By Gloria McNerney, BA '14
The University of Cincinnati Varsity Sales Team is unlike the average college sports team. From its inception three years ago, the UC Varsity Sales Team has grown from being an unknown, four-student team to a nationally recognized 40-member group of young elite business professionals.
On March 1, 2013, the team moves to the national stage to compete at the 2013 National Collegiate Sales Competition in Atlanta. For the national competition, only two students will compete and three will serve as alternates.
The team kept low profile during its organizational stage. Now, it has surpassed its own expectations and established a reputation among U.S. universities and well-known businesses.
Team members now look to promote the sales profession even further in the national competition. In the future, the team hopes to bring more students and participate in other competitions.
As part of the UC Center for Professional Selling in Lindner Hall, the Varsity Sales Team represents the Carl H. Lindner College of Business in national competitions and presentations to sales executives. From the beginning, coach Jane Sojka has focused on high standards for the students.
"Until I could find high-caliber faculty members to teach the sales courses, this team was the best-kept secret," says Sojka, director of UC Center for Professional Selling. "We only want the best."
Sojka, who holds a master's degree in marketing from Wichita State University and a doctoral degree from Washington State University, pushed to help the sales team become a known organization on campus.
Sojka looked for faculty members with at least a master's degree and sales experience to teach the fundamentals of selling to the team. The Center for Professional Selling now has faculty members from qualified national companies, with more than 200 years of sales experience combined, and includes New York Times bestselling author Neil Rackham.
"We have grown exponentially and our students are well trained with this," Sojka says. The sales team now goes to four sales competitions, has 28 students involved in a competition, and a long waiting list to get in. In the future, the team hopes to bring more students and participate in other competitions.
Being on the sales team is similar to other college varsity sports in which skill and preparation are important. A try-out process was also developed to choose the best competitors for practice and competitions. Sojka explained how the coaches look at more than just grade point average when selecting team members.
"Work ethic, passion for sales, determination, how well they sell themselves, and being able to think on your feet are all important characteristics in competitors," Sojka says. The tryout process of "role-playing" a sale helps bring out these characteristics in students.
Only a select few sales team members are chosen to represent the school in competitions, where they compete against other universities from around the nation, and even the world. The competition mirrors a real-world sales call, where representatives are trying to sell a product or service to a potential buyer. They enter a small "office-like" arena and have 20 minutes to get the buyer interested, sell the product and close the sale.
However, there is always a catch. Competitors never know what the buyer is going to say or do, and just like some athletes, they are forced to think on their feet.
"These situations are as close to the real world as you can get," Sojka says. "The pressure is there, and they always throw something at you."
In previous competitions, there have been situations that include multiple buyers at a time and even a blind buyer. The competitors must then adjust their selling techniques accordingly, and sell the product successfully to advance to the next round.
It’s all about "building rapport, selling the product and closing the sale,” Sojka says.
Just like in swimming or track, the competitions include eliminations in heats. The top two competitors advance through the rounds until there's a "final four" of the top four competitors. Sojka compares it to basketball's March Madness.
Alexandra Land, a third-year marketing major and sales team member, worked as a developer in the tryout process, and notes the changes she's seen in fellow students after getting on the team.
"When the sales team first began, [it] was more like an extracurricular club," Land says. "Members now have a stronger work ethic, are more focused, and more serious about making sales a priority."
Land, who became a member of the team in 2011, was the winner of the 2012 Keg of Nails competition in Louisville, Ky and an alternate for the 2012 National Collegiate Sales Competition in Atlanta.
Lindner Hall Room 004 was recently renovated as a sales lab for the team to rehearse and practice. The lab has four small rooms that are set up with desks and computers to look like offices in a sales company, and include video equipment. In this setting, Sojka brings in a global sales rep to be the buyer and the entire role-play is videotaped. Sojka and students can then go back and view the videotapes for comments and constructive criticism. "It is a powerful tool to get students ready and take them to the next level," Sojka says.
Land credits solid preparation for UC’s 12th place finish in the 2012 National Sales Team Competition.
"UC came very prepared last year and we were all very strong members for how new our program was," Land says. "We now have the experience of competitions and learned much more about sales strategies. It pushes [us] to go outside [our] comfort zones."
Sojka says "it's my job is to serve students, and as long as there are students interested and who will benefit, I will find a way to make the team grow."