The 10th annual Northeast Intercollegiate Sales Competition (NISC), hosted by Bryant University, gave students the chance to see how they match up against opponents from other top schools around the country. The event was also a unique opportunity for them to connect with employers from some of the best sales organizations in the nation.
This year, Bryant took the Championship in both the Role Play and Overall School competitions. Marketing major Margaret Marani ‘23 was this year’s Role Play champion, but she says NISC’s benefits are far more than a potential title. “NISC is a once in a lifetime opportunity, not only to compete with your peers but to also get real-world experience and meet other people, whether it be employers or students or professors,” she says.
Learning from experience
This year more than 150 students from 23 schools competed at NISC. The competition has more than doubled in size since the inaugural event in 2011, notes Bryant Professor of Marketing Stefanie Boyer, Ph.D., NISC’s founder and organizer. She says there’s a simple reason for that: “We keep doing it because it works, and we’ve seen it work. I always have alumni reach out to me and say, ‘I’m still using the things you taught me.’”
NISC provides important experiential learning that complements students’ classroom studies. "You can't just lecture students and tell them what the sales process is like. That doesn't prepare them,” notes Boyer. “There needs to be a hands-on element. Students have to actually practice what they’ve learned in a situation where it's not just a script, where they don't know what's going to happen."
“I think this was an important experience because, as a Digital Marketing major with a minor in Sales, this is exactly what I want to do in the future. Having that real world experience outside of the classroom was really valuable for me.”
The competition offers a range of ways for students to hone their skills, including a role-playing event, in which they engage in 10-minute mock sales meetings, and a speed selling event, in which they deliver 60-second elevator pitches to a company representative explaining why they should be hired. The competitions are judged by experienced sales professionals from sponsoring organizations, including presenting partner NWN Carousel, and offer invaluable feedback for the competitors after each round.
“Talking to someone during the Role Play that's actually been in your shoes before and is actually doing the job you want to do now is really helpful,” says Marani. “It’s really great experience that I don't think you can really get anywhere else.”
The competition also reinforced the value of adaptability and striving to fully understand your clients’ goals. “At the end of the day, you're selling to people, and someone’s going to have a response that you don’t necessarily expect,” says Marani, who notes that the role play buyers would often throw the students unexpected curve balls during the role plays. “That means you need to be a salesperson and not a sales robot.”
“I think one of the things that sets the Bryant community apart is that people here are excited for opportunities to get involved, work together and to be a part of something that helps students succeed.”
For Perry Crovo ’23, who finished third in the role-playing competition, the competition was ideal practice for the future. “I think this was an important experience because, as a Digital Marketing major with a minor in Sales, this is exactly what I want to do in the future,” she says. “Having that real world experience outside of the classroom was really valuable for me.”
Practice makes perfect, Boyer says. “The more students go through these role plays, the more confidence they gain and the better they are.”
NISC also offers employers and students multiple opportunities to network with one another and learn from each other. “It helps companies recruit the best talent, and it helps students prepare for their careers and for life after school,” states Boyer, who notes the connections students make at NISC often lead to jobs and internships.
“Companies see the huge advantage presented by students who can hit the ground running,” says Boyer. “I think that's one of the reasons why companies want to hire the students who take part in these competitions and in these sales programs, because they're getting mentorship, they're getting coaching, and they're getting the advice they need to succeed on day one."
“I really didn't know how much was going to come out of meeting people at NISC until I checked my LinkedIn account,” says Marani. “I just made it six months ago and I think I started with around like 300 connections before the competition. Now I have over 500.” She also notes that several of the companies at NISC have contacted her about job opportunities.
“At the end of the day, NISC is about elevating the sales profession and trying to get the word out about what sales is by teaching students to change the mindset. People come in and they think sales is about pitching your product and winning business. But it's actually about helping people."
Competition and collaboration
It takes a lot of people to help put NISC together each year, says Boyer, including sponsoring companies, faculty, staff and student volunteers. “I think one of the things that sets the Bryant community apart is that people here are excited for opportunities to get involved, work together and to be a part of something that helps students succeed,” she notes.
That sense of community even extended to the competitors. Marani and Crovo had a big advantage that helped them excel during the competition–one another. The two are roommates and helped each other practice. “I would stay up with Perry all night and we would try to prepare for it, because we were both in the same shoes,” Marani notes. “It was a great experience having someone that you know really well and that you're comfortable with to practice with.”
“We were both going through it together, so it was really exciting for us both,” agrees Crovo, who notes the two saw each other as collaborators, not direct competitors. “If we didn’t practice together, I don't think I would've moved on as far as I did.”
“No matter where you finish, there’s no losses–just gains. It’s a win-win.”
A winning result
At NISC, says Boyer, students find new insight into what sales actually is–a conversation where a salesperson works with a buyer to help them find solutions. “At the end of the day, NISC is about elevating the sales profession and trying to get the word out about what sales is by teaching students to change the mindset,” says Boyer. “People come in and they think sales is about pitching your product and winning business. But it's actually about helping people. If you can show a client that you can help them attain a goal or solve a problem that's important to them, then they want to do business with you.”
The 360-degree view of their future profession that students gain from NISC resonates with them and gives them an inside look at the sales business. “It's great real world experience, and if you have any interest in sales, this is an amazing way to solidify that interest and see if it’s something you want to pursue,” says Crovo, who adds that the competition helped her confirm that sales was the perfect career path for her. “Also you get to network and meet employers, which is super helpful.”
“No matter where you finish, there’s no losses–just gains,” she says. “It’s a win-win.”