Chafekar And Zito Lead Bradley Sales Team To Second National Championship

Sales team members, from left to right: Bailey Beason, Pooja Chafekar (1st place overall individual), Alivia Adkins, Anna Eklund (on the phone screen), Natalie Zito (2nd place overall individual), Chelsea Russell

Dynasty: used to describe a team or individual who dominates their league over time. The Chicago Bulls, New York Yankees and New England Patriots are notable examples. With the way things are going, the Bradley sales team may soon be on that list.

After six years of placing top 11, the group swept the National Collegiate Sales Competition (NCSC) in March, defeating more than 130 students from 68 universities across the U.S. and Canada. Junior Pooja Chafekar became the third Bradley student to win the event; senior Natalie Zito took second.

It's the only time in the competition's 23-year history that teammates captured the top two prizes. Their successes earned Bradley its second national championship, having taken the title in 2006.

“The sales team is an opportunity for our most dedicated sales students to develop, refine and enhance their selling process, presentation and interpersonal communication skills,” said team coach and marketing instructor Brad Eskridge ‘08 MBA ‘10. “I feel blessed to work with some of our best and brightest on a daily basis; Pooja and Natalie are certainly that. I've been blown away by their commitment, resiliency and positive attitudes. They have successfully built upon the foundation laid by our incredible sales team alumni.”

The group accepts only three to seven members per semester through an application process that includes an interview with Eskridge and a demonstrated interest in sales. Applicants showcase their abilities in a mock sales call known as a role-play, which is the cornerstone of competitions.

“This is something that, in theory, seems easy — go in and sell something,” said Chafekar, a marketing major with a professional sales concentration. “But this is one of the most rigorous, intense things I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a lot of mental gymnastics to make sure you’re not only doing what you need to do, but you’re getting better every single week.”

Chafekar hadn't considered sales until taking Eskridge's 304 Professional Selling class in spring 2020; she joined the team that summer. In October, she placed top 30 at her first event, the International Collegiate Sales Competition. She finished top 8 at the Redbird National Sales Competition in February, followed by winning the NCSC three weeks later.

“Those weeks between competitions were when I started feeling really confident, not only in my sales skills but confidence in myself,” the Glendale Heights, Ill., native shared. “Every practice, I continued to get better, and that’s what I was looking for.”

Great rewards often require great sacrifice. The team meets three times per week, practicing role-plays, refining presentations, offering each other feedback. They forfeit time with loved ones and get funny looks when they mention role-plays to people who aren't in sales. It's all-consuming, but members believe it's worth it.

“The team and I dedicated 8-10 hours a week starting in the summer of 2020 and only took two weeks off over winter break,” said Zito, a graduating marketing major. “This was my first and last appearance at NCSC. I wanted to make history, and that is exactly what my team and I accomplished.”

These record-breaking women acknowledge they're not the only ones dedicating time and effort to the sales team. They credit their confidence and the group's triumphs to Coach Eskridge.

“He’s our biggest advocate and wants us to be successful, not only in the competitions, in life,” said Chafekar. “He trusted me to be a part of this process and deliver on it. It took me a long time for me to believe for myself what he was saying. I would not be half the person I am without his guidance.”

“He is there at every practice, helps us out on the weekends for extra reps if we need it,” Zito added. “He has three little girls at home and a beautiful wife he adores, and he still finds the time to be our coach.

“Our win would have never happened without his expertise.”

- Wendy Vinglinsky

Some media in Bradley University's current print, video and online materials was acquired before the COVID-19 pandemic. Media acquired after the pandemic began was done so in compliance with Bradley's COVID-19 safety protocols at the time. The ongoing safety of our faculty, staff and students is of the utmost concern during these unprecedented times.