Sales Competition Prepares Students for Variety Of Careers

2016 first second and third place winners

Oct. 11, 2017

Eighteen University of Montana business students participated in a career-shaping experience as contestants in the Northwestern Mutual Sales Competition last week. The event, now in its fourth year at UM, challenged students to sell a product to a potential client in a role-play setting.

“It’s an opportunity to interact with sales professionals and get live coaching on that interaction,” explained 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 — judges watched a live video feed from another room in Gallagher Business Building. A total of 21 judges, which included seasoned sales executives as well as recent School of Business alumni, evaluated the contestants on everything from their ability to describe the offering to their skill in overcoming client concerns.

“Any time you can practice your interpersonal communication skills, your verbal communication skills and get live feedback from professionals, that’s an invaluable experience,” Angle said, explaining that all participants get an opportunity to receive feedback and coaching on their performance.
For the top three contestants, there was also the reward of a total of $4,000 in scholarships. Northwestern Mutual awarded $2,500 to Andrea Bowman, $1,000 to Skyler Anderson, and $500 to Cree Lehrman.

Bowman and Anderson will have the opportunity to represent UM in the National Collegiate Sales Competition this spring at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. With students from more than 70 universities from across the country competing in that event, it is the largest and oldest sales role-play competition in existence.

Northwestern Mutual initiated the contest at the University of Montana in 2014 as a way to make a deeper connection with students while visiting the School of Business to recruit for interns and long-term employees. Michael Butler, the Northwestern Mutual development officer responsible for implementing the contest at UM, said that gaining sales skills is valuable no matter what a student’s intended career path is.

“Sales also isn’t always about a tangible product, as many people may think, it’s about selling yourself. 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,” Butler said. “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 prior to 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.”

Photo, from left: Northwestern Mutual’s Michael Butler, third place Cree Lehrman, first place Andrea Bowman, second place Skyler Anderson, and Northwestern Mutual Managing partner Greg Castronovo.