West Virginia University students Dom Mirto and Valerie Bennett will be the first-ever Mountaineer representatives to participate in the Final Round of the World Collegiate Sales Open. A total of 20 students from around the world have qualified for the chance to compete at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., in February. The 20 finalists will represent 11 colleges and universities, and each has made it through three grueling preliminary rounds.
"Altogether, we had seven students compete," said Dr. Andy Wood, chairman of the Marketing Department at B&E, who will travel with the students in February. Five of the seven made it through the first two rounds.
According to Dr. Wood, Round 1 consisted of two voicemails. Students introduced themselves and their product (Adobe Connect Pro) to a fictitious buyer through voicemail on a Monday. The next day, they pretended a week had passed and left a follow up voicemail. Both voicemails were recorded, digitized and sent to sales professors all around the world to be judged.
"It's like two separate rounds in that they're judged separately, but they're the same round because if you blow one of the two you're out," Dr. Wood said. All of WVU's students passed the first round.
For round two, competitors had a live phone conversation with the appointment setter (known in sales as the "gatekeeper"). Their goal was to set up an appointment with the actual buyer to complete a product demonstration. The entire conversation was recorded, and each student received different objections and obstacles from the gatekeeper. Of the top world's top 60 scorers who passed this round, five of them were Mountaineers.
"They raised the level of difficulty tremendously this year," said Dr. Wood. "The gatekeeper would say ‘He's on vacation, and I've been instructed to not take appointments' or ‘We've tried your product before and it didn't work.' (The students) were very discouraged at the end of that, needless to say. Five of the seven made it through however."
In round three, the students completed a computer demonstration to their fictitious client using Adobe Connect Pro. They had five minutes prior to the call to upload PowerPoint slides, demos or any other media they wished to use.
"The round was held November 26-27, so they used Adobe Connect to do the sales call because everyone was home for Thanksgiving break," explained Dr. Wood. "They had 15 minutes to talk and demonstrate Adobe Connect." This last preliminary round before the finals narrowed the field of participants from 60 to 20. Five of the top 20 slots are reserved for international students, and Mirto and Bennett made the cut for the 15 available slots for domestic students.
"I was shocked to see the confirmation email. It still doesn't seem real. I am so grateful that Dom and I will represent WVU at NIU in February," Bennett said.
Although WVU students have one month off between the fall and spring semesters this year, Bennett, Mirto and Dr. Wood will be hard at work. They will begin preparing over the holiday break with advanced selling skills like product training, sales conversations, gender discrepancies, nonverbal communication and adaptation to communication styles.
"We don't get to pick our buyer, so we will be practicing how to address any buyer and how to handle the unexpected," Dr. Wood said.
Dr. Wood said he's not sure what the students should expect, as it's his first time reaching this level of the competition. However, according to the WCSO website, there are six phases of the Championship Round: Voicemail, gatekeeper, elevator pitches (literally, in working elevators), a reverse job fair and two 15-minute role plays. After these first five rounds, the top four will be determined. The top competitors will then participate in an additional role play with the decision maker in an attempt to close the sale. First through fourth place finishes will receive a cash prize of $2,000, $1,500, $1,000, and $500, respectively. There will also be a $500 prize for an Outstanding Faculty Coach.
Mirto, a junior marketing student from Youngstown, Ohio, and Bennett, a junior advertising student from Masontown, W.Va, are very pleased with their participation in the World Collegiate Sales Open thus far.
"I want to represent WVU to the best of my ability and bring home the win," said Bennett. She is no stranger to representing WVU, as she is heavily involved on campus as Student Business Manager of the Daily Athenaeum and as a student public relations assistant for WVU Dining Services.
"West Virginia University offers so many opportunities for students to get involved," she said. "Now is the time to take part in everything you can to gain vital experience and make great memories while doing so." Bennett said that participation in the WCSO will be a valuable memory she can enjoy for years to come.
"It's been awesome, going through everything and realizing how well it matches up with things I've learned in my sales internships," Mirto said. He said his real life sales experience as an intern with the Akron Arrows and MRI software were excellent preparation for the competition.
"When you're the first in West Virginia history to do this, it's a great feat to have accomplished," he said.
The World Collegiate Sales Open is an educational experience designed to mimic real world activities that a sales representative would need to master, which may not be taught in colleges across the nation. However, WVU has a distinct advantage in this regard due to its Professional Sales Institute, which offers specialized courses in advanced selling techniques and led to WVU's inclusion on the Top 60 North American Sales Schools by the University Sales Education Foundation.
The spring 2013 semester will be the first time sophomores can take professional sales courses. Dr. Wood said he hopes to recruit students for the WVU Professional Sales Institute through those courses, and that the demand is very high.
"I've got 30 already; we have a maximum of 30 per course to meet the USCA requirements. I probably could have filled up a second section if we had another instructor. We've had to turn away a pretty good number of students," Wood said.
Successful competitors like Mirto and Bennett will serve as role models for underclassmen just beginning to contemplate the professional sales track at B&E.
"I think the biggest impact (of having students advance to the finals) is going to be name recognition for WVU for future students and employers," Dr. Wood said. "If we are seen placing and doing well, it validates how we're educating students in the WVU Professional Sales Institute. That helps every student."