The Center for Sales Excellence at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business awarded $2,000 in scholarships to four students during the inaugural Virtual Role-Play Competition. The competition gave students real-world sales experience where they created a pitch persuading volunteer judges to join the center as a corporate partner.
“This competition provided a safe environment for our students to practice their selling skills. By hosting this role-play competition virtually, students came face-to-face with a brand new person they’ve never met in a Zoom breakout room. They needed to uncover this person’s needs and explain how a center partnership could address the person’s needs,” said Dr. Blake Runnalls, assistant professor of marketing, who coordinated the event.
Open to students of any major pursuing the undergraduate certificate in sales excellence, the competition drew more than 30 students to test their sales skills. Runnalls sees the students’ pitching the center’s partnerships, which provide opportunities to build strong relationships with sales students and engage in custom research projects with faculty, as a win-win for all involved.
“By promoting the center’s partnerships to professionals at companies who aren’t partners, we achieve two goals. First, friends of the center learn how they can further engage with us, and second, it helps the students better understand how their certificate will be attractive to recruiters,” he said.
As one of the judges, Tim Burns, national wholesale manager at Assurity, provided constructive and actionable feedback in the three rounds of competition. Burns shared that the level of skill displayed by the students after only a few months of training far exceeded his expectations.
“Role-play events like this help create confidence in students as well as allows them to broaden their professional networks with sales people and leaders across multiple industries. I enjoyed engaging the students and was impressed by their ability to identify needs, present benefits and manage time,” he said.
The first-place winner, Carlyn Bretey, a junior from Le Mars, Iowa, pursued the certificate in sales excellence because she enjoys the autonomy and self-motivation the sales profession requires. The marketing major leaned into her Communication CliftonStrength® to succeed in the competition.
“My Communication strength allows me to be comfortable immediately when I enter a conversation and makes it easier for me to see the root cause of any objection the buyer might have. Opportunities like this competition are important to my future because they allow me to get past my nerves and flex my communication muscles,” Bretey said.
Seven of the top eight competitors identified as women. According to a LinkedIn report, women represent 39% of the workforce in sales with the percentage decreasing as seniority increases, and Runnalls sees the center’s women in sales initiative as helping close this disparity.
“In a 2020 Harvard Business Review article, they discussed why women are the future of business-to-business sales. We know there are additional development and research opportunities around discussing gender and diversity in the sales profession. Having women dominate this competition provides validation of the importance of our women in sales initiative,” he said.
This initiative and competition serve as recent examples of the Center for Sales Excellence building momentum. Named a top provider of professional sales education by the Sales Education Foundation since 2015, the center engages with eight corporate partners and more than 125 students pursuing sales certificates. As an alum who earned his advanced certificate in sales excellence, Ricky Espino, ’19, shared how he believes the center is “on pace to become the recognized source for sales-specific education, preparation and competition.”
“Personally, I wouldn’t have had the hallway of opportunities and doors to knock on without the Center for Sales Excellence. Several role-plays, guest presentations and practice interviews through the center led me to concrete networking opportunities and real interviews for post-graduation positions. It’s inspiring to see the students motivated to succeed and exceed expectations. This sense of competition and drive wouldn’t be possible without the center’s unique approach to practicing sales with panels of feedback,” said Espino, customer success manager at Hudl.
Winners of the competition included:
- First place ($1,000 scholarship): Carlyn Bretey, junior marketing major from Le Mars, Iowa
- Second place ($500 scholarship): Anna Stuckwisch, junior management and marketing major from Omaha, Nebraska
- Third place ($300 scholarship): Jamie Jensen, junior economics major from Omaha
- Fourth place ($200 scholarship): Olivia Dohmen, sophomore Clifton Builders management major from Eden Prairie, Minnesota
To learn more about the Center for Sales Excellence, visit: https://business.unl.edu/salescenter.