By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Forget beginner’s luck. This was beginner’s skill.
For the first time, IU Southeast students took part in the RNMKRS Virtual Sales Role Play Competition and the RNMKRS Speed Sell competition, and came away with a remarkable record of accomplishment.
In the Virtual Sales Role Play Competition, IU Southeast was one of just eight schools with at least half of its participants–16 out of 20–earning a competition score in the top 30 percent. Ten out of 20 scored in the top 20 percent, and nine scored in the top 10 percent. Three students–Sean Connaughton, Devyn O’Keefe and Savannah Schroering–finished in the top five percent. Connaughton scored 9305 out of a possible 10,000 points, placing him in the top one percent–one of only 27 competitors to earn that distinction.
“For first-timers, I think we did pretty well,” said Dr. Chris Cox, associate professor of marketing and team coach.
RNMKRS competitions use an interpersonal communications engine (ICE)–an AI animation–to simulate interactions between individuals in the sales process and to provide bias-free feedback and scoring they need to improve their ability, according to the website.
This year’s competition featured outstanding teams from 67 schools, including heavy-hitters Purdue, IU Bloomington and Indiana State, as well as Boston College, Oregon State, Texas A&M and even Manchester (UK) University and the Copenhagen (Denmark) Business School.
“This is the first role play competition our program has participate in, and I was a little nervous–the competition is extremely tough, and many of the other students are in programs that are fanatically committed to winning and succeeding in sales and sales competitions,” Cox said. “For us to more than hold our own was extremely gratifying.”
In the simulation, the students are sales reps for Dell, the computer manufacturer. They are selling Dell Rugged Laptops to a fictional fire department.
Cox says the simulation allows students to get comfortable with the sales process, and with how typical sales calls and processes work, from opening a sales call to investigation/discovery to the presentation of solutions, objection handling and obtaining commitment from the buyer.
According to Cox, the role play allows students to practice anytime, anywhere, in a safe environment, where they can experiment to find what works and what doesn’t.
“This provides for a very steep learning curve, and allows students to quickly improve their selling skills and gain confidence in themselves,” Cox said.
Students gain a lot from taking part in the competitions, including a good understanding of the consultative selling process and the opportunity to develop critical selling skills, in addition to confidence in their abilities.
“I especially want them to learn how to ask good questions, listen carefully to buyers’ answers and use that information to demonstrate to the buyer the implications of acting, or not acting, and the benefits of the solutions the seller is offering,” Cox said
Earlier in the semester, sales students took part in the RNMKRS SpeedSell Competition, an elevator-pitch simulation.
In that exercise, nine out of 21 students scored in the top 25 percent, and three of them–Phillip Polson, Natalie Pinedo and Cameron Ragan–scored in the top ten percent. Prior to the competition, Ragan and Kishi Kimbrough had been named “Rising Stars” for having scored in the top five percent.
Pinedo and Ragan scored in the top ten percent in both competitions.
Key to success is coursework that aligns with industry best practices and the competition itself.
Cox and his colleagues have been organizing learning outcomes around the classic sales book and training methodology of “SPIN Selling,” which also forms the basis of the competition. The course met weekly via Zoom to discuss selling skill and how to utilize them in the virtual role play. Students offered feedback and shared tips with Cox and their classmates about what worked and what didn’t. Cox helped to walk them through this process.
“To see the direct connection between practice effort and performance is a great takeaway for the students,” Cox said.
IU Southeast can be proud of these outcomes, which confirm Cox’s sense that these students are acquiring both subject-matter acumen and an understanding of what it takes to excel.
“This tells me we’re on the right path, and that our students can compete with the very best sales programs out there,” Cox said. “It also shows that employers can be confident that graduates of the IUS southeast sales program have a good fundamental understanding of the consultative sales process, and a good foundational skill set that will allow them to learn quickly and experience early career success.”