ASU students take top honors in national sales competitions

Students in the W. P. Carey Professional Sales Program put their selling skills to the test against more than 100 universities nationwide

November 24, 2020

The Sales Education Foundation says that according to a survey of sales managers, sales program graduates ramp up 50% faster than their non-sales educated peers. They also experience 30% less turnover. Sales graduates are prepared for their roles through highly specialized education featuring cutting-edge technologies.

This fall, students of the Professional Sales Program in the W. P. Carey School of Business Department of Marketing took home awards from three competitions, showing they’re ready-to-hire graduates in the field of professional sales. 2020 AT&T National Sales Competition Winners ASU finished in third place (second runner-up) out of 80 universities in the International Collegiate Sales Competition (ICSC World Cup), improving on last year's fourth-place finish. Download Full Image

The Professional Sales Program is designed to shape passionate business students into world-class sales talent through a professional sales concentration or certificate in professional sales. Part of the program includes many opportunities for students to get involved through local and national sales competitions.

Two wins for W. P. Carey

This fall, the national sales competitions began with the third annual AT&T National Sales Competition, which was virtual due to the pandemic. Marketing major Kyle Sisco was the first-place winner of the AT&T Elevator Pitch Competition, winning against 12 students from 12 other schools and taking home $1,000 in prize money. The W. P. Carey School team took third place in the overall competition and a $2,000 reward, competing against 27 schools in the first round and 12 in the finals.

Representing the W. P. Carey team were business communication major Tyler Willden, marketing major Savanah Howard, management and marketing major Richard Brammer, and Sisco. The team was coached by marketing Professor of Practice Sam McDonald, who teaches the Professional Sales and Relationship Management course (MKT 370).

“Observing the commitment to preparation and professionalism demonstrated by these students, I can’t help but be thrilled for how well they represented themselves and our ASU sales program at the competition,” McDonald said. “Think days, weekends and early mornings, along with assistance from marketing Professor of Practice Kim Ruggiero. All four students are on a long runway to a successful career.”

Round 1 of the AT&T competition involved rapport building, needs identification, solution presentation and objection handling. Competitors were evaluated on salesmanship, personality, questioning, agility and coherent solutions by a panel of judges comprised of sales managers and talent acquisition managers for AT&T.

“The ability to influence businesses and assist them in getting to that next level is an amazing feeling that you want to have again and again,” Willden said about how the experience impacted his thoughts related to a career in professional sales.

“I immediately recognized that hard work, product knowledge, and a positive attitude take someone very far in the professional sales world,” Sisco said.

“My biggest takeaway from the competition was that sales is unpredictable,” Howard said. “We spent weeks preparing for the scenario and thought we’d played out every possible objection, but on competition day, we had some huge curveballs thrown at us. Since no two sales calls will ever be alike, it’s important to know what your end goals are and roll with the punches from there.”

“This competition helped me stay calm and thoughtfully answer objections,” Brammer said. “They grilled me, so I doubt it can get much worse than what I experienced. It makes me feel confident with taking on new challenges.” 

Top-notch selling skills needed for NISC 

Six W. P. Carey students competed virtually in the ninth annual Northeast Intercollegiate Sales Competition to see how they matched up against opponents from 24 top schools in the Northeast. Management major Alec VanLue, marketing major Braxton Smith, marketing major Brent Halles, marketing and business communication major Crystal Thomas, marketing major Evan Tondera and marketing major Stephanie Richardson put their skills to the test in the tournament-style competition.

“This was our first virtual role-play competition and we learned new ways to maximize selling digitally,” said marketing Professor of Practice Sherry Willman, who adds that as the team’s coach, her role is to build their sales acumen, confidence and adaptability to respond to the buyer. “The team was incredibly motivated and committed to improving their sales skills.”

In each round, individual competitors enacted a 10-minute sales meeting with a fictional company. Representatives from corporate sponsors acted as the buyers, prospects of the students’ sales pitch and judges during the role-play. Competitors’ goals ranged from getting a second appointment to making the sale with the focus on the demonstration of sales skills. Contestants were evaluated on their approach and rapport, needs identification, presentation, handling of objections, closing and communications skills. In addition to the role-play, there was a speed-selling competition, a 60-second introductory sales pitch to a company representative on why they should hire you, a Spanish speed-selling competition and a social media competition.

VanLue was a finalist in the speed-selling competition, receiving two perfect scores, and Smith participated in the Spanish speed-selling competition. ASU received the award for best team photo in the social media competition.

“Working at Microsoft for 21 years in sales leadership, I was often in a position of coaching and supporting my sales organization,” Willman said. “Professional sales are important life skills for all professions whether you’re selling a product, a new project, or yourself. Students in the class not only learn how to sell their ideas but also gain a better understanding of the integration and dependencies between marketing and sales.”

