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College students put sales skills to test at competition

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    Intuit's Eric Pfeiffer talks with college students during a job fair, which is part of the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition at UT's Savage and Associates Business Complex in Toledo.

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    University of Toledo's Ja'Vawn Marbury, left, and Patrick Ryan manage the control room during the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition at UT's Savage and Associates Business Complex in Toledo.

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    Quicken Loans' Dave Mettert judges the role playing that is projected on three large screens during the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition at UT's Savage and Associates Business Complex in Toledo.

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    From left: Metropolitan State University of Denver students Caitlin Stevenson, Mehendra Bachtiar and Riley Landon prepare for their role plays during the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition.

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    Owens Corning's Justin Powell, left, role plays as a buyer with University of Toledo's Mason Cordes during the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition.

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    Judges monitor the role playing in Judge Room A during the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition at UT's Savage and Associates Business Complex.

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    The University of Toledo's Sam Hunter judges role players during the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition.

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    Role players in the competition line up to go to their assigned 'buyers.'

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    Oregon State University's Marilyn Austin, left, prepares for her sales pitch with Goodyear's Karla Rhoads.

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    Asbury's Austin Cocanougher, center, talks to Owens Corning representatives Brian McGlown and Stephanie Elins during the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition.

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The Savage & Associates Business Complex at the University of Toledo buzzed with activity Friday as more than 70 students studying professional sales at universities across the country presented pitches that, if done well, could launch their careers.

The competition was pretty straightforward. Students are presented with a product — in this year’s case, an industrial adhesive made by program sponsor 3M — and then they go into a series of meetings where they make their sales pitch. 

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Intuit's Eric Pfeiffer talks with college students during a job fair, which is part of the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition at UT's Savage and Associates Business Complex in Toledo.

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Though it’s a bit of role playing on the part of volunteers receiving the pitch, nearly all of them actually work in the field, whether they’re recruiters, sales professionals, or buyers.

“It’s a phenomenal opportunity for networking because executive leadership at these organizations, they get involved when they realize they’re dealing with the absolute best of the best,” said Deirdre Jones, director of the Edward Schmidt School of Professional Sales and the UT Invitational Sales Competition.

Organizers said 72 students were involved in the competition part of a two-day event, though more than 100 participated in the the related career fair and coaching sessions. The program drew in students from more than 30 colleges and universities, ranging from major schools such as Florida State University and the University of Minnesota to smaller institutions, such as Tuskegee University and Winona State University.

Though in just its third year, the event has already helped place four dozen students with internships. That includes Jovan Sanson, a junior professional sales major within UT’s Department of Marketing and International Business. He placed fourth last year and secured an internship with 3M.

“I’d been in communication with them beforehand, trying to network, but this was really the grand stage,” Mr. Sanson said. “If it wasn’t for the competition, I definitely would not be as high on their radar. If it wasn’t for this program, we’re not sitting here talking at all.”

Sales is a broad industry, though the students represented at Friday’s event are geared more toward the higher end of the field, working toward careers in the business-to-business sector. Still, it’s not a hugely common program. Officials with UT say there are about 115 schools in the country that offer some form of a professional sales program. Ms. Jones said UT is one of just three that has a major, minor, concentration, and graduate-level concentration

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Owens Corning's Justin Powell, left, role plays as a buyer with University of Toledo's Mason Cordes during the University of Toledo's Invitational Sales Competition.

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And while organizers say there are a number of similar competitions across the country, UT’s event is unique in that it is only open to students in their junior year or below.

“It was a huge gap that we saw in the marketplace,” Ms. Jones said. “There’s other nationals, but people would bring their show pony senior to a competition. Show pony already has a job.”

By excluding seniors, the competition allows younger students a chance to shine. That’s something the businesses that are involved in the program appreciate. 

“This is not insignificant for any of us companies, quite frankly. It’s a big deal,” said Doc Warr, director of branch training and organizational development at Ohio-based Crown Equipment Corp.

Crown is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of industrial lift trucks. Mr. Warr has served as a judge for UT’s program in the past and said Crown currently has a pair of interns that it made contact with at the event. 

“The real value of the program UT has created, they bring in the 35 different universities that come in from all over the nation,” Mr. Warr said. “We’re a nationwide company. That means I can come here in one place to get my word out to fill out all my internships anywhere in the nation. It’s tough running around to 35 different universities.”

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com419-724-6134, or on Twitter @TyrelLinkhorn.

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