The annual National Sales Challenge connects students and business leaders, creating new job opportunities
Adam Grybowski
Eric Marion, right, went into the event with a job offer already on the table, and he left with the potential for more offers.

Eric Marion, right, went into the event with a job offer already on the table, and he left with the potential for more offers.

After spearheading Rider University’s entrance into the National Sales Challenge, a three-day event that connects the next generation of sales leaders with top executives, Eric Marion ’14 found himself in an enviable position.

The entrepreneurial studies and finance double major went into the event with a job offer already on the table, and he left with the potential for much more.

“When you do well at these events, the employers come after you,” Marion says.

This summer Marion interned at the Annandale, N.J., branch of Northwestern Mutual. Recently, he learned that the financial company wants him to start working full time once he graduates — and for good reason. Of the company’s 6,000 interns countrywide, he says he was in the top five percent of its sale force.

“He's got a real talent,” says Prof. Darrell Bartholomew of Rider’s Department of Marketing, Advertising, and Legal Studies. “You have to be a self-starter and you have to have the personality and the work ethic. He has all those things. And he's very competitive. He likes the challenge.”

In the annual National Sales Challenge, held at William Patterson University, students compete in two events. The first provides them with a specific sales scenario and asks them to make a one-on-one pitch, which is filmed and judged by working professionals. The second asks them to sell themselves by making elevator pitches to several companies.

The event was sponsored by ADP, the human resources and administrative services provider, and featured other companies like Reckitt Benckiser, Reynolds & Reynolds, and Oracle. The networking opportunity led to job interviews for participants like Marion. Students finished the whirlwind event with a cruise around New York Harbor.

It was the first time Rider participated in the event. “You’re going up against the best sales people from other programs across the country,” says Bartholomew, who witnessed the competition first-hand as Marion’s faculty advisor at the event. “These are major players.”

Marion was well prepared for the competition. In addition to his work at Northwestern Mutual, he had participated in a similar but smaller competition at the University of Connecticut this fall. That was in part the result of Rider’s recent collaboration with The College of New Jersey, which has helped the University launch its own chapter of Pi Sigma Epsilon, the national fraternal organization for sales, marketing and management. 

During these various competitions, Marion walks into the sales scenarios with a basic plan — build a relationship, discern the client’s problem and provide a solution. “I'm good at relating to people and understanding where they're coming from,” he says. “I see the situation through their eyes and work backwards from there.” But the details of each scenario are always different, and Marion recognizes that salespeople need to be flexible while also projecting confidence.

Marion’s been honing his knack for salesmanship since he was a teenager. He began working in retail at the age of 14 selling bikes at the Somerville Cyclery. When the store manager moved to another store, he brought Marion with him. “I was able to sell stuff even though I was a really young kid,” says Marion, now 21. “I increased their revenue for them.”

Growing up in what he calls “a small-business household,” the Bridgewater native watched his father’s architecture firm, Architecture Plus (now in Raritan Borough in Somerset County), grow from operating out of the family basement into a sustainable business. “I love the aspect of running your own business,” he says.

That enthusiasm didn’t translate into an exact idea for future plans, but at Rider’s College of Business Administration, he’s been able to develop his talents and pursue new opportunities, such as the sales competitions.

Both Bartholomew and Marion hope more seniors will participate in the competitions next year. “I hope my participation opens the door to other people who can take the opportunity and run with it,” Marion says.