By Caroline Brooks
Growing up in a family with both parents in the business world, senior Abigail Newton entered Michigan State University with sights set on another field—or so she thought.
Fast forward to April 2016 in Kennesaw, Georgia, the site of the 2016 National Collegiate Sales Competition (NCSC). Newton, a journalism major with a sales leadership minor, walked away with first place in the tournament-like sales contest, having competed against 137 fellow students representing 67 universities.
“I actually started college as a journalism major with a dream of working for 60 Minutes. Through the twists and turns of college, I found myself interested in sales. Guess the apple didn’t far fall from my family’s tree after all,” she said.
Newton competed alongside marketing junior Patrick Conway, and their combined scores positioned MSU third overall among all of the participating universities.
As with other collegiate competitions, Newton and Conway—along with their alternates, finance junior Emmie Ashwell and marketing junior Matthew Mergener—felt the heat and pressure to perform for the tournament’s four days. But there’s more to the NCSC than walking away with a trophy: as Newton explained, it’s the ideal platform for emerging sales professionals to promote their own skills, network and see others’ best practices in real time.
“During the competition, I realized the importance of maintaining authenticity and active listening while selling. At the end of the day, sales is about being curious about your buyer, listening attentively, and providing warranted solutions, and I enjoyed practicing that at NCSC,” she said.
The NCSC consists of a series of role-play exercises, similar to the All-MSU Sales Competition. The students have 20 minutes to progress through the sales process of ADP, a human resources and payroll technology service and sponsor of NCSC, during each round of competition. The MSU team swiftly moved through the first round, then through two competitions the following day. As one of four finalists, Newton’s last selling round of the competition was broadcast to an auditorium where the rest of the attendees and competitors watched.
“I went last and my nerves were certainly building throughout the waiting period. The final selling round was more fun, and I enjoyed taking a light-hearted approach to the competition to maintain my style of selling,” she said.
And while winning feels good, competing on a team of Spartans created a sense of special responsibility. “During the competition, my teammates and I were talking and agreed that we felt more pressure to perform well for Michigan State and our team rather than ourselves,” Newton said. Putting pressure behind pride, the Spartan sales students brought top-ranking results back to East Lansing for yet another year, with feelings of excitement to begin their career journeys as sales professionals.
As the Michigan State NCSC competitors will attest, there’s much more than cold calling when it comes to sales. Even if you didn’t think a career would take you in such a direction, it’s a hard sell to pass on.