5 Sales Lessons Revisited from the WFU Business Competition

In 2016 I had the privilege and pleasure to serve as a judge at the 26th 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 the 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.

I really 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 it.

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 ultimately were.

These are some basic sales lessons that I was reminded of from observing and judging:

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 forward.

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 competition.

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.

I can’t 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 salespersonAnxiety 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.
They 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.


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