Catching up in the ICSC

Two W. P. Carey students competed in the International Collegiate Sales Competition, the second-largest competition in the country — of which last year ASU took fourth out of more than 80 schools. This year, ASU finished in third place (second runner-up) out of over 80 schools.

“ICSC is a national competition that brings the very best sales programs together for ‘the world cup,’” said marketing Lecturer John Dietrich, who coached the ICSC team. “Finishing in the top 3 in a competition like this means that ASU has established itself as one of the best sales programs in the country.”

In past years, W. P. Carey students traveled to Orlando to compete with the 80 universities. With COVID-19, they had to make adjustments to their selling techniques through Zoom.

ASU finished in third place (second runner-up) out of 80 universities in one of the largest national competitions in which every major university with a sales program participates (International Collegiate Sales Competition). Other schools are recognizing ASU as a top 3 school in sales programs, as this LinkedIn post shows.

“This was not an easy adjustment, as we had to work on etiquette such as proper backgrounds, talking slower, not interrupting and sharing screens,” Dietrich said. “Our No. 3 world cup ranking improved from last year, so I believe we adjusted well.”

The competition included a sales management simulation, sales management case competition and sales role-play competition. The sales role-play competition started with 160 competitors and two W. P. Carey marketing students advanced to the semifinals with the last 20 competitors.

“After we were given the case study, we had 24 caffeinated-fueled hours to create a 20-minute presentation of our solutions for the judges,” business management major Zane Jarecke said. “This competition prohibits the use of external resources, so my partner and I were forced to reflect on our professional and academic experiences to analyze the case and brainstorm solutions. After the pitch, a judge said our solutions aligned with what the company did to overcome the hurdles they faced due to COVID-19. That was awesome to hear because it proved that a couple of ASU students can conceptualize the same solution as a big consulting firm.”

Once a professional in the sales industry — many times earning 100% commission — Dietrich explained that if “you don’t produce, you don’t get paid. It’s that simple."

"This experience taught me the value of a strong mindset, persistence and a continuously positive attitude, Dietrich said. "A positive attitude allows a sales professional to face and overcome objections. I was able to transfer these skills into successfully coaching the students for ICSC.”

Business law and global politics major Nathan Dahlstrom said representing ASU at the International Collegiate Sales Competition is one of the most important experiences of his college career.

“The intense preparation for the competition helped develop my communication and persuasion skills — skills that I will be able to extend into my professional career.”

Everybody sells

“With the support of the W. P. Carey School of Business Department of Marketing and our corporate partners, the Professional Sales Program has become a top sales program nationally,” said Detra Montoya, clinical professor of marketing. “Our students are being hired by top firms and graduates from our Professional Sales Program are excelling in their sales careers. The one-on-one mentorship that our sales faculty provide to our students does not end at graduation; we continue to support our sales students as they begin their careers in professional sales.”

The W. P. Carey Professional Sales Program is supported by 27 companies whose board members share sales industry expertise and advise the marketing department on sales curriculum and student professional development. Board members also engage with students through board meetings, lead sales-related workshops and participate in student sales competitions. Plus, the board provides financial support to the department, and aids in departmental fundraising efforts designed to support program, faculty and student development.

Besides student engagement through local and national sales competitions and corporate partnerships, relevant curriculum of the Professional Sales Program prepares students to launch fulfilling careers in professional sales and make an impact in the business world.

“Everybody is in the business of sales,” Dietrich said. “If you don't agree with me, think of how the vast majority of us will sell ourselves in a job interview, or when asking for a pay raise. Many of us will sell a car or a home. We are all in the business of selling, and therefore these skills learned in our Professional Sales Program are skills that are used — and will be used — for life.”

Shay Moser

Managing Editor, W. P. Carey School of Business


An English lit major with heart and smarts will graduate with highest honors

November 24, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

It's a tradition in Dakota Lovins’ family to watch the movie “Elf” on Christmas Eve just before bed. “It’s always been my favorite Christmas movie,” Lovins said. Courtesy photo of Dakota Lovins, as Buddy the Elf. Dakota Lovins as Buddy the Elf. Download Full Image

One year, the normally happy-go-lucky Arizona State University transfer student was unfortunately "gifted" with appendicitis. Under anesthesia before surgery, Lovins began speaking in nothing but “Elf” movie quotes.

“Santa, here? I know him! I know him!"

— Buddy, the Elf

There was something about Lovin's channeling of the oversized, naïve-but-lovable elf that stuck.

“It really took off in my family,” Lovins said. “I ended up getting the costume that Christmas to really lean into my new identity and spread some Christmas cheer.”

Lovins is still spreading his trademark cheer. He also still has the costume, and in keeping with his self-described “very silly, whimsical sense of humor,” he’s made his elf persona his Twitter profile photo. Unsurprisingly, Lovins hopes to channel his jolly and creative energy into writing children’s books someday.

