The Great Canadian Sales Competition is a nationwide competition organized by Sales Talent Agency, a regular sponsor and supporter of what we do at the BCITMA (click the following link for more information about our sponsors). Thousands of students from all over the country submitted their sales pitches for something they are passionate about; the top 25% of pitches were selected to participate in the semi-finals (more on that later). Of the semi-finalists, the top 23 students were flown to Toronto, Ontario and participated in a live sales competition at Google headquarters.
If you’ll recall what I said previously about the Sales Panel and Sales Workshop (click the links to read the corresponding articles), everyone sells. Being able to sell means being able to communicate effectively and persuasively; that is a skill which you use everyday, even if you do not realize it. The Great Canadian Sales Competition is in part an effort to show students the value of sales, build up their sales skills and connect them with employers who are looking for people with those skills. That the competition is sponsored by a wide range of leading industry names, such as Air Canada, Dell and Corus Entertainment, is a testament to the value placed on proper selling skills.
BCITMA members have actively participated in the Great Canadian Sales Competition – our own VP of Sponsorship Jacquie Kine was an ambassador for the competition this year. But this year we have been particularly successful: Sarah Westwood, a first year BCIT student in Marketing Communications and our Regional Conference Lead, was selected as a finalist and won first place in Toronto!
Of course, we could not let such a momentous achievement go uncelebrated. Which is why I sat down for a live interview with Sarah to talk about her experiences, what this competition has meant for her future aspirations and how it feels to be selected as the top sales student in Canada (as you’ll soon see, she is more modest then I am). Questions are bolded and her answers are in green.
Why did you join the Great Canadian Sales Competition?
Mostly out of curiosity. Sarah has never participated in something on that scale and wanted to see what it would be like. She is not sales, but liked working with people and felt that sales would be something she is good at. Finally, she wanted to challenge herself and see if she could make the semi-finals.
What were the mentorship sessions like? Describe the most important lesson that you learned.
Matthew from Dell helped to prepare her for the live competition by sharing the sales theory that he uses. This helped her to identify what ground to cover for the needs analysis/probing questions.
Upon arrival in Toronto, Sarah was greeted by representatives from Sales Talent Agency and escorted to the competition. She recalls feeling excited but nervous; she was also impressed by the caliber of people who were there and soon realized she would be facing stiff competition at the finals.
What do you feel is the most important thing you have gained from this competition?
The biggest takeaway for Sarah is that it opened up her mind to possibilities. She never saw herself as a salesperson, but this experience opened her to a career in sales. Ultimately the competition is to spread awareness of sales as a career and educate students on what working in sales is really like; in this sense the competition succeeded because it generated a lot of hype for the sales industry. Through the competition, she realized the importance of sales skills in everyday life.
Winning hasn’t necessarily made Sarah commit to a career in sales, but it has definitely opened her mind to the possibilities. She still does not know what career path she wants in the future and prefers to stay open to new possibilities. However, this experience has shown that she is a strong people person; since she is a marketing communications student, this opens up the possibility of going into account management for an advertising agency in the future.
Give one piece of advice for all the BCIT students in the future who will be participating in the Great Canadian Sales Competition.
Sarah recommends that future entrants simply be themselves and bring their own authentic personality – people will work with you if they like your personality. She also advises students to understand the value proposition of their pitch and how to deliver that value.
We have talked a lot about the finals, but not so much about the competition semi-finals. What happened during the semi-finals and what are your thoughts on it?
For the semi-finals, Sarah was assigned to a sponsor – in her case Dell – and wrote a sales pitch about the value proposition for the entire company. This was quite overwhelming, because Dell was a multinational company that did just about everything. To help her with the pitch, Sarah was provided with a cheatsheet on the company; however, since everyone will be using the same sheet, she recommends doing some extra research to stand out from the competition.
Afterwards, she is assigned to a practice platform – akin to a booth with a video camera – where she can practice her pitch and record it for submission. She has two minutes to tell the judges something about herself, and another two minutes for the actual pitch on the company. The nerve-wracking part of the process is that she cannot actually see her pitch; once recorded and submitted, she cannot see the video again. By her own admission, Sarah still dreams about her Dell pitch and how the judges saw it.
In the future, Sarah recommends spending more time on the initial pitch about yourself. The two minutes that participants spend describing themselves is a chance to bring out their own unique personality, which could make a big difference for the judges.
Any closing thoughts to add?
Despite winning the entire competition, Sarah insisted that much of the outcome lies in factors beyond her control. There are many moving variables: finalists were assigned to rooms of 4-5 people each and the winners of each room would then compete directly with each other. The results could have changed depending on the room assignments. Moreover, Sales Talent Agency decided she was in the top 25% of submissions, but it was Dell that selected the ultimate winner. She recommends participants to simply do their best and hope for the best.
Sarah is currently considering being a student ambassador for the competition next year. One of her concerns is that ambassadors are required to participate in the actual competition; since has won already, she would prefer that someone else got the opportunity next year instead. However, she does want to help educate people who do not know very much about sales. Initially, Sarah also knew very little about sales – but she ran with it and ended up winning the entire thing.
Wherever we go, BCITMA members are out doing great things. Special thanks to Sarah Westwood for agreeing to this interview and for her insightful answers. You’ll be hearing a lot more from Sarah: she will continue to be in the club next year and is set to make big waves in the industry, no matter where she ultimately ends up. Stay tuned!
A big thank you also goes to Sales Talent Agency for organizing the Great Canadian Sales Competition. You can read more about the agency here.