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The Sales Warm-Up: then AND now

| Gretchen Hutterli

This week marks the 10th Anniversary of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up, a collegiate sales competition that showcases the talents of "hot" sales and marketing students from across the United States. The 2016 competition will be held October 20-22 at UW-Eau Claire. Learn more about The Warm-Up. 

Somer Soli, Patrick Gotham and Danielle Siegle will represent the Blugolds at the competition this year. Attending as an alternate and student assistant coach is Austin Samsa. Jessica Gardner, a lecturer in the Department of Management and Marketing, is the coach for the Blugold Sales Team.

The Warm-Up has evolved from a local sales competition that UW-Eau Claire marketing faculty hosted for its students to a nationally-recognized competition featuring students from over 20 schools around the United States. 

"We knew how to run a sales competition because we had been running an in-house one for five years," said Dr. Robert Erffmeyer, director of the UW-Eau Claire Center for Sales and Sales Management. "We thought it would make things more interesting for our students if other schools also competed at our event."  

The idea to develop a regional competition was also supported by the faculty and staff as well as members of the college's Business and Marketing Advisory Councils. 

"Everyone pitched in," recalled Erffmeyer. "Once we set the date and the program was developed, everyone worked together to get the competition off the ground. Colleagues at other universities were invited to bring their students to our event. Faculty and staff handled communications, fundraising, and all the logistics. Hormel and CINTAS agreed to be the major sponsors for the event. Board members like Kurt Mueller from Hormel and Brian Audette from SUPERVALU signed up as case writers, buyers and judges." 

After much discussion, the event was called the Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up. The name was selected to differentiate the UW-Eau Claire competition from the National Collegiate Sales Competition (NCSC) held in the spring at Kennesaw State University. The name also reflected the fact that The Warm-Up was a developmental event as well as a competition.  

"We wanted to give student an opportunity to practice or "warm-up" their sales skills in the fall so they would be ready to compete at nationals in the spring,” said Erffmeyer. “We also wanted to "warm-up" students to the idea of sales as a profession."  

In many ways, The Warm-Up was similar to the NCSC as the format of the presentations and the scoring sheets were the same. But there was one important difference. After each presentation, Warm-Up contestants would receive a half-hour debriefing session with one of the sales professionals who evaluated them in addition to their evaluation sheets and recordings of their performances.  

"It is the one-on-one time with a judge that was then and still remains today the most valued experience by students and their coaches," said Erffmeyer.  

The first Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up was held Nov. 15-17, 2007. Forty-five students from eight universities located primarily in Minnesota and Wisconsin attended the event along with their faculty coaches. Competing for UW-Eau Claire was Heather Maul, Garrett Ullom and Jenna Weber. The Blugold team coached by LaNette Flunker, senior lecturer in the Department of Management and Marketing,  took the top three places. 

“Heather, Garrett and Jenna were a dream team,” recalled Flunker. “Their talent and commitment to do well as representatives of UWEC made me proud to be their coach. They also knew they were setting the stage for future competitors." 

Somewhere along the line The Warm-Up became a national competition.  

Since 2007, nearly 3,000 people have participated at The Warm-Up, including 535 student competitors. Sponsorships have also increased, from 10 companies in 2007 to 31 sponsors in 2016. Four of the original sponsors—Hormel Foods, SUPERVALU, Liberty Mutual and Larson Companies—still remain and have helped shape the event into the national competition that it is today. 

The number and locations of the universities attending The Warm-Up have also changed over the past ten years. This year 21 schools located in 13 states will be at The Warm-Up -- nearly triple the number in 2007. The number of universities competing at both The Warm-Up and the NCSC has also increased dramatically. In 2007, only 2 of the 8 universities attending The Warm-Up could also be found at the NCSC. Last year, 18 of the 22 Warm-Up universities were at the spring competition. 

The Warm-Up continues to serve as a catalyst for the UW-Eau Claire sales program.  

In 2008, a chapter of Pi Sigma Epsilon, a national professional fraternity in marketing, sales management and selling, was established on the UW-Eau Claire campus. PSE also hosts regional and national sales competitions. 

One year later, the College of Business established a Center for Sales and Sales Management which included dedicated space for role playing. This was a major change for The Warm-Up which traditionally used any available room in Schneider Hall for the competition. The new space, which was funded by a gift by the Rathbun family in Chippewa Falls, is also used throughout the year by UW-Eau Claire students in the beginning and advanced sales classes. 

In 2011, UW-Eau Claire was invited to join the University Sales Center Alliance, a consortium of sales center around the United States. The USCA advances the sales profession through teaching, research and outreach. 

In 2012, Jerry Kollross, senior lecturer in the Department of Management and Marketing, became the coach of the Blugold Sales Team. Thanks in part to a Blugold Differential Tuition Grant, Kollross's students were able to travel to competitions at Ball State University, Chico State University, Florida State University, Northern Illinois University, and William Patterson University in addition to competing at The Warm-Up and the NCSC. In 2013, the Blugold team took 1st at the FSU International Competition. One year later the team placed 1st at the NCSC. 

Interest in sales as a profession continues to grow on campus. This fall, 86 students have declared sales as a first major, a figure that has doubled from 43 students in Fall 2007. The number of total marketing majors also continues to grow, making it one of the most popular majors in the Department of Management and Marketing. 

"We like to think that The Warm-Up has helped foster an increase interest in sales among our students,” said Dr. Robert Erffmeyer. "I am grateful to everyone who has played a role in making our competition a success.”      

The Warm-Up, then AND now

  • Nearly 3,000 students, coaches, volunteers and recruiters have participated in the Warm-Up since 2007. 
  • A total of 535 students have competed at The Warm-Up. The number of competitors ranged from 45 in 2007 to of 63 in 2016. 
  • The number of universities participating at the Warm-Up has nearly tripled -- from 8 schools located primarily in Minnesota and Wisconsin, to 21 schools located in 13 states throughout the United States. 
  • In 2007, only 2 of the 8 universities attending The Warm-Up also competed at the National Collegiate Sales Competition, an undergraduate and graduate sales competition hosted by Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Last year, 18 of the 22 Warm-Up universities also competed at the NCSC. 
  • The number of Warm-Up sponsors has tripled, from 10 sponsors in 2007 to 31 sponsors in 2016.