Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, associate professor of sales and marketing Dr. Cindy Rippé planned two professional sales competitions for her students. However, with the shift to online instruction, a new plan needed to be put in place.
On November 12, 2019, the first ever RNMKRS Virtual Sales Competition took place. During the event, 1,500 students at more than 40 colleges and universities participated.
Developed by Bryant University professor Dr. Stefanie Boyer, BrandGames president and CEO Scott Randall and Kelly’s Run CEO Kevin Kelly, RNMKRS utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning to simulate and score interactions between a human participant and an AI bot. The participants have the opportunity to practice their selling skills, receive a score and experience bias-free feedback to help the participant improve. The bot developers refer to this patent-pending technology as an Interpersonal Communications Engine – or ICE for short. ICE is similar to that of Siri or Alexa but with an animated character which provides responses in real time. The feedback is detailed and provides response on success, areas of improvement and performance as compared to other players. All of this is completed through interactions with the virtual customer, Alex, via the RNMKRS mobile app.
With the success of the first event last November, RNMKRS offered its second event and first spring competition in mid-April of this year – perfect timing given the shift to online instruction in colleges and universities around the world.
Dr. Cindy Rippé saw this as an opportunity. In this new assignment, students participated in the spring RNMKRS competition – practicing selling with their mobile phones, learning new products and developing new probing questions.
“As a sales educator, I teach my students to be resilient and to find a way to persevere through every obstacle. I teach adaptive selling and flexibility,” said Dr. Rippé. “I am extremely proud of how they have adapted to this new assignment.”
From the class, two students placed in the top 20 out of 1,495 competitors from 49 colleges and universities – Seth Burruss (12th place) and Mary Veazey (14th place).
The AI bot, Alex, was an informed buyer, which made the sales process, from discovery to presentation, simple, Burruss said. While he enjoyed the experience, Burruss noted it was occasionally awkward.
“While presenting, I couldn’t help but laugh when he responded with ‘Whoa,’ as he leaned back in his virtual chair, threw his hands up and exclaimed, ‘Too much talking – too much talking,’” said Burruss. “If this was a real competition, I would have to maintain my composure, but since I was not holding the button to record my voice, I was able to laugh and it gave me a chance to be more measured in my response.”
UNG student Brandon Jordan agreed.
“We are starting to see artificial intelligence (AI) in all areas of our life – in-person interviews, order taking, and more,” said Jordan. “The AI was responsive to our questions and had set responses for specific keywords we would use. It was a new and exciting learning experience for me and all of my classmates.”