Virginia Tech's representatives at the "Rumble in Rocktown."
Virginia Tech's representatives at the "Rumble in Rocktown."

While it may not have been watched by over one billion people like the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the heavyweight boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammed Ali, and it may not have featured – to the best of our knowledge – the “rope-a-dope”, the “Rumble in Rocktown” was no less a contest of two goliaths at their apex, James Madison University and Virginia Tech. Although the venue was Harrisonburg rather than Zaire, and the sport was a sales competition instead of boxing, when the dust finally settled, a team of Virginia Tech students stood victorious over their fallen opponent much like Ali stood over Foreman in 1974.

The brainchild of Brian Collins, director of the Virginia Tech Sales Center – a professional sales program within the Marketing Department in the Pamplin College of Business – and his counterpart at JMU, Richard Tate, the ‘Rumble in Rocktown’ featured a 12-person interdisciplinary team of Virginia Tech students against a similarly constructed team of JMU students.

“He and I decided that we should have a sales competition between our two schools because we are the two best sales schools in the state,” said Collins. “Our schools have a good rivalry because we attend many of the same competitions.”

For the uninitiated, a sales competition works like this: each student is placed into a flight with five other students so that each team has 3 competitors per school. Each student has a meeting with a buyer to sell a product or service as defined by the role-play materials. Students are judged by a panel of industry experts and sponsors on several criteria designed around a universal sales competition rubric. The top performers from the first round then move on to a final round, where an extension of the role-play materials is used.

The role-play materials were designed by the competition sponsor, ALKU Government Solutions, a “workforce solutions provider of mission-critical, top-secret clearance and above positions for the Department of Defense and agency-related work.” The first-round tasked teams with, among other items, educating the “client” on ALKU Government Solutions, while also learning more about the client’s specific needs.

The final round role play objective was to walk out of the meeting having taken a full job order from the client.

Virginia Tech’s Madison Mitchell, a junior marketing major, finished first, winning the top prize of $1,000. Also representing Virginia Tech were Sydney Fromm, a sophomore majoring in BIT, and Ryan Feldman, a junior in marketing, who finished in third and fourth places, respectively. The top four finishers, along with any financial winnings, are also awarded a summer internship offer with the competition sponsor.

“In the first round, our teams won three of the four flights,” added Collins. “That was an accomplishment because JMU has a really good sales program.”

The Hokies who participated in the competition, 24 in total, were members of the Sales Competition Team, as well as students recruited from various disciplines across campus.

“We’ve been preparing for this contest since January,” said Collins. “In our practices, we work with real-life scenarios. Scenarios that the students are going to experience when they get into the real world.”

He added, “During practice, the students will do whatever they can to try to trip each other up.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of our Sales Program and our team,” said Rajesh Bagchi, R. B. Pamplin Chair of Marketing. “Under Brian’s leadership, we have made tremendous progress and are now ranked as one of the top programs nationally. I am also very proud of what our students have accomplished. This couldn’t have been possible without their hard work and dedication. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our faculty who teach in the sales program. These include Monica Hillison, Steve Matuszak, and Broderick Turner. Our Sales Board members have also been very generous with their time and mentorship.”

Bagchi continued, “I would also like to congratulate the JMU team. Ultimately, what matters is not winning but being in the fight and showing strength, perseverance, and the resilience to give it your best shot. Just showing up again for the next round, knowing fully well that you have a George Foreman or a Muhammed Ali on the other side, is what ultimately matters. Both VT and JMU students did that in abundance and I congratulate both teams for their fantastic performance and wish them all the best.”

The benefit of competitions like this is obvious for the students involved – real-world sales experience in front of industry experts and insiders. For the competition sponsors, the benefit is just as great.

“One of the ways we show off our students’ abilities is by participating in these sales competitions throughout the country,” said Collins. “This is a huge benefit to the sponsors because they are getting access to high-demand students who already know what it is like to sell. Since 2015, we have had a 100 percent placement of our graduates who want a sales career. We have more jobs than graduates and competitions like this one coupled with active sponsors keep the demand high.”

Like any good bout between heavyweights, a rematch is already being scheduled for the fall. This matchup will take place at Virginia Tech, tentatively titled “Battle in Blacksburg.”

It will no doubt be a knockout success for the Hokies.