High school students learn to be sales superstars at Haworth College of Business

Students from more than 20 Michigan high schools got to finesse their selling skills during the Great Lakes High School Sales Challenge—an event hosted by Western Michigan University’s sales and business marketing program, one of the top sales education programs in the country.

Starting in November, the students began perfecting personal pitches, a sales call role-play, or both. The competition was fully remote with WMU Haworth sales and business marketing students and faculty providing feedback and evaluation in qualification and final rounds. High school students had access to a variety of resources to help prepare them to sell in realistic scenarios.

photo of laptop with multiple students on video chat“Having the opportunity to be the chief architect of the Great Lakes High School Sales Challenge has allowed me to share the skills I have learned in college with high school students interested in sales,” says senior Nicole DeFord. “When I promoted the event, I went into virtual high school classrooms and spoke to students about how beneficial competing is. This competition gives high school students real sales experience so they can succeed at the next level. Managing the event also allowed me to expand my leadership capabilities.”

In the personal pitch competition, students sold themselves as a candidate worthy of an interview for a customer-facing position to a potential hiring manager at Crystal Mountain Resort. Using experiences in school, athletics, volunteering and other jobs, each student developed a pitch, which could not exceed 90 seconds.

The role-play competition placed the students in the sales professional’s shoes as they took on the role of a sales representative from Crystal Mountain, calling on an executive board member from the Michigan Marketing Educators organization to potentially sell them on having their next meeting at the resort.

Erin Rogers

In February, the competition culminated with a championship round for both personal pitches and role-plays. “Managing logistics during the competition allowed me to interact with the students before and after their role-plays,” says junior Erin Rogers. “It was such a good feeling to see how proud students were of themselves after all their hard work. Their excitement made the whole experience very rewarding.”

Now in its third year, the competition idea started with Dr. Jim Eckert, Robert S. Kaiser Professor of Sales. “Sales and business marketing students have participated in many national sales competitions, and instead of starting another at the collegiate level, we thought it would be great to host one for high school students,” says Eckert. “Our relationship with the Michigan Marketing Educators organization provided the perfect opportunity for outreach with high schools where we could provide value to students and educators.”

Dr. Jim Eckert

Going fully remote this year has allowed the sales and business marketing program to integrate the competition into online instruction in many of the area schools, and the flexibility of not having to travel to campus has allowed more students to participate. “This year offered an opportunity to expand the competition, as the biggest barrier to high schools participating had been travel arrangements for the event,” says Eckert. “Also, educators at the high schools were looking for strong online curriculum and engaging activities for their students. The Great Lakes High School Sales Challenge provided both. Students had access to a full collegiate-level sales curriculum, including video lectures and written materials shared in an online platform, available to all schools. The competition itself acts as the end point for the student’s journey through that curriculum. The result has been the largest and most engaging event of the three annual competitions.”

And teachers are seeing their students grow—not only in their sales skills and interest in business and higher education, but in their overall confidence. “This has been an amazing experience for the students,” says Tom Neal, instructor of entrepreneurship and advanced marketing, Oakland Schools Technical Campus-NW. “They eagerly stepped up to meet the challenge, realizing that the skills they were developing will benefit them in the future both at college and in industry. This hands-on experience also helped students to realize that you do not get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

As the sales and business marketing program looks forward to next year, event organizers expect takeaways from this year to impact future competitions, including a mix of remote and in-person competition experiences and even more participation from schools across Michigan and perhaps outside the state.