Students compete in selling talent

Kennesaw State event draws 122 students, 30 national companies

After four years of serious training, David Maloof is going for the gold. Not the Olympics. The senior marketing major at Kennesaw State University is competing in the 12th annual National Collegiate Sales Competition (NCSC) this weekend on Kennesaw’s campus.

He’ll compete against 121 other seniors from 61 universities before 30 national corporations, and what he hopes to win is a sales job.

Sales held no interest for Maloof when he started toward his marketing degree, but he was required to take a sales course as part of his major.

“I had the sleazy, used-car salesmen stereotype about selling, but when I learned what professional selling really is, that you discover someone’s needs in order to provide a benefit instead of pushing him to buy something, my thinking took a paradigm shift,” he said.

Maloof learned a consultative, solutions-selling approach based on empirical research at the Center for Professional Selling at Kennesaw State’s Coles College of Business. He won a local collegiate sales competition and then one of Kennesaw’s two spots at the national competition.

“We’ve been practicing two to three hours a day lately, and I’d like to win, but my ultimate goal is to be offered a good sales position.”

His chances are great. “In 2005, a Kennesaw student won the competition and she had 15 job offers by Sunday,” said Terry Loe, director of the NCSC and the Center for Professional Selling at KSU. “About 75 percent of the participants will land a job, and the other 25 percent will have already had offers.”

Loe founded the NCSC in 1999 at Baylor University when there were few professional sales centers or sales majors on college campuses. He brought the competition to Kennesaw in 2003. “I played baseball at Mississippi State and was fortunate to play in national competition. I thought of this competition as a sort of scouting camp for sales talent,” said Loe.

Companies sponsor the event, and their funding pays the expenses of two students and a faculty member from 61 schools to come to the competition. It pits top sales students in a test of live role-play and one-on-one sales challenges, with corporate sales managers and faculty serving as judges. Schools are weighted according to past performance, and participants advance to final rounds based on the evaluation of standard sales skills. Most schools bring additional students to watch and learn.

“These kids are highly competitive, and knowing they’re being judged by CEOs and directors of sales in leading companies makes for a pretty electric atmosphere,” said Loe.

It’s a win for companies, as well. About 75 percent of all marketing majors and 50 percent of all business majors will take a first job in sales, said Loe. Companies invest about $75,000 to $100,000 in a new sales hire. If that person leaves within six months because he didn’t understand the sales process or found it harder than expected, the company loses time and money.

“When companies hire grads with knowledge and experience in selling, they get less turnover and higher productivity,” he said.

The NCRC had 50 corporate sponsors in 2008. That dropped to 27 due to the economy in 2009. “We have 30 this year, so it’s picking up again,” said Loe.

The Henry Schein Dental Company has been a sponsor for seven years.

“I believe that this is the best collection of [collegiate sales] talent that you will find under one roof,” said Dean Kyle, zone general manager. “Not only do you get to meet these people, you also get to watch them in actual competition. It’s the kind of experience you wish you could have with every sales candidate you interview.”

Before becoming a sponsor in 2007, the Tom James Company had rarely hired college graduates. In 2009, 24 percent of new hires came from colleges with sales programs.

“For the last three years, every rookie of the year was someone we found at NCSC and each of them earned $100K in their first year,” said Ash Deshmukh, senior vice-president for corporate development.

“The reason these candidates make great hires is we get an opportunity to observe how they handle themselves under pressure and intense competition.”

In the future, he expects that 50 to 60 percent of new hires will come from the NCSC or the relationships he has formed with university sales programs there.

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