Universities Sales Challenge to seek out top sellers and boost the profession

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Craig Jackson

Fourteen students from Edinburgh Napier, Abertay and Dundee universities are set to go head to head this week to battle it out for the coveted title of top seller in the country’s first ever Scottish Universities Sales Challenge.

The students, who are each studying an element of sales as part of their degree, will take part in the pilot sales competition, which is being hosted by Edinburgh Napier University and designed to replicate – on a smaller scale – the fierce and formidable sales contests regularly held in the US.

This inaugural Scottish event is the first of its kind in the UK and is being organised, in part, to help promote and develop a deeper understanding of sales and its significance to Scottish enterprise and the economy.

It’s being hosted by Edinburgh Napier University’s Business School and sponsored by Edinburgh recruitment consultancy Edgar Stewart, which recruits for a number of sales roles on behalf of its clients, such as those in professional services, water and energy, and start-ups and SMEs.

Dr Tony Douglas, who is Edinburgh Napier University’s Director of the Edinburgh Institute of Sales and Chair of the Institute of Sales Management (ISM), said: “Sales often gets a bad reputation but it’s one of the key and most important roles in business.

“The industry is crying out for sales-ready graduates and we’re already seeing an increase in uptake in our relatively newly-launched sales modules.

“By hosting this event, we’re not only trying to emulate the popular sales competitions of America, but champion sales as a wise career move.

“Whatever way we dress the titles up – business development executives, account managers or marketing representatives – there are far more sales jobs out there than we might initially think.

“There is an industry-led need for sales and we’re hoping to encourage our students to leave Edinburgh Napier with the added advantage of having sales skills under their belts to help boost their employability and overall appeal to global employers.”

The students taking part on the day will firstly take on an Apprentice-style sales challenge in a bid to impress the judges with their business ideas and persuasive techniques as part of a role play exercise in which they will be required to improvise.

In the second part of the challenge, Edgar Stewart will throw down the gauntlet as part of a Speed Selling exercise, in which the participants will have two minutes to present a sales pitch which focuses on themselves and could culminate in an actual job.

Edgar Stewart’s Craig Jackson, who sits on the steering committee of the ISM and will form part of the judging panel, explained: “We are on the lookout for two graduates to join us to help grow the business and would be delighted if the participants demonstrated the key attributes we are looking for – and were keen – to join the Edgar Stewart team.

“The Speed Selling exercise, which is a bit like speed networking, will give us a great insight into who might be eligible and looking for a top opportunity.”

Interested candidates who impress the Edgar Stewart judges on the day will be invited for a follow-up interview as part of the Santander Universities SME Internship programme, in which the successful graduates will spend three months at the recruitment firm’s business incubator and start-up hub in Stockbridge.

Once in-post, the graduate recruits will be tasked with boosting client acquisition and helping to grow the business as part of Edgar Stewart’s ethos to inspire, challenge and innovate.

Jackson added: “This goes hand in hand with Edgar Stewart’s commitment to investing in talent – and talent is exactly what we hope to find.

“We can’t scale businesses in Scotland without sales but, sadly, it’s an area people rarely invest in. That’s why we’re hoping to buck this trend.

“Top sales people should be valued and receive the proper training, as well as ongoing professional development.”

If successful, the event could be rolled out on a larger scale in Scotland.

It follows the European Sales Challenge, which was piloted in 2014 and rolled out in 2015 by Vlerick Management School in Brussels.

The European final will be held in Helsinki in 2016 and at Edinburgh Napier University in 2017.

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