Tara Tallman knew she was being watched. Every word, every response, and every move had the potential to elicit a nerve-jangling terror that she might not be able to control. The setting for Tallman’s fright fest wasn’t a dark, abandoned house on a stormy night, but the 10th annual Terry Professional Sales Competition.
The fact it took place close to Halloween was wholly appropriate for how Tallman and many of her peers felt about walking into Sanford Hall for a competition that tested their courage and self-confidence as much as it tested their salesmanship.
Given the scenario of making a sales call, the students had to present themselves and their product, listen to the needs of the customer and respond appropriately, and overcome any objections to effectively close the sale within a 20-minute time limit. Tallman and her fellow competitors did all this while five judges observed them and evaluated their sales techniques on nearly two dozen criteria. It was enough for most of the competitors to experience some sleepless nights in anxious anticipation of the event.
“It was terrifying,” says Tallman, a senior from Toccoa, Ga., majoring in marketing and international business whose only sales experience prior to this semester has been her three-year retail job at Flora Hydroponics in Athens. “But I’m better under pressure than I thought and it ended up being a positive experience for me.”
So positive, in fact, that she placed first out of 60 Terry students and won a $250 prize from Altria Sales and Distribution, the competition’s sponsor. Jessica Craven, a senior marketing and advertising student from Peachtree City finished second and won $200 from Altria. She says the competition’s real-life scenarios changed her perspective of the sales profession.
“It’s definitely opened my eyes to it and I discovered I enjoyed it much more than I thought,” says Craven.
Marketing professor Bobby Friedmann, who served as master of ceremonies for the post-competition award dinner, explains that Tallman and Craven’s feelings are typical of the students who have participated over the past decade.
“Every year we hear from students who call us and say, you know that whole thing was a pain in the butt, but the experience really paid off,” says Friedmann, who notes that the competition has progressively gotten bigger and better thanks to marketing professor Kevin Ellis. “This whole exercise is a tremendous endeavor and is literally all on the shoulders of Kevin, and the only recognition he gets for doing this is self-satisfaction. He does this because he truly cares about the students.”
Ellis, who was an integral part of getting State Farm to provide funding for the construction of a dedicated sales lab at the Terry College in 2009, also helped win approval for the Marketing Department’s new academic certificate program in sales. To earn the certificate, students will be required to take courses in services marketing, professional selling, and sales management and complete a sales internship and mentoring requirement.
“Mentors will most frequently be supplied through the department and principally from companies on our board such as State Farm, Marathon Oil, Eli Lily, and Altria,” Ellis says.
Access to the sales lab provides great support for the students in the certificate program because they can use it for their class work, in preparation for the sales competition, and as a future component of their professional portfolio.
“We not only film students to judge the competition, but now students can send a copy of these sessions to any employer around the globe,” Ellis says.
Typically, the top two finishers from the Terry Professional Sales Competition represent the college at the National Collegiate Sales Competition at Kennesaw State University in March, but with Tallman graduating in December third-place winner Tanya Casiano will replace Tallman and join Craven as part of the national team.
Nevertheless, Tallman says the experience made her realize that, despite her nervousness, there’s a tangible reward that comes from facing down your fears.
“I really didn’t see myself as a salesperson before this semester, but I am really leaning toward going into sales,” says Tallman. “My only thought about the sales profession was how scary it seemed, but once you get in there and you realize that you’re just having a conversation with someone then it’s all about relating and thinking and networking. As long as you relax and go from there, it’s not as hard as it seems.”