MIT Sales Competition Recap

I entered the 2014 International MBA Sales Competition on a whim. I thought it’d be fun to try out those sales skills from my baseball cards days in a more formal business environment and learn about what makes a good pitch. It was one hell of a learning experience. Here we go.

  • Telephone Pitch: Getting the feel of an inside sales rep, I had 10 minutes to pitch a potential buyer on a particular piece of software and get them to commit. I had no idea where to begin so I just dove in. First, I took the persona of the prompt to heart. The situation, the details, the context. I essentially read the prompt as if it were a script or creative brief. Secondly, I learned everything that I could possible track down on the software. Technical details, uses cases, case studies. Finally, in huge letters I wrote down: ASK FOR THE ORDER. During the call, I jumped right in, answered questions and even handled objections as well as I could without interfering with the flow. Once I heard a trigger word, I went straight for the sale. I was upfront about my objectives: I needed to secure this deal before the end of the quarter. My prospect had budgetary constraints and it seemed like the way to close would be to share risk on the performance of the product based on their needs. Before we hung up, I made to ask for the order and made it to the next round.
  • Prospect Meeting: The next round was an in-person meeting with a judge, again designed to test my ability to understand their needs. I thought back to the pitch meetings at my old consulting firm; I brought a PowerPoint as a walk-through of structure. In the meeting, I went right in and got to work. It was pretty much as bad of a failure as you could get. My flaw here was that I spent a whole 5–10 seconds on building rapport before getting into the actual pitch. There was no human connection, no trust, and thus no sale. This was chief among the feedback I received. Additionally, my judge told me that there needs to be structure to a pitch. “Tell me what you’re going to tell me and then tell me,” he said. Finally, and I realized I didn’t even follow my own advice, I never asked for the order. I simply ended the pitch with a soft “OK, great, let’s chat again soon.” Needless to say, I did not move past this final individual round.
  • Team Selling: The night before the competition, I met two other participants with whom I was paired up with for the team round where the three of us would pitch an enterprise software solution to a group of four judges serving as an executive group. That night, we assumed roles and crafted an approach. I would play the account executive, one of my peers would be the technical solutions consultant, and the other would be the engineer to talk about our past work with other companies. We had a plan where I would divert questions from the judges based on their areas of expertise. I found out, too, that the judge I had for my individual round would also be one of the judges for our team round. With this intel, I shared the feedback I received in-depth so that we could show improvement based on what the judge was looking for: build rapport on a human level without “showing up and throwing up,” have a structure for how you want to use time in the meeting, and ask for the order (or at least a clear next step).

We had to toss the plan quickly out of window after getting a few curveball questions from the judges. Whereas I would direct questions I couldn’t answer, one of my colleagues took the reigns mid-way through to talk about the long-term implementation of our software solution. (It helped that he, in his professional life, actually did have this experience, too.) The point here is that we adapted to reach the goal of a sale. This experience of adapting in the moment, focusing on positioning team members for success, and staying focused on the goal were all lessons from improv that can be directly applied to business environments and situations. We adapted well enough to bring home the first place prize, too.

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