Lovins is completing a Bachelor of Arts in English (literature) degree this fall and he’s well-prepared for life after graduation. Yes, he had fun as a student: he was a director for Tempe Late Night, a troupe of students who wrote and performed sketch comedy shows in the Memorial Union a few times each semester, pre-COVID-19. But he also completed meaningful, skill-enhancing professional development experiences. He was a communications intern for ASU Women’s Basketball and he also interned as a writing mentor with ASU’s Prison Education Programming. He points to the latter internship as a formative one (more on that in our interview).

"There's room for everyone on the Nice List."

—Buddy, the Elf

Lovins will head straight to a job born directly from another internship – a virtual one, with Cisco, the tech company – after graduation.

“I really hit it off with the team,” he said. “They ended up inviting me back to work with them full time when I graduate. I'm super excited for it: our team mainly works with the film, television, and entertainment industries, which are right in line with my interests.”

All this and Lovins is finishing his ASU career with a very merry 4.25 GPA.

We caught up with Lovins to find out about a few more things, including whether it's possible to study on the light rail and on which instrument he hopes to someday play the song, “Man or Muppet.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: To make a long story short, I had several “aha!” moments where I realized I wanted to study English, but I foolishly ignored them all. Then, in my second-to-last semester, I went to my first day of classes for my major at the time, sports journalism, and realized that none of them sounded interesting or exciting to me. So, in a moment of my trademark combination of brash confidence and absolute panic, I swapped into all English courses to give them a try. I went to my first day of classes for those, loved them all, bought all of the textbooks, officially changed my major, and waited until after the drop class deadline had passed to tell my parents.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I’ve been lucky enough to spend this semester an intern for the PEN Project, where a group of ASU students work with incarcerated people to provide them with feedback on their creative writing endeavors. Every line of every poem, story and memoir that I’ve read as a part of this program has moved me, taught me and changed me more than anything else during my time in college.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

Courtesy photo of graduating ASU student Dakota Lovins at Spokane Falls, Washington.

Graduating English major Dakota Lovins poses in front of Spokane Falls in Spokane, Washington, where he’s lived since 2011. Though a Tempe campus student, Lovins has been back in Spokane since March due to the pandemic and has attended classes via ASU Sync.

A: The answer that makes me sounds like I am smart and thoughtful is that I really liked ASU’s sports journalism program, and that I had an internship lined up with the women’s basketball team to work as their video editor and graphic designer.

The answer that is more accurate is that I had already gone to school at Emerson College in Boston — too far away from home — a community college near my home in Washington state — too close to home — and ASU was the perfect distance, had warm weather and seemed like as good of a place as any.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I have so many! I’ll do them rapid fire: Jennifer Brian taught me a lot in the classroom, but even more about how to stand up for myself and value myself in my everyday life. Elliot Winter taught me to write for myself and not to please others. Mark Lussier taught me more about academic writing than I ever even wanted to know. And Joyce Jamerson taught me about the joys that can be found in even the simplest stories for children.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: If you’re unhappy, don’t be afraid to change things up. I went through three schools and five majors before I finally landed on one that felt right, and that wasn’t until the second semester of my junior year. Don’t feel like you have to stick with something just because you used to think you wanted to. Go crazy!

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I did almost all of my studying on the light rail because I lived in Phoenix and commuted to Tempe at least once a day and occasionally twice a day. If you’re considering making the light rail your cozy study corner, first ask yourself: Do I want this studying to be uninterrupted and productive? Am I okay with it always smelling kind of weird? Does prolonged eye-contact with strangers in an enclosed space make me uncomfortable? If you answered no-yes-no, then the light rail is perfect for you.

Q: You’re funny. Do you do stand-up?

A: That is very kind of you to say! As a matter of fact, I've done a lot of comedy. At Emerson College in Boston, I actually was majoring in comedic arts. Yes it's a real major, and no it's not the same as Clown College. I ultimately decided that comedy was something I wanted to do for fun, as an outlet, rather than something I wanted to pursue professionally — but I still write and perform as much as I can.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Long-term, I have a job with Cisco — the tech company, not the food one — on their Global Sponsorship Marketing team. I start in late January, and I’ll be working from home until things are safe and they re-open their San Jose office sometime next year.

Short term, I have just over a month in-between graduation and when I start working full-time. I would like to use that month to learn how to play the song “Man or Muppet” on the piano, to learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube and to beat my computer at chess.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I have a lot of questions about this question: Who gave me this money? More importantly, why did they choose me? This seems like an awful lot of decision-making responsibility for someone who generally bases his choices off what his mom says to do. Why couldn’t they just use the money to fix this problem themselves? If they’ve got $40 million, they are probably much smarter than me — my bank account has $11.37.

But, if this were to happen, I’d like to use the money to help facilitate prison reform in the United States. Mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex are serious issues that need attention, and every dollar I can contribute in my life to helping ameliorate this blemish on our country is a dollar well spent.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English