FIU students compete to seal the deal in the Panther Sales Tournament.

FIU students compete to seal the deal in the Panther Sales Tournament.

FIU students compete to seal the deal in the Panther Sales Tournament.

FIU Business student Alan Tsoi ventured into the Panther Sales Tournament for the first time this semester.

“I wanted to step out of my comfort zone,” said Tsoi, who graduates in December and majors in finance and marketing. “It’s an experience that gives me skills to sell myself to an employer and also a great opportunity to network.”

Selling sounds easy and fun, but College of Business students participating in the Panther Sales Tournament know too well the level of skill, discipline and preparation it requires. And the competition is getting tougher each semester.

The assignment at this fall’s tournament, held September 29-30 at the college’s Global Sales Lab: sell an advertising solution on Comcast Spotlight to a South Florida business owner. All of the buyers and judges in the two-day tournament were sales executives from local and national companies.

FIU students compete to seal the deal in the Panther Sales Tournament.

During the 15-minute in-person meeting, students must showcase a product and its positive impact on the business, as well as build a rapport with the buyer, demonstrate value, address any questions or objections, and ultimately close the sale. They are judged on how they identified the needs, showed value, pitched the proposed solution, addressed issues or concerns from the buyer, and satisfied the need.

“Overall, more students are getting interested in the tournament,” said Rafael Soltero, a sales coach and instructor in the Department of Marketing. “Many are losing their fear of competing, of the role-play requirement.” This semester, 60 students competed in the tournament and of those, 30 also competed en español. FIU’s Panther Sales Tournament is one of the only U.S. programs to include a Spanish-language track, where the selling and buying are conducted in-language and Hispanic executives judge the students.

Participating judges offer real-world critiques.

The buyers weren’t always quick to seal the deal. And the judges offered tough critiques of the students’ skills.

“He didn’t introduce the purpose of the meeting and didn’t dig in to the problems identified by the buyer,” said Peter Correa, executive leader of assets protection at Target, of one presentation.

Jason Hill, manager of inside sales at the Miami Marlins, said of another: “The enthusiasm was great and she made a connection with the client, but sometimes spoke faster than she could think. She needed prepared rebuttals.”

Some students asked very direct questions of the prospective buyers, looking to better understand the business, its target market and the advertising needs. Several offered free trial memberships to Comcast Spotlight, giving the buyer first-hand look at what he would receive.

“He built a level of trust with the buyer from the start,” Gregory Acevedo, adjunct lecturer in FIU’s Department of Marketing, said of one student. “He was on point with the structure of the presentation and when Rafael [the buyer] tried to deviate, the student said ‘we’ll get there’.”

Added Mario Martinez, account executive at Comcast Spotlight: “The first thing he did was ask the buyer what his needs are.”

In the Spanish-language portion of the competition, faculty member Soltero sported metallic sunglasses and a bossy attitude to play the owner of “Mamba Fitness,” a specialty gym based in Miami that’s looking to expand into Broward County.

He didn’t make it easy for the students: “How much do I have to invest?” “What channels will the ads air in?” “When will I see results?” “Can you predict how many people will see the ads?”

Role-play as practice for real life.

Now in its third year, the Panther Sales Tournament reflects the ongoing growth of the FIU Professional Sales Program, which includes a professional sales minor, a certificate program, and a sales team that competes at national events. A central part of the College of Business’ Global Sales Program is the Global Sales Lab, which features 12 sales training rooms, each equipped with a camera and microphones, and recording and playback capabilities.

“It’s awesome that they do this; they can watch themselves and see how they perform,” said David Resseguie, director of strategic growth & development at Arven Financial. “I didn’t have when I was 22.”

Tsoi wasn’t a winner in the Panther Sales Tournament. Still, he noted, it was a valuable learning experience. In addition to the competition, he welcomed the networking opportunities and insights about sales industry jobs.

“It was intimidating to present my sales pitch to the buyer because I have never been put in that position before,” said Tsoi. “This experience has definitely improved my interpersonal skills when talking to a stranger.”

Winners of the 2016 Panther Sales Tournament:

First Place: Carolina Chavez
Second Place: Virginia Dillon
Third Place: Carlos Cortesi
Fourth Place: Boangeres Grande

First Place: Jessica Aja
Second Place: Fernando Martin
Third Place: Carlos Cortesi
Fourth Place: Brayan Herraiz

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