2021, University of Applied Sciences of Turku, Finland

The winner of the very first virtual European Sales Competition 2020 – an interview with Anna-Maria Klimmek from the Aalen University

First, congratulations on 1st place at the first virtual ESC. How did you feel when it was clear that you had won?

Thank you! When the 4th and 3rd place was already announced, I thought, okay, now it is either her or me. And how amazing is it that I made into the final and are now 2nd or even 1st place? And then I was announced the winner of the ESC and I felt super happy and thought: How cool, I made it. The way I performed led me to this. I have never done a sales competition before and it’s interesting to think about how I stood out from the crowd with what I did. That it was so special for the jury, that’s funny somehow. I just tried to stay relaxed and respond to my counterpart as well as possible.

How did you feel during the 4 rounds of the competition? When did you feel more comfortable and when did you not feel so well?

It was different in every round. For the Elevator Pitch, I was really excited the last few minutes before it started. But as soon as it started, I relaxed. My motto was: stay confident, I can do it! By adapting my approach directly to the needs of the target person, the first round went well.

In the second round I was relatively relaxed, but the 15 minutes put pressure on me, which made me a bit tense. Nevertheless, we got through well. The third round went like clockwork, the client was super friendly and very quickly convinced by Salesforce. It was fun and felt quite easy.

Before the final, there was a short pressure due to the short preparation time. As soon as the sales meeting started and Vahid and Alex greeted me so friendly, I felt comfortable and was excited to work with them. Because I prepared myself as well as possible for each round, I almost never felt insecure. The preparation gave me great confidence and that in turn, as well as my previous experience, made me feel relaxed and secure.

What everyone wants to know – How did you prepare? How could the university support you?

In the summer semester of 2020, I already took part in the B2B Sales Negotiations course of my study “Leadership in Industrial Sales and Technology”. On the one hand, we discussed theories of sales, but above all – and this is where I see the greatest value – we practised a lot together. I conducted sales talks with our course director. He was the customer and played a different character each time, so I learned how to respond to that. I also practised with our two great PhD students. They always gave me valuable feedback. They both bring the necessary coolness, quick-wittedness but also seriousness or humour at the right moment. I find them very professional. They also prepared me for the ESC and their tips really made the sales pitch easier for me in one situation or another. And I think that by having had a couple of conversations overall, I was able to develop my own style. Being able to do something in your own way gives you security and freedom.

Another, I think, decisive point was that I got to grips with Salesforce solutions. I asked myself, based on the seller briefing: What might the customer need? Which of the solutions fit? And how can I link these together in a presentation? This enabled me to be convincing in the sales talks by presenting how I or Salesforce can help the customers, what value it brings them.

Was it your first online sales competition or have you already participated in other sales competitions? If so, how did you feel there and what were the differences?

As already mentioned, this was my first Sales Competition. And it was also the first one to be held online. I had a somewhat similar situation in sales training this summer. One of the exams of B2B Sales Negotiations consisted of us students presenting our product in a twenty-minute sales talk as Salesforce salespeople to a customer who wants to implement a CRM system. The aim was to get a commitment for a follow-up appointment. I was one of the few who managed to do that in that time. So, the situation was similar to the second round of the ESC.

The biggest difference was that the jury was bigger. In my exam there were three examiners. Another difference was that some of the examiners at the ESC came directly from the companies. They have a lot of experience and of course the Salesforce employees know the products particularly well. This means that I felt the demand to deliver a good performance was high.

I also competed against selected candidates from the universities. That means I was aware that now you’re up against professionals 😉

But how I felt overall is summed up very well by the advice of one of Gartner’s keynote speakers on Thursday of the ESC: own everything that you do! That’s what I did and that’s how I felt.

How did you like the software interface and structure of the ESC 2020? Was the process clear and conclusive for you?

The Talque platform gave me a good overview of the event and made it easy to participate. I could see exactly when a competition or speech was taking place. What I really liked was that all participants were listed and that there was a chat function. This allowed me to get in touch with the other participants and the companies.  The process was clear to me at all times because of the way the platform was set up. I liked the structure of the competition. On the first day, I would have liked the elevator pitch to take place earlier in the day and the presentations to follow. On the other days, I found the mixture of competition, presentations and main stage very suitable. At the award ceremony, I liked the video with the interviews and that each finalist was able to share their personal experiences and what they had learned. I wish we could have seen some good examples from rounds one to three as well. My sports coach used to say to us: Watch your colleagues, you can also learn something from watching!

Do you have professional experience in sales? Can you benefit from the preparation for the competition and the competition itself for your professional path?

I have professional experience in sales insofar as I was often on the road with colleagues in the sales field service during the practical periods of my dual Bachelor’s degree. We visited their customers together, talked to them, looked at the production hall and the plants concerned. Afterwards, we talked together about the solution, then about free time and family, and had a coffee while we were at it.

I was with colleagues at customers in the catchment area of the headquarters in Bruchsal, the technical office in Mannheim and in Hanover. For two months I was with the Finnish colleagues in the subsidiary in Finland, visited their customers with them, analysed the sales processes and improved them together with the Finnish customers. This experience definitely helped me with the ESC as well.

And yes, I think participating in the ESC has confirmed that I enjoy it. And if so many experienced jurors say that I did well, then there must be something to it. In any case, I’m taking the experience and practice with me for the future, as well as the contacts I’ve made. It was a great opportunity. And of course, it’s great to have tangible proof of your own abilities.

Last question – where will your path take you?

The path will not take me. I will decide where it goes. And I will go to where my intuition leads me.

Thank you very much for the interview and have a good start into the new year!

We thank you for the interview and congratulations again.

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