professional Sales Program and coach of the team.
Members of the team were Ben Clark, of Washington, Ill.; Ashley Johnson, of Colona, Ill.; Alex Larson, of Louisville, Ky.; Kayla Rowling, of Grafton, Ill.; and Christian Villalobos, of Chicago. All are seniors.
Last week’s competition was based on a case study that the team received in advance. It cast them in the role of a snack food maker, with a new product aimed at Hispanics between the ages of 25 and 34 and looking to place their product with a supermarket chain.
Work began Thursday morning, when the team had its first meeting with its “customer,” a representative from the fictitious supermarket. The team used that meeting as an opportunity to determine the needs of the client and to determine in what direction to proceed.
Based on that meeting, the NIU students revamped their entire approach, which prompted an all-nighter to prepare for their Friday presentation. The effort paid off.
“As soon as we finished, we knew we had nailed it,” Villalobos said. “We couldn’t imagine anyone doing a better presentation.”
The judges agreed.
The NIU team was named the top competitor in their group and was whisked away to the next round, where the quintet presented to a group of fictitious sales managers to get them excited about selling the product.
As the final votes were tallied, NIU took third place among the 21 teams competing, finishing behind the first place team from the University of Washington, and the second place team from Baylor University. Other teams in the competition included San Diego State, Kansas, St. Xavier and Ball State.
In addition to the competition, which was co-sponsored by 3M and Altria Group, students participated in a job fair with recruiters from 15 different companies and had the opportunity to network with sales professionals from across the country.
The primary take-away from the weekend, Howlett said, was the value of teamwork.
“You need people with strengths in financial analytics, market research, market branding and marketing campaigns – and no one person can do it all. Once they embraced that, it all came together.”
The third-place finish in the competition helps cement the NIU Professional Sales Program’s reputation as one of the best (as well as one of the oldest) in the nation.