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5 Sales Lessons Revisited From Judging The WFU School of Business Case Competition
Last year I had the privilege and pleasure to serve as a judge
at the 25th Annual Marketing Summit at Wake Forest University’s School of
Business. The student-run case competition is an annual event sponsored by Wake
Forest University’s School of Business and Center for Retail Innovation and
this year was partnered with the Inmar Analytics Summit. As part of our ongoing
efforts to support careers in retail, NCRMA sponsored the undergraduate MVP
award winner and that is how I came to be a part of this wonderful experience.
Recently I enjoyed reading my fellow judge Leslie Kraemer’s, of birdsong
gregory, excellent post titled ‘5 things I learned as a
judge at WFU’s Marketing Analytics Summit.’ She summed up the
content of the presentations well and pulled out the same points that I found
interesting and informative. She also echoed not only my sentiment but that of
everyone who had the opportunity to participate in the Summit, that The Center
for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University’s School of Business is doing
wonderful things for the Retail Industry and the young professionals entering
Leslie was right when she said judging is hard. We had to score and then rank
teams who were presenting case solutions to incentivize shoppers in grocery
stores and pharmacies to use mobile devices. The students had complex data from
Inmar to analyze and dissect as well as multiple other resources of their own
to employ. Our objective was to judge them on their solution’s value to
customers, its utility to retailers, and ease of habituation. These teams are
the best and brightest from all over the U.S and the world and so the
competition was stiff. I am pleased with the outcome and judged fairly and
objectively based on the criteria we were given. But as they say, “when you’re
a hammer, everything looks like a nail” …and as a salesperson I find myself
constantly reflecting on the presentations I judged as the sales pitches they
These are some basic sales lessons that I was reminded of from observing and
1-No one wants to be sold, but everyone wants to buy.
2-Lead with a connection.
3-Enjoy the process.
4-Know when to stop selling.
5-Never assume what a customer will buy.
My first sales manager imparted these words of wisdom to me and they are true
and timeless. The teams all used complex data sets, secondary research and
marketing analytics equations that I couldn’t begin to explain to support the
recommendations in their presentations. Their objective was clear: Develop a
plan using data to support your recommendations and projections. They were
using data to convince us to buy their particular plan of action to reach the
goal, but they weren’t always creating in us a desire to buy it.There is a difference
between creating a presentation with enough data to convince someone to
purchase a product or a service and having a presentation that makes them want
to buy your product or service. The difference in purchase motivation and emotion is reflected
in loyalty to the seller and recommendations/referrals of the seller moving
We weren’t told which colleges were represented by which teams during judging
to ensure that we didn’t subconsciously favor one over the other. But the teams
distinguished themselves from the minute they entered the auditorium. Some
shook each judge’s hand and told us their names, some used props during their
introductions, and some started their presentations with humor. We looked them
in the eye, smiled at them, we knew some of their names, we felt connected with
them, and that made it harder to not “buy” (AKA vote) any of them out of the
It is the reason that online shopping will never replace an in-store
experience. As human beings, we want to feel a connection when we purchase or
agree to do business. We like having something in common; a hometown, a pet, a
child of similar age, etc. with someone. Connecting makes us more trusting, and
trust makes us buy. Always form a connection before you attempt a transaction.
even begin to imagine how nervous those students must have been. Big money and
bragging rights for them and their universities hinged on those precious 20
minutes they had in front of us. Some of them never reached a level of comfort
during their presentation that allowed us, the potential customer, to relax
either. Sales is a tough business. Many salespeople exist on commission and
feel pressure to make a deal, but a customer can sense an anxious salesperson.Anxiety in a salesperson
creates doubt in a buyer and doubt creates a buyer who won’t commit. You
must find a way to convey to your prospective customer that you enjoy your
product, that you enjoy the maintenance of the product/service and that you
enjoy being of service to them. They want to buy from someone who obviously has
confidence in what they’re doing, they don’t want to be sold by someone who
isn’t sincerely meeting their needs.
The teams had a lot of points they were required to cover during their timed
presentations. They had to review the current state of mobile use in
grocers/pharmacies, show us the data used to produce that snapshot, develop a
recommended solution, again use data to support that recommendation, and then
show us their implementation plan and financial analysis.
The teams spent varying amounts of time on these key elements and since they
had practiced and had a very specific time limit, being able to adjust on the
spot was nearly impossible for them. This meant that while we sometimes wanted
to hear more about a particular thing or much less about others, we sat through
the presentation as it was practiced with our reaction to any portions having
no impact on the time spent on them.
Fortunately most sales people are not working with an actual timer so they have
the opportunity to constantly tweak their presentation based on the reactions
they are receiving from their prospect. Two things to remember when talking to
your potential customers:1-When they agree to buy you need to STOP TALKING, and 2-If they
aren’t buying you need to STOP TALKING. Sales
people who enjoy the process tend to get excited when their prospect becomes
their customer, leading them to continue to sell to someone who has already
made a decision. You don’t want to say anything that could possibly cause them
to reconsider or give them time to develop any buyer’s remorse, so save your
additional information until after the ink has dried. But if you’re
talking and the prospect isn’t asking questions, nodding or seemingly engaged,
you aren’t moving the relationship or the sale forward. Regroup and ask a
question to gauge their interest and if nothing else, leave them with a
positive impression of you personally. You will be surprised at the referrals
you will receive from folks who just didn’t want or need your product, but
liked your approach and told their friends and family.
One of the areas on which we judged the presentations was the economic and
implementation feasibility of the plan. Several of the teams had large
front-end investment requirements for the success of their recommendations. One
of the teams had an implementation plan in multiple stages over multiple years,
during which time their technology could become obsolete. We questioned both of
these in their Question and Answer periods and some answers were better than
others. Some answered that they had prepared their budget based on the
company’s gross sales, not necessarily on what they actually needed. Some felt
their huge budgets were representative of the best solution. One team admitted
their implementation time was long but were afraid that it was too big of a
risk to ask for it to be faster. Remember it is your job as the
salesperson to prepare for your customer the very best solution to his problem.
It is his responsibility to decide with what solution he is willing to live.
Never make a recommendation based on what you think you can sell whether it be
higher or lower than it should be. I’ve seen customers shopping alongside me
who swore they weren’t going to spend over a certain amount, but who walked out
of a store an hour later with twice that amount. As long as what you propose is
a realistic and practical solution to the customer’s problem, the price and
time to implement is totally up to them.