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Marketing Professor Uses AI to Coach Sales Professionals

Higher ed institutions and employers have started using an AI-powered app called RNMKRS to give students and sales professionals a virtual environment to practice real-world conversations while receiving feedback.

Illustration of a robot wearing a headset and working on a laptop while surrounded by four chat bubbles with different people in each one. Light blue background.
While sales professionals often practice their pitches and conversational skills with customers on the job, the trial and error of on-the-job training can sometimes cost companies sales. To train a new generation of sales people, a marketing professor at Bryant University is leveraging the interactive potential of artificial intelligence to give sales professionals more practice and feedback before hitting the field.

According to Stefanie Boyer, Bryant professor and co-founder of RNMKRS, the app utilizes AI-driven natural language training to provide a virtual environment for students to sharpen their sales skills. She said the app, which was first conceived and launched in 2019, includes a College Sales Skills component with training programs for developing pitches and practicing sales exchanges with an animated customer-bot. The app also added a training program for advanced students last year dubbed Role Play Pro which puts students in more challenging sales scenarios.

Boyer said one of the main goals of the app is not only to give students a chance to practice, but to provide training at scale. She noted that sales managers and faculty alike often do not have time to thoroughly train students for sales pitches and prepare them for conversations with customers.

“You can think of it almost like an AI ‘batting cage,’” she said. “If you think about how much training really needs to happen before somebody’s ready to have that sales conversation, the research we’re looking at shows that in order to get significantly better at having conversations, you have to have about 30 of those conversations with that same buyer persona, that same kind of person, about the same product and about the same problem.

“Typically, sales managers and faculty at schools don’t have time to have 30 conversations and give feedback, and so what ends up happening is that salespeople are going out and practicing on the customers and that’s making them lose some of those deals.”

According to an email to Government Technology from RNMKRS, the app has been used by over 25,000 students and 70 schools. Boyer said that aside from students at Bryant University, the app has so far been used in sales-related courses at institutions such as Harvard University, Texas A&M University, Georgia Southern University, Eastern Kentucky University and Georgia State University, among others. She added that over the last year, the app has started working with companies to help train sales professionals at scale.

“One of the things I’ve heard from some of the students is it’s addicting to do the role plays, because [after] they go in and have the conversation, they get detailed feedback on exactly how that conversation went, their scores and what they need to do to improve,” she said, noting the positive response from students in her courses. “The trend we’re seeing is that students will go through and do three, four, five or maybe even 10 role plays in a row to practice.”

Noting the rapid development of generative AI and the recent rise of ChatGPT, as well as the development of AI-powered ed-tech tools marketed to colleges and universities generally, Boyer said RNMKRS plans to take advantage of advances in machine learning moving forward to further refine the app.

“Generative AI is generally a little bit faster and less expensive, however, right now, it’s just not quite there yet,” she said. “But we’re keeping our eye on it and our entire development team is working to understand how we can use [generative AI] to meet our standards.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.