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In making sales pitches, students hope to build contacts for their careers

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Juliana Cruz, a junior at William Paterson
Juliana Cruz, a junior at William Paterson - (AARON HOUSTON / NJBIZ)

Two minutes.

That's all dozens of William Paterson students got on Thursday morning to make their pitch to major corporate executives, using those 120 seconds to explain why they could be the business world's next great salesperson.

This was speed-selling, the third leg of the 2013 Russ Berrie Institute Sales Triathalon, a three-day sales competition for students in the university's Russ Berrie Institute for Professional Sales.

The first two events involved a mock interview and a sales role play, in which students had to sell an HR package from ADP to a midsized business looking to expand. The overall goal for the 127 students competing was twofold: To impress the executive/judges and advance in the competition, but also to make connections that could lead to real-world jobs.

"It's a really tightly packed, sell yourself situation," said Prabakar Kothandaraman, executive director of the Russ Berrie Institute. "It's really important for the students to get in front of these executives."

The competition is a prelude to the National Sales Challenge, which will take place at William Paterson in November. At that event, the two top performing William Paterson students will compete against students from 35 other institutions for a national sales title.

Both the university-level triathlon and the national sales competition illustrate how serious the subject of sales is at William Paterson. It is a legitimate academic discipline, with its own institute founded 10 years ago with a gift from Russell Berrie Foundation. Sales was of critical importance to Berrie, the now-deceased plush toy maker best known for his teddy bears, and he felt it should be given the academic respect it deserved.

"When (the institute) started, sales was not considered cool as an academic discipline. We've come a long way in the last 10 years," Kothandaraman said.

"As far as the students are concerned, it's a no-brainer," he said. "Sales is one function you cannot downsize, to a large extent."

The sales curriculum is the main reason why Juliana Cruz, a junior at William Paterson, enrolled in the university to begin with.

"When I started to think about it," she said, "I realized I love sales."

On Thursday, after the speed-selling event and one final competition, Cruz was named the overall winner of the sales triathlon. John Kaplan came in second, followed by Benjamin Pitman and Andrew Mazzella.

Even more vital to her success than the title of overall winner, Cruz received a business card from one of the executives, who said the student would be a great fit for an internship.

And she attributes her polished approach throughout the competition to the training she's received at William Paterson, she said.

The training "is so real," Cruz said. "When we go out into the field, we know what to expect."

That's part of the allure for the businesses that who sent representatives to the sales triathalon.

Timothy Hunt, regional vice president for Tom James, the largest custom suit and shirt manufacturer in the world, said five of the 45 sales reps in the company's Manhattan office are William Paterson grads.

"I know that they have the core skills," Hunt said of William Paterson students. "I know I can teach them about our product, so I'm looking at the type of person they are."

And programs like the one at William Paterson are keeping the pipeline full of strong talent, and drawing more people to a career that, in the past, has carried a stigma.

"Now it's sought after," Hunt said of sales. "It's being validated as the true profession that it is."

 

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