The Northeast Intercollegiate Sales Competition (NISC) celebrated its 12th year this November. Hosted by Bryant University, the competition brought together more than 170 competitors, including 18 Bryant students, from 25 institutions across the United States and Canada to test their skills.
A two-day event packed with challenges, skill development sessions, and networking opportunities, NISC is about elevating the sales profession — and providing students with an accurate glimpse of what it entails, says Stefanie Boyer, Ph.D., Bryant University Professor of Marketing and NISC’s founder and executive director.
The sales profession often gets a bad rap in popular culture, where it’s portrayed as predatory and exploitative, Boyer suggests. NISC, by contrast, gives participants an inside look at what it is and should be.
“We’re trying to help people understand what sales really is and that it’s a great and honorable profession in so many ways,” says Boyer. “It’s all about making connections and helping people find solutions to their problems.
“Nothing's happening in the world unless someone's making a deal somewhere,” she notes.
The theme for this year’s competition was “Built to Sell,” which Boyer says has two different meanings. Human beings, she notes, are born with a need to negotiate with each other and are literally “built to sell” — but they can also develop their selling skills through practice and education.
NISC’s programming included a role-playing competition, in which students go through the stages of a 10-minute sales meeting with a fictional company, and a speed-selling competition, in which they pitch themselves to a company representative and explain why the representative should hire them .The fast-paced rounds help competitors develop and hone their rapport-building, needs identification, presentation, communication, and closing skills, among others.
It also allows the student competitors to benchmark their abilities and determine where they need to improve. The competition’s judges — representatives from partnering organizations — not only score the student’s performances but also offer individualized feedback and coaching.
“There are a lot of students who go into sales jobs but have never practiced these skills, or received the feedback they need, which means they’re practicing for the first time on their customers,” says Boyer, who notes that the judges provide a new perspective in addition to the feedback the students receive from their sales and marketing professors. “If you’re not learning what works and what doesn’t — and what you need to do to get better — you’ll never master your craft.”
The fact that NISC has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 12 years, starting out as an internal competition in Boyer’s classroom and now an international destination, suggests the approach works, she says, and that students are eager to rise to the challenge.
“You're interacting in real time with real companies, solving real-world problems, and getting real time feedback, which really helps you to grow.”
Frank Hauck ’81, P ’08, president and GM of banking at NCR Corporation and a member of Bryant’s Board of Trustees, alluded to this drive to succeed in sales in his opening remarks. What unites all high-performing salespeople, he said, is they understand sales is a craft.
“It's a skill that's got to be developed and refined to stay current with the dynamic nature of the marketplace,” shared Hauck. “They committed themselves to work with the best, to learn from the best, to compete against the best, because ultimately, they want to be the best.”
Jessica Maffe ’25, president of the Bryant University Sales Team and a competitor in this year’s NISC, says the competition gave her a welcome taste of what a career in sales might look like. “When you walk into the room to compete in the sales competitions, it's nerve-wracking, but also exhilarating,” she says. “You're interacting in real time with real companies, solving real-world problems, and getting real time feedback, which really helps you to grow.”
When the students weren’t competing, NISC provided attendees with an opportunity to make invaluable connections through a career fair and networking. Special skill-development sessions, led by industry experts, on building confidence and community and leading with empathy, fostered open discussion and helped the NISC attendees embrace the growth mindset needed for professional, and ethical, success.
All told, says Boyer, one of NISC’s main goals is to get participants excited about sales. “When students have the opportunity to compete and test themselves at a competition like this, they get really motivated, and that motivation stays with them after the competition ends,” she states. “They’re more interested in practicing and learning and competing again.”
That spark, Maffe says, can make a big difference. “Everyone that can participate in NISC absolutely should do it,” she suggests. “You're meeting corporate sponsors and people from around the country and learning so much about sales. You're thrown into real-world environments and gain experience that is going to help you prepare for your future career.”