Students developed strategic solutions to real business problems for six sponsoring organizations.
Thirty-four Texas Tech University students recently competed in the Sales & Customer Relationship Strategy Competition hosted by the Center for Sales & Customer Relationship Excellence in the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business. The competition was the culminating event for students who spent the last five months working to solve a business problem for one of six sponsoring companies.
The Center for Sales and Customer Relationship Excellence was established in 2018 to prepare and develop future sales and customer relationship management leaders. Last year, as a way to connect theory to practice, Atul Parvatiyar, director of the center and a professor of practice in the Area of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, launched the first Sales and Strategy Competition. As part of the competition, students work in teams and are given five months to create strategic solutions to their assigned company's business challenges.
This year's competition was originally scheduled as an in-person event, but as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, the decision was made to move the competition online.
"Competitors quickly pivoted from their semester-long preparation to compete in-person to an online format within a matter of weeks," said Parvatiyar.
Hosted through Zoom, a popular video conferencing platform, the shift to the virtual competition did have some advantages.
Sixty-five judges from around the world, some as far away as India, were able to participate in the competition due to the virtual format. Judges came from a wide variety of sectors and represented major companies such as Dell, H-E-B, USAA, The Home Depot and the Atlanta Hawks & State Farm Arena.
The change also pushed students to learn new technologies and shift their communication strategies in order to accomplish their goals.
"Everything started out smoothly, then COVID-19 hit," said Patrick Herrera, a sophomore marketing and management student who served as a team leader. "We had to quickly adapt, change our strategies and shift our focus. But with the great advice of Dr. Atul and the guidance of Dell, we did it! This project taught me a lot; how to lead a team across the United States, how to make effective phone reports and presentations, and how to keep leading."
Taylor Webb, a sales coach at Dell was proud of the adaptability of the student teams.
"I am very impressed with what the students delivered here, especially with the unique circumstances they have been put in" Webb said by email. " I for one am hoping we can take a lot of their ideas and implement them accordingly."
Dell was one of six sponsoring companies who brought a real problem for students to solve.
Dell for Entrepreneurs
Dell asked students to create a go to market sales strategy for Dell for Entrepreneurs (DFE), a program designed to get scalable technology solutions in the hands of growing businesses by providing benefits such as, IT consultations, technology and access to capital. Students conducted research to narrow down DFE's target market and developed market segmentation and strategies to reach the identified target audience. The team made actionable recommendations related to branding, website adjustments and expanding geographic locations that would ultimately increase market share and create new DFE customers.
Paycom, an online payroll and human resource technology provider tasked their student team with determining which industry would best be suited for Paycom to enter based on their values and product offerings. The team assessed the market landscape and HR needs for five unique industries. After determining the two industries with the most potential for Paycom, the team focused on one industry and ultimately developed a sales strategy to competitively position the HR solution software in that particular market.
A brand new lifestyle brand focused on men's premium clothing, TownNorth, asked students to create a sales strategy and make recommendations as to how the start up can enter a highly saturated market. The team conducted an extensive competitive analysis, held focus groups, interviewed retailers and executed a survey to gather insight. After analyzing the data they gathered, the team developed a three-prong sales strategy comprised of promotional, online and channel recommendations.
Reynolds Consumer Products
Reynolds Consumer Products tasked students with identifying business intelligence software tools that would help the company reduce the time spent on opportunity spotting. The team was also asked to develop a data-driven sales strategy. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, students used real data from Reynolds Consumer Products to evaluate existing software tools and build test dashboards to determine what software would be the best fit for the Reynolds Consumer Product team.
Mahindra Ag North America
Global farm business group, Mahindra, asked students to assess the tractor buying journey for homeowners with large rural properties and determine how independent dealers influence customer decisions. Students conducted a competitive analysis and customer and dealer interviews to generate customer personas. The customer personas and recommendations were designed to help Mahindra undertake a variety of marketing processes and ultimately build a community of users and satisfied customers.
Market Lubbock, an initiative of the Lubbock Economic Development Agency (LEDA) tasked students with identifying opportunities as part of a Lubbock Ambassadors campaign which is intended to generate a positive image for the HUB City and spur economic activity. The team conducted research to determine current perceptions and factors that influence ambassador behaviors. Additionally, the team analyzed how other cities tell their stories. Five pillars of local strength were identified by the students to help Market Lubbock create a "groundswell" community level ambassador program.
Jeff Trump, vice president of sales and analytics at Reynolds Consumer Products believes there is tremendous value, both for the students and sponsoring companies, as part of the experiential learning opportunity.
"I love to get fresh thinking from bright minds at a well respected academic center," said Trump. "I also love getting an outside perspective. I find that we learn something every single time from the questions that are asked."
Trump added that the work done by students directly impacts business.
"I think there's something incredibly relevant about having real world problems to solve. You really do (students) have the opportunity to impact the business and the livelihoods of real people. We do listen to the recommendations you make, I hope you know that."
In an email to team members shortly after the competition, Matt Glendon, director of marketing and product management at Mahindra, shared his congratulations with the team, adding that their presentation had a large potential impact.
"I would have been proud to have you present your findings to our CEO and Senior Management Team," shared Glendon. "In fact you did- three members of our SMT were judges and everyone was very impressed. I really enjoyed the experience and hope you did too. I wouldn't be surprised if the presentation made it very high in the company back in Mumbai."
Rawls College Dean Margaret L. Williams said the competition is exactly the type of high-impact learning experience the college strives to offer students.
"If you look at the skills that we want to instill in our students, every single one of them is addressed through this competition," said Williams. "We want students to be able to exhibit critical thinking, we want them to learn how to work in teams, we want them to be analytical and we want them to learn how to communicate both verbally and in writing. This competition integrates and brings together all of those skills. It is an outstanding experience for our students."
Students agree that participating in the competition is an extremely rewarding experience.
Claudia Ramirez, who was part of the Mahindra team, chose to participate in the competition to complement her background in information technology. Ramirez said the competition was the best real world application experience of her academic career.
"Overall, the competition resembled the world's demand for graduates that can adapt and tackle fast paced changes and new challenges in today's industries. And as a student, I had the chance to envision myself in such an environment and prepare for what lies ahead."
Marketing graduate, Jett Meisinger, also described the hands on experience as one of the best experiences at Texas Tech.
" I can honestly say that I feel beyond prepared and confident to begin my career in sales," said Meisinger. "I truly feel that I can put together sales plans, do market research and do everything I need to do to succeed in the sales and business world."
Maryellen Weiser, a marketing graduate on the TownNorth team, said that although she had participated in multiple case studies and group projects throughout her academic career, the sales competition provided a unique look into the industry.
"This was the first time I really experienced the challenges of a real life consulting project and something so real with a real company, real products, a real market to understand. This project gave me and my team an amazing opportunity to apply our marketing skills and everything that we had actually learned in our undergraduate career and piece it together in order to yield real results for our sponsoring company."
After each team delivered their live presentations to the panel of judges, they anxiously awaited the winners to be announced during a virtual awards ceremony.
During the awards ceremony, Parvatiyar commended all of the teams for the tremendous work they did in unprecedented times. He explained that scores were extremely close, the closest he has ever seen in all of his years leading similar competitions at other universities.
As a result of a three-way tie, the Dell Small Business, Mahindra & Reynolds Consumer Products teams were announced as winners of second place. Each of the teams received a $5,000 scholarship to split among team members.
The top prize went to the TownNorth team. Members split a $15,000 scholarship.
Students who were not recognized as members of the top teams will also receive a small scholarship to recognize their efforts.
You can view the award's ceremony in its entirety here.