Students showcase sales skills, make valuable connections, at competitions

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — For Penn State Harrisburg students contemplating sales careers, competition is key.

Students in Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Business Administration each year participate in prestigious sales competitions where they garner new skills, valuable connections, and often, job offers.

Last fall, for example, students participated in the Russ Berrie Institute’s 13th annual National Sales Challenge, a three-day event held at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. The event hosted over 100 professional sales students from 36 invited schools from across the United States and Canada.

“The National Sales Challenge gave students the opportunity to participate in a full day sales boot camp training by sales professionals, in company sales training, a two-day career fair, and breakout leadership training, along with being able to interview with companies who attend as well,” said Darrell E. Bartholomew, assistant professor of marketing at Penn State Harrisburg. “Top sales students get to hone their sales skills as they gain candid feedback from corporate executives and make valuable contacts,” he said.

As part of the challenge, students participated in a speed selling competition, a fast-paced contest in which each competitor had to pitch themselves to a business executive. Vying for “the job,” they had two minutes to prove why they should be hired. Students also showcased their skills in a sales call role-play, which involved engaging in a 15-minute sales call with a business executive. Participants were scored on their approach, communication effectiveness, ability to identify needs, resolve concerns and gain a commitment.

"The National Sales Challenge was a chance to learn and grow sales skills,” said Bianca Smith, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing on May 9. “It gave me the opportunity to network with students from other colleges and gave me the incentive to bring some of those activities to my fellow students at Penn State Harrisburg's campus.”

Student Eric Tereo, an Army veteran pursing an MBA through Penn State Harrisburg’s accelerated master’s program, agreed.  “The National Sales Challenge was part informative and part competition. There were many industry professionals with many years of experience. They each spent time with every group at the event to share the things they have learned over the years,” he said.

In fact, the networking opportunities were so good that Tereo noted, “I was approached with a couple job offers for sales positions. However, because I am pursuing an MBA, I won't graduate until December 2021.” 

Among the sponsor companies participating in the National Sales Challenge were the Russell Berrie Foundation, Complete Document Solutions (CDS), Dyco, Gallo Wine, Lennox, Marine Max, Mohawk, Mutual of Omaha, Polymershapes, Sherman Williams, Thysennkrupp, and Tom James.

Tereo was selected as a finalist in another sales competition attended by Penn State Harrisburg students, the Pi Sigma Epsilon Pro-Am Sell-a-Thon, a regional competition held each fall.

The Pi Sigma Epsilon 2019 North Central/Northeast Regional Competition was held in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and was the third time Penn State Harrisburg participated. Along with Bartholomew, students were accompanied by John Hubley, Penn State Harrisburg School of Business Administration’s Sales Executive in Residence. 

The students were coached and judged by sales professionals and had the opportunity to learn through coaching and training materials provided by Carew International's training programs.

“It felt great for Penn State Harrisburg to make it into the finals. There was very tough competition from universities in the northeast region of the United States,” said Tereo, who plans to pursue a career in sales, setting his sights on a dream job with an outdoor gear and apparel company, such as REI, The North Face, or Patagonia. 

Smith is the president of the Pi Sigma Epsilon Chapter at Penn State Harrisburg. Established in 1952, Pi Sigma Epsilon (PSE) seeks to provide marketing and sales students their “business advantage for life." The Pro-Am Sell-A-Thon is the largest sales competition in the nation, with more than 275 competitors from 35 universities.

Smith credits PSE with giving her and other members confidence in their abilities. As a nontraditional student, she cultivated some skills before coming back to school and PSE gave her the opportunity to build on those skills and gain new ones through practice, she said.

“I have found my time with PSE to be the best decision I have made since returning to school. The sales experience that I have gained and the additional trainings that I have been able to receive have built my resume to differentiate me when applying to jobs,” said Smith.