Throughout the weeks leading up to my first and only trip as a college student to the American Marketing Association International Collegiate Conference (AMAICC), I would think of my upcoming trip quite often. But I was not thinking of the warm Louisiana temperatures, or my first Bourbon Street experience, as some of my fellow AMA members likely were. I wasn’t thinking about packing, traveling, or the classes I was going to miss for my week in New Orleans. Every day, my thoughts would take me down a path of nervousness, reminding me that on Friday, March 18th, I would be competing in the International Sales Competition at AMAICC.
For me, a career in sales is terrifying. As an introvert with a relatively soft-toned voice, who’s been told to speak up and talk louder her entire life, a profession that relies quite heavily on your ability to talk to people is something that I would never have seen for myself in the future. So when I was told that I would be competing on behalf of SJFC/AMA along with co-president Alexis Verone in the sales competition I thought to myself, “who on earth thought this was a good idea?”
Leading up to NOLA I met with Dr. Monica Hodis, SJFC/AMA advisor and marketing professor at St. John Fisher College to prepare for the competition. We were sent the scenario and the judging rubric about a week and a half before the conference and were able to start preparing. The scenario involved me playing the role of a salesperson from ABC Supply Company, in an attempt to persuade Bob Smith to buy his construction supplies from me. I don’t know anything about construction, so I can’t say learning the scenario did much for my nerves. I tried to prepare the questions ahead of time, to be able to plan out the needs identification in my head. But when it came time to really figure out what I wanted to say, I couldn’t quite get it nailed down. How can you plan what you want to ask if you don’t know how the buyer will reply?
“Just enjoy yourself,” was the text message I received from my mom as she said goodnight the evening before our 3:15 AM wake up call. “Why do you keep saying that?” I asked her, as it wasn’t the first time she’d dropped that line to me. “Because I know you’re worried. But you just need to have fun.” She was right, I knew that worrying about the sales competition was going to take away from my first New Orleans experience and I wanted to enjoy it. So I pushed Bob Smith and ABC Supply Co. to the back of my mind and thought about beignets, the sunshine, and catfish po’ boys. This seemed like a good idea… until I realized I was totally unprepared. I found myself seated in a room full of natural sales people, who were calm, collected, and appeared not to be the least bit concerned about what was about to occur down the hall.
I felt the nerves hit me in the pit of my stomach, “I might vomit,” I thought to myself. My palms were sweating as I paced back and forth trying my hardest to sort out my thoughts. With every second that passed, I felt more confused and less prepared than ever before.
Waiting felt like a lifetime of torture that I wanted to end. I didn’t want to wait a minute more as my nerves seemed to continue to grow, but no longer waiting meant I’d have to go inside the judging room and this didn’t seem like a good option either. When the time finally came for my turn to present I walked into a room seven people, three more than my competitors next door as I was the lucky soul to have competition observers. Lucky me. “I don’t belong here,” I thought, “I wasn’t made to be a salesperson,” the panicked thoughts raced. I couldn’t tell you what I said for the entire seven minutes I presented. I remember the handshake, my face turning beet red, and the constant foot shaking I couldn’t stop, no matter how hard I tried. Everything else is a blur. I spoke fast. I know that much because that’s what the judges feedback primarily consisted of. When I shook my buyer’s hand at the close of the meeting I felt a wave of emotion rush over me. After all the anxiety I had dealt with it was finally over and all those feelings I had been suppressing rushed to the forefront. I tried my hardest to remain composed in front of the judges as I took their comments and critiques down in my notebook. I nodded my head and smiled and though I knew they could clearly see I was upset I tried to hold it together. As I walked away I felt the weight lift off my shoulders. “I’ll never be in sales, but at least, I can say I’ve done this,” I thought to myself.
That evening Dr. Hodis asked me if I was excited for the awards ceremony, which would reveal whether Alexis or I advanced to the final round of the sales competition. I shook my head no and said, “there’s no chance,” nor did I want there to be. As the category approached I felt myself getting nervous. I wasn’t nervous about not advancing, but rather for if I did. Though I firmly believed that my awful performance earlier in the afternoon would secure that I had a free day, there was something in the way Dr. Hodis so firmly believed I would make it that kept me wondering if by some twist of fate I had.
When I saw my name appear on screen I jumped out of my chair. As my friends cheered and smiled at me I was angry. I didn’t want this attention. I didn’t want to be anxious again. I didn’t want to stay up late and wake up early, and worry about this competition I thought surely I was not qualified to win. In that instant I didn’t think about how the judges saw something in me that meant I was good enough to compete with the thirteen best of the sixty participants in the competition, I didn’t see the skills in me the others clearly did, maybe I still don’t, but in that instant all I wanted to do was walk to the judges and tell them they made a mistake.
Before round two I woke up early and sat on the floor of the bathroom as to not disturb my roommates with the light. I studied the scenario and prepared for the objections about to come my way. I met with Dr. Hodis for breakfast and could barely stomach my coffee, though my nerves were far less than the day before, I had made it this far and the pressure to succeed continued to weigh down on me. This time, I was more prepared, I had researched the company many times. Though I knew nothing about siding and roofing, I knew the programs and the company mission, I felt like I knew Bob Smith and I was ready to make him buy from ABC Supply Company. Walking out of round two I felt good, I knew I killed it—by my own standards of course. I texted my mom, I called my boyfriend; I shared the good news and felt elated that it was finally over. I had come out on the other side unscathed and could enjoy my last full day in New Orleans with my friends.
This story would be a lot better if I could tell you I won first place, but now that would be far too cliché. Saturday night at the awards ceremony the winners of the sales competition were announced and I won third place. Despite how much I tried to fight this competition, how much I tried to deny my ability as a salesperson, and how hard I tried to tell others that they were wrong about me, I was wrong. Sometimes whether we like it or not we have natural abilities to handle certain situations, am I really good at sales or do I just work well under pressure? I’m not sure. But what I do know is I am proud to bring home third place. I’m proud to post it on my social media and have my family members comment their congratulations. I’m proud to have represented St. John Fisher College, a small school that many doubted could compete next to the big dogs. And, I’m proud of myself. At the end of it all not only did I prove to the judges I could do it, but I proved it to myself. Did I like it? No. Was it terrifying? Yes. Perhaps there was some marketing magic on my side for this competition, but there’s no doubt that this experience is one I will carry with me long after my trip to NOLA. There’s no feeling quite like conquering a fear, and let me tell you, it’s a great feeling to have.