Terry marketing majors Leah Wilson and Sara Andrzejewski were a team to be reckoned with at this year's National Collegiate Sales Competition at Kennesaw State in March. They led their brackets in both the opening and quarterfinal rounds, and their blazing start earned them an affectionate moniker.
"People kept asking me who Terry's blond pit bulls were," says marketing professor Kevin Ellis, who coaches the sales team. "I kept telling everybody, 'We're not pit bulls, we're Bulldogs!'"
Students from 53 schools competed in 20-minute role-playing sessions where they were judged on how effective they were in selling NetSuite's business software. Wilson and Andrzejewski finished one point shy of first-place Ohio University in the team competition, and Wilson put an exclamation point on the day with a second-place finish out of 106 students in the individual competition.
"This is the best we've ever done," says Ellis. "There wasn't another school within 20 points of us and Ohio U — and those other schools have the name recognition for their sales programs."
Many of the competing schools incorporate semester-long classes into their curriculum just to prepare for the national competition, whereas Terry students have to prepare on their own time outside of class. To make up for that disparity, Ellis created the Terry Sales Competition, a one-day event held in November that models the NCSC format. The Terry competition draws corporate and financial sponsorship — as well as participation as buyers and judges — from such companies as State Farm, Philip Morris, E&J Gallo, Eli Lilly, Liberty Mutual, Glaxco Smith Kline, and Endo Pharmaceutical.
"I love the program. It's a heck of a value to the students," says Phillip Morris unit manager Ted Gresham, a 32-year veteran in sales who is one of several on-campus recruiters at Terry. "I can't believe the number of students who do this voluntarily. It's a pretty stressful process for them, but I think it's a great experience."
It's this type of effort from students that convinced State Farm to hire eight of Terry's graduates this year — and to provide $96,000 to establish the new State Farm Sales Lab inside Sanford Hall. Ellis is grateful to State Farm for providing new technology that will make it possible to record and analyze training sessions. But interpersonal skills and desire remain integral to the sales process. "You have to want it...and be yourself," he adds. "It's not just technique."
"I thought I was going to do poorly because we had those meetings and I wasn't able to make most of them," says Wilson, a double major in marketing and finance who will graduate in December. "I came into it thinking that I just didn't want to embarrass myself."
Wilson needn't have worried. She won the Terry competition outright and impressed Ellis with her dynamic interpersonal skills.
"Leah's ease of communication and focus on the conversation makes her very effective in sales," says Ellis. "It's a talent I haven't seen in a lot of people, particularly someone her age." Ellis was equally impressed with Andrzejewski, a senior who finished second at the Terry Sales Competition — and just missed joining Wilson in the final four at NCSC.
"Sara has that unique capability to analyze situations and process them quickly," says Ellis. "She demonstrates preparation out of respect for who you are. You can tell she is serious, and you know you can trust her as someone to do business with."
To prepare Wilson and Andrzejewski for nationals, Ellis put them in rigorous role-playing scenarios with Tara McDonald, a top U.S. sales rep for Endo-Pharmaceutical; Tucker Cox, a part-time instructor at Terry; and PhD candidate Plamen Peev. All three posed as buyers.
"We didn't over-train them," says Ellis. "Leah and Sara went after this whole thing with determination, with an analytical approach, and with flexibility — which gave people the impression that you could throw any challenge at them and they could handle it. We thought they were special going in!"