By Gina Beach
Music blares through the speakers as students chat in the overcrowded lecture hall in Copeland 104. A dozen green and white Ohio University balloons decorate the front table, where a congratulatory cake sits waiting to be cut. Attention is called for and the soundtrack switches to Marching 110 chanting and playing.
The crowd stands and whoops as the Sales Competition Team enters. Cameras flash as senior Bob Redd presents President Roderick J. McDavis with a gold trophy cup. It's the Sales Centre's All Candidate Weekly Sales Meeting. But this week, the gathering is anything but a typical meeting. It's a party.
The reason? Two Ohio University College of Business students -- junior Jasmine Merith and Redd -- earned first and third, respectively, in a national sales competition last weekend, placing the university at No. 1 in the overall contest.
The wins are believed to mark the first time in the 11-year history of the event that any school placed both of its competing students in the final four of the National Collegiate Sales Competition, which took place Feb. 26-28 at Atlanta-area Kennesaw State University. Ohio University had been seeded 17th in the original field of 55 universities, which also included Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana and Texas A&M.
Based on their performances, Merith and Redd, both sales certificate candidates in Ohio University's Ralph and Luci Schey Sales Centre, finished first and third, respectively, out of a field of 110. During the contest rounds, students had to role-play what goes into persuading a buyer to purchase a high-end business software program. In each round, students had progressively less time to prepare their pitches. Among other things, students were judged on their enthusiasm, confidence and preparation.
"We are all very proud of Jasmine and Bob,'' said Ken Hartung, executive director of the Sales Centre. "They represented their fellow classmates and the alumni of the Sales Centre very well. They would also be the first to tell you that their success was the result of a true team effort."
Merith and Redd practiced and competed for several months with four other Sales Centre candidates in preparation for the contest -- juniors Bryan Hackett and Matt Galli and seniors Amy Rotella and Stefan Zelich.
"It really was a team effort," Merith agreed. "Bob and I are really happy that we could be the face of the competition, but we really couldn't have done it without the support of our team."
The six students were coached and trained by Jane Sojka, Freeman Professor of Marketing and the associate director of sales competitions at the Sales Centre, and two members of the Sale Centre's Professional Sales Advisory Board, Tom Starr and Ray Taylor. In fact, the use of both academic and practitioner coaches may have been a key component of the team's success, Sojka said.
"I think one reason our students stood out from their peers was because they received a strong mix of academic sales theory and practitioner experience while preparing for the event," Sojka said. "This was the March Madness for sales. It was wild and wonderful, with over 120 competitors."
Redd said the skills and knowledge he gained while in the classroom were invaluable.
"I really believe that the judges appreciated the creativity we applied to our sales calls,'' Redd noted. "Jasmine and I were able to offer creative solutions because we applied the listening skills we have developed in the classroom to this competition."
The winning students earned cash ($2,000 for Merith, $1,000 for Redd), custom-tailored suits valued at a grand and new laptop computers.
From the Sales Centre, they're earning experience they can put to use in any number of arenas.
"No matter what you're doing, you're selling," Redd said. "Whether you're in a group project, in a class or in an interview, you've got to be able to sell your ideas."
The Ralph and Luci Schey Sales Centre is an academic program in the College of Business that offers students certificates in selling. Students from all majors at Ohio University are eligible to apply for the program, which offers six types of certificates.
Updated March 4, 2009.