George Tzimourtos ’25 is a Management major and an entrepreneur at heart. Paige Alexander ’22 majored in Marketing and is passionate about law and business. Amelia Blum ’23 is a Professional Sales major with a niche for selling college apparel. Though the three may have different interests, they all agree that the Salvatore J. Stile Professional Sales Competition taught them valuable lessons about how the art of sales — particularly relationship-building, listening and problem-solving — will inform what they do.
The sales competition was launched in spring 2021, but this year marked the first time that it was held in person, according to Senior Lecturer in Marketing Jim “Pouli” Pouliopoulos MBA ’94, who organized the event with support from the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi and nearly 25 alumni and corporate volunteers.
“Being in person made it easier for students to read body language, but also added additional pressure because they were in front of judges in an American Idol-type live setting,” says Pouli, who is founding director of Bentley’s Professional Sales Program.
Nearly 30 undergraduate students conducted simulated, timed sales conversations, with corporate and alumni volunteers playing the role of the buyer. Judging criteria included professionalism, effectiveness and competence in conducting a sales conversation with a prospective buyer. Students, who were selling payroll software, competed as individuals and in teams through two rounds of competition, with winners (based on combined round one and two scores) receiving cash prizes funded by generous support from Salvatore “Sal” Stile ’92, founder and president of Alba Wheels Up, an international shipping and customs clearance company.
“I intentionally set up the competition so students could compete in both rounds, which is different from typical sales competitions that eliminate students each round,” Pouli says of the format. “This keeps students engaged throughout the entire competition — which is important because they have spent a lot of time preparing, including voluntary training sessions where they conduct role-play conversations with each other. They work hard, and it shows when they successfully perform under pressure.”
Tzimourtos placed first in the individual category, with Kremer earning honorable mention during round one. Alexander and partner Luis Benedicto Reyes ’22 placed first in the team category. Blum placed third in both the individual and team categories. Here, they share competition highlights and their perspectives on the field of sales.
ALEXANDER: The best tip I received from training was to not immediately start talking about product features. Instead, we were encouraged to develop a dialogue with the customer. This made everyone feel more comfortable and helped to build trust with the potential customer. I also applied the skills from my sales classes, including knowledge about the selling process from Effective Selling [with Adjunct Lecturer in Management Zev Young] and how to collaborate from Sales Management [with Professor Jim Pouliopoulos].
TZIMOURTOS: I learned that to effectively close a deal, you must first identify the needs of your customer, then lead the conversation with questions to gather information before pointing out how your product could provide a solution.
BLUM: The art of relationship-building impacts so many aspects of a job. I learned this about two months into my role as a campus manager representing Bentley at a collegiate custom apparel company called University Tees; I had not closed a single order. But after taking the Effective Selling course I learned and applied skills — like prioritizing the customer, knowing relationship-building and brand development — and became a number one seller on my team of 92 people for two consecutive quarters.
ALEXANDER: I always thought that sales was strictly about maximizing revenue. While this should be a priority, I learned how much the sales industry depends on relationship-building. I enjoy sales because each customer provides a unique challenge, and it allows me to constantly adjust my strategy while working to develop strong individual relationships.
BLUM: I learned how to pivot my value proposition on the spot when someone threw a curve ball at me in the last round and it did not match what my original pitch was going to be. I was able to get back on my feet, but this helped me learn that the customer could change the direction of the deal at any point during the conversation.
BLUM: During the fall of junior year, I took my first sales course, Effective Selling [with Zev Young], and I knew from there on out that this field is where I was meant to be. The things that I personally value, like relationship-building and solving problems, are the day-to-day tasks of a salesperson. I am fortunate enough that Bentley has provided me with resources like the sales competition to further my experience in the field.
ALEXANDER: I am planning to pursue a career in contract law, and I believe that the Bentley sales curriculum and participation in the sales competition has helped me to develop useful skills, such as negotiation, effective communication, relationship-building and the ability to research, which will allow me to work closely with clients to help discover their needs.
BLUM: A key principle of sales, problem-solving, is an important skill no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. You need to show up to every task with an invisible cape on, asking how you can solve your customer’s problems — and what their ideal solution is — in order to understand how your product or service can fix their current issue. And that value needs to be recognizable from a mile away for the customer to choose you and your product or service.
TZIMOURTOS: Sales is one of the most fundamental aspects of a business. My long-term goal is to become an entrepreneur, and part of that is sales. The art of selling is what brings revenue to the company, and for me, revenue is like the ‘blood’ of the company; without it, the business can’t function.
Alexander is preparing for the LSAT with plans to apply to law school. Blum is in the Next Generation Sales Academy Internship Program at Dell EMC and serves as the Bentley campus director at University Tees. Tzimourtos is doing a summer 2022 consulting internship at Grant Thornton SA in his hometown of Thessaloniki, Greece.