University of Southern California

Among Heavy Hitters, Marshall MBA Scores Top Spot in MIT/Sloan Business Sales Competition
Students Show Ingenuity to Mollify Tough Customers and Impress Top-Notch Clients
January 13, 2011 • by News at Marshall

Members of Steven W. Martin's "The Art of Science Selling" class Cynthia Chew, Anjali Putnam, and Ed Galvan (all MBA 2011) especially impressed the judges with their polished presentations.

All three Marshall team members were from Steve W. Martin's "The Art and Science of Selling" class (MKT 599). Martin, who teaches in Marshall's marketing department, also led last year's Marshall team and encouraged all of his students to compete against a field of their peers who represented what Martin calls the "heavy hitters" of MBA programs—including Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg and Haas Berkeley.

The fourth annual MIT/Sloan Sales Competition, a competition designed "to challenge the managerial sales skills of today's top business school students," included three phases, the first of which was conducted over the phone and boasted over 120 registrants from 14 MBA programs—a record turnout. Each registrant was asked to mollify an angry customer who was played by a judge from Microsoft, one of the competition's sponsors. The top three competitors from each school would then go head-to-head on at MIT/Sloan in Cambridge, Mass.

Chew, who has worked in finance, where she said it was critical to "understand the customers and their needs, to empathize and produce solutions to their problems," scored 100 percent in the first phase. Putnam and Galvan earned Marshall's next two highest scores to qualify for Cambridge, where they would compete as a team and as individuals in a "dynamic case competition exploring real-life sales situations" for a total of $6000 to the top three students with the best performances.

For the group case competition phase at MIT/Sloan, Chew and her teammates were asked to role-play, acting as representatives from a tech company that had partnered with Microsoft, pitching the company's products and services to a client. The panel of judges included representatives from Microsoft and other companies, and Chew, Putnam and Galvan grabbed the opportunity to get professional feedback immediately after the presentation. "The contest's major sponsor was Microsoft so they were the ones to impress," said Chew. "They said we had one of the top presentations and that we were very polished."

The students' scores from this phase also determined how they would place as individuals in the next phase, which involved each competitor in a one-on-one sales pitch. For Chew, this was where what she had learned in Martin's sales class really applied. For instance, he advised: "You have to build a personal rapport," which for Chew, translated to shaking hands with her "clients" and making sure she asked about how their weekends. Also important: "You can’t badmouth your competitors," Chew said.

Before they had left for Cambridge, Martin had helped to prepare them, even inviting one of last year's Marshall team members to speak to his class about her experience at the MIT/Sloan contest. Since Martin’s professional background is in software, "he helped us tremendously in understanding the art and science of sales management for this competition," said Chew. "Sales is about building a relationship, asking the right questions and providing the right solution. He spent a lot of time outside the classroom to make this happen."

Martin said he encouraged all of his Marshall students to compete because "I want them to learn how to perform on the spot. This is a practical contest with a lot of applicability in the real world," he said.

"I believe sales is what drives any business. Every scenario was definitely real-life and very applicable," said Chew. "The way the judges wanted to see you handle (each scenario) was not just a classroom exercise."

Marshall's team ended up placing well, with Wharton taking home the win; while Chew placed second, tying with a competitor from Wharton, a mere two points from the No.1 spot, which went to a student from MIT.

"Team USC did a fantastic job, and Cynthia's second place win in the individual competition is a tremendous accomplishment!" said Martin.

As for Chew, who is interested in working for a company like Microsoft, participating in the MIT/Sloan competition also offered her a chance to meet Microsoft recruiters and build relationships and contacts, adding: "It was fun to meet MBAs from other schools," she said. "This competition was so far the highlight of my one and a half years at Marshall."

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.