This spring Bryant University’s sales students proved that they can make a deal with anyone – even a machine. For more than 80 Bryant competitors the RNMKRS Virtual Sales Competitionwas a chance to test themselves against the best, familiarize themselves with a brand new way of doing business, and set themselves up for success in a crowded job market.
More than 1,300 students from 49 sales programs around the world competed in the first-of-its-kind competition, which used both artificial intelligence and distance learning to create an entirely new competitive experience. Bryant students found themselves in the unusual position of employing their sales skills and critical thinking to make a connection with an intelligent machine, which required them to stretch their brains in new directions.
Embracing new ways to teach and learn is increasingly important in a rapidly-changing, technology-driven future, says RNMKRS co-founder Stefanie Boyer, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Marketing and Director of the Northeast Intercollegiate Sales Competition. “If you're not constantly adapting and innovating, then you're going to get left behind - and that's especially true when it comes to sales,” she notes. “Our students are counting on us to be innovative in order to provide them with the best education.”
For Marketing student Caitlin McCosh ’20, the competition was an ideal way to practice innovation. “The RNMKRS competition helped prepare us for the challenges we’ll face as the world shifts, and taught us how to how to adapt,” she says. “When they get out into their careers and are asked to work on a new project or new opportunity, Bryant students can raise their hands and say ‘I can do this.’”
“We used everything we learned in the classroom, every skill set. And we also learned how to adapt those skills for new situations.”
Through the competition, which uses the RNMKRS phone app, students role play the entire sales process with an artificially intelligent bot that listens, adapts, and responds to their decisions. Over the course of the virtual sales meeting, RNMKRS gives feedback about what they can tweak or improve to perfect their pitch. At the conclusion of the session, they are scored on their communication skills and performance, and are provided with detailed feedback.
It’s a great way to build empathy and hone sales skills – and students can practice from anywhere, which was especially valuable as they adjusted to Covid-19-required online learning. “When it comes to sales, you can't just know the theory, you really have to practice and learn how to apply what you’ve learned,” says Boyer. “The more you practice and train, the better you’ll be when it counts.”
Competitors role played as members of the sales team for Dell Technologies, which partnered with the competition to provide students with important information and insight. They were charged with selling the company’s Rugged Series laptops to a bot playing the role of “Alex Taylor,” an IT manager for a Texas police station.
“Sales is a competitive field. You have to be able to persevere and push yourselves as hard you can.”
The competition was fully integrated into the coursework of several Bryant sales courses, and let the students experiment with applying their classroom knowledge to a real-world scenario. “We used everything we learned in the classroom, every skill set,” says Erik Weiss ’20, who finished 11th in the competition. “And we also learned how to adapt those skills for new situations.”
RNMKRS’ different approach to sales also the students see their studies from a new angle. “It’s an entirely different way of thinking about selling,” McCosh notes. “It makes you completely reexamine how you approach the selling process.”
Turning the lessons into a competition added an important edge, says James Burris ’20 who was awarded 18th place in the competition. “Sales is a competitive field. You have to be able to persevere and push yourselves as hard you can.” He notes that RNMKRS let Bryant students benchmark themselves against some of the best sales students in the country.
As both their professor and faculty mentor for the competition, Boyer aided her pupils in developing new insights and achieving new heights. “She was there to guide us, encourage us, and give us the tools we need to succeed,” says McCosh. “She cares so much about her field and helping her students succeed that it drives us to do better.”
“I don’t think there are too many people in the sales industry who can say they’ve had the experience we’ve had.”
The competition also had other benefits for students, beyond the skills they acquired. “Being part of a competition like RNMKRS is a clear differentiator for students,” says Boyer. “It gives them experience with technology, with sales training, with artificial intelligence. It's also a resume booster. They can present themselves as a leader in innovation and technology.” She also notes that it helps students build their networks and make important connections
Burris sees his RNMKRS experience as an asset as he interviews for positions in his field. “Being part of the RNMKRS competition definitely gave me more confidence, and I know now that I can show employers what I bring,” he says.
“It took us out of all of our comfort zones, but I think that really helped us,” agrees Weiss, who will be joining Dell as an FDP Analyst after graduation. “I don’t think there are too many people in the sales industry who can say they’ve had the experience we’ve had.”