MISSOULA – Eighteen University of Montana business students recently participated in a career-shaping experience during UM’s fourth annual Northwestern Mutual Sales Competition.
The competition, which challenges students to sell a product to a potential client in a role-play setting, provides them with live coaching and interaction with sales professionals.
“Any time you can practice your interpersonal communication skills, your verbal communication skills and get live feedback from professionals, that’s an invaluable experience,” said Justin Angle, associate professor of marketing and an organizer of the event.
As each student pitched this year’s product – ADP Payroll and HR Services – 21 judges, including seasoned sales executives and recent UM School of Business Administration alumni, watched a live-video feed from another room in Gallagher Business Building. They evaluated contestants on a number of skills, from their ability to describe the product to their skill in overcoming client concerns.
The top three contestants split $4,000 in scholarships. Northwestern Mutual awarded $2,500 to senior Andrea Bowman from Bonney Lake, Washington, $1,000 to senior Skyler Anderson from Fairfield and $500 to senior Cree Lehrman from Hamilton.
Bowman and Anderson will represent UM in the National Collegiate Sales Competition this spring at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. With students from more than 70 universities competing, it is the world’s largest and oldest sales role-play competition.
Northwestern Mutual initiated the contest at UM in 2014 to make a deeper connection with students while visiting the business school to recruit for interns and long-term employees. Michael Butler, the Northwestern Mutual development officer responsible for implementing the contest at UM, said gaining sales skills is valuable no matter a student’s intended career path.
“Sales also isn’t always about a tangible product, as many people may think, it’s about selling yourself,” Butler said. “If you’re an accountant, or in marketing, or an attorney or a nurse or an engineer, you’ve got to be able to sell. And by selling, that means I need to persuade somebody to understand my way of thinking, my idea, my belief, my recommendation.”
Sales skills have benefitted Aerionna Hardesty, who won the competition before graduating with her business degree from UM in 2016. Hardesty said she never thought she’d go into sales before entering the competition. Now, she’s an associate sales manager at Missoula-based compression legwear company VIM & VIGR. Hardesty and last year’s second-place winner, Tatum Hoehn, returned to help judge this year’s competition.
“Winning the sales competition opened up a plethora of jobs for me,” Hardesty said. “Even having a tiny bit of sales experience is better than none to potential employers. I currently work in sales and love it.”