Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

Clemson University’s Sales Innovation Program students compete in external collegiate sales competition


From February 24-26, four of Clemson University’s Sales Innovation Program students traveled to the University of Toledo to represent Clemson’s competition sales team in an external collegiate sales competition. The competition, UTISC, was sponsored by 3M, and the two competitors, Josh Mahaffey (junior) and Jack Harris (freshman), were judged based on their ability to sell a 3M sanding disc to a series of buyers who played various roles within an organization. The other two attendees, Natalie Bronsdon (senior) and Sara LaGuardia (junior) participated as peer coaches. Lisa Beeler, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing, accompanied the team. The many hours of preparation over the past several months paid off as the team placed in the top three schools in their first-ever sales competition.

From left to right: Natalie Bronsdon, Jack Harris, Josh Mahaffey, Sara LaGuardia

Both Bronsdon and LaGuardia are members of the Sales Innovation Program. The Sales Innovation Program (SIP) was founded in 2019 as a flagship program within the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business through an Academic Cornerstone donation by Dan and Nancy Garrison. The program focuses on being a nationally renowned resource for sales education, sales research and valuable academic partnerships. SIP’s sales education coursework is tailored to develop students’ business acumen, selling frameworks and presentation ability in order to equip them for influential roles in sales or related positions. SIP also offers a sales certificate where students partake in real-world challenges, foundational role-play exercises and leadership opportunities.

Harris and Mahaffey awaiting a roleplay round with fellow competitors

Harris and Mahaffey are members of the new subset of the Sales Innovation Program, Ascent. In the past, students were required to complete the Professional Selling course in order to apply for membership in the Sales Innovation Program. Now, the Ascent Program works to acclimate students of all majors and academic years to a career in sales, whether these students have completed this starter sales course or not. Thus, Ascent is designed to give selected students the guidance necessary in order to become official Sales Innovation Program members.  This guidance involves various developmental experiences, including being paired with a mentor from the Sales Innovation Program based on similar professional interests and participating in workshops such as networking etiquette and LinkedIn and resume branding. Students must apply to Ascent and participate in these developmental experiences to become eligible for Sales Innovation Program membership the following semester.

Jack Harris (left) and Josh Mahaffey (right) at awards day

Harris placed 5th in the freshman/sophomore division out of 36 students and Mahaffey placed 10th in the junior division out of 36 students.  Clemson University placed 3rd for overall performance out of the 36 schools that participated in the competition.

The first night in Toledo consisted of networking before waking up bright and early the next day for the first round of the competition. There was also a Q&A with 3M employees to learn more about the brand and culture.

Sara LaGuardia, Josh Mahaffey, and Jack Harris on the first night before the competition began

LaGuardia is grateful for the experience, claiming “This team has taught me so much. After a few years in my own sales career, I hope to inspire other sales representatives as a sales manager.  Coaching Josh and Jack taught me how to give valuable feedback while remaining more hands-off. I learned that when I have diligent, hard-working people on my team, I can begin to become more hands-off and more encouraging of their own decisions. It is about them, not me.”

Mahaffey asking questions to the competition sponsor, 3M, at a Q&A session

On the first day of the competition, students were encouraged to attend a career fair in between the two rounds. During the career fair, sponsors gave students a certain amount of tickets based on how successful the interaction was. These tickets were then signed by the students and placed in a bowl to later be selected for activities at the Toledo Walleye hockey game that night.

The first round consisted of meeting with a buyer playing the role of a production engineer and the second round consisted of meeting with a buyer playing the role of a procurement manager. Both Josh and Jack made it through Round 1 and competed in Round 2.

Following the second round, sales teams attended a Toledo Walleye Hockey Game. Students’ names were picked from the career fair ticket bowl. Harris was selected to play “hungry, hungry hippo” on the ice!

Harris playing hungry, hungry hippo
Hungry, hungry hippo participants

Following the activities, the semifinalists progressing to Round 3 the next day were announced on the jumbotron. Both Harris and Mahaffey made it onto the final day of the competition!

On the second day of the competition, semi-finalists competed in Round 3 with a buyer playing the role of a production and services manager. Then, finalists moving on from Round 3 competed in Round 4 with an undefined buyer until right before the round.

Harris continued into Round 4 with the other finalists, and the team was able to watch his roleplay live in a viewing room open to all competition attendees.

The team on the day of Semifinals and Finals

Harris responds to his competition experience by saying, “After each round I found myself settling in and trusting my preparation. I understood that each round was just a conversation where I had the opportunity to help. Overall, it was an invaluable experience to be able to interact with so many accomplished sales professionals who wanted to give back. I learned from each of their feedback about how I could improve and am excited to put that into practice.”

Throughout the first and second days, students had the opportunity to have one-on-one networking and interview coaching with industry professionals who were representatives from sponsor companies.

Mahaffey, LaGuardia, and Bronsdon watching Harris’ final roleplay in a viewing room

Bronsdon reflects on her time in Toledo when she says, “I had a great time at UTISC and am very grateful for the opportunity to attend a national sales competition with such a great team! I did not know what to expect from my first sales competition, but I appreciated networking with other students from around the country, learning from leaders in the sales industry and strategizing with my team. I am so proud of what my team accomplished at the University of Toledo!”

Following awards with Harris placing 5th in his division and Mahaffey placing 10th in his division, the team went to a seafood restaurant before catching their flight back home. (Guess what?- Harris ordered a walleye!)

Harris and Bronsdon in a coaching session with an industry professional

Josh reflects on this experience when describing, “Becoming a member of the sales competition team has been extremely helpful for my sales career. Having the chance to compete on a national scale was really exciting, and required extensive preparation. Our team did an awesome job preparing us for the UTISC, and our hard work paid off due to placing 3rd out of 36 universities. This experience was great for our team and an awesome way to gain experience, network with great students and companies nationwide and represent Clemson University with pride.”

The entire team left Toledo feeling energized and excited to continue developing their sales skills and to share their experience with the Clemson community!

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