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NIU Sales, RNMKRS and something like BB8

June 22, 2020

Nearly 75 NIU sales students from the Department of Marketing found themselves competing in a RNMKRS Dell Technology Virtual Sales Competition in the spring 2020 semester, just as life turned itself upside down around the world. Bryant University hosted the event, drawing 1,600 students from more than 40 universities from New England to Florida to Illinois to Texas to California.

This first-ever virtual, mobile selling skills competition was developed by the RNMKRS Faculty Alliance of leading educators, Dell Technologies training executives and developers from 3 countries. RNMKRS originally launched the event in Fall 2019. It was so well received it now runs in both the fall and spring semesters.  

The competition is as far removed from a typical TEAMS meeting as you can get. Instead of interacting virtually with others, the students engaged in the sales process with a client made up entirely of 0s and 1s.  And while artificial intelligence the likes of BB8 in Star Wars is cute without question, the majority of the sales students had no idea what they would encounter when they communicated with a piece of interactive code. They had no idea what, if any, language barriers might pop up, how many loops of reasoning might be unspooled, or what other issues might arise.  

“The students had first-hand exposure to virtual selling and to thinking on their feet,” said the NIU Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Sales Rob Peterson. “They were forced to adapt on the spot in order to engage in problem solving with artificial intelligence. And they did great! It was a fun day for NIU. Four of our students placed in the top 25.” 

The four NIU students are Sean Duffy who placed 4th, Paulina Ramirez who placed 15th, Jorie Pelafas who placed 23rd and Christoph Koeninger who placed 25th.  Along with their major programs, all four students were in the process of earning their sales certificate from the NIU Professional Sales Center. 

“The RNMKR sales competition platform is an outstanding outlet to develop and test your sales skills,” Duffy said. “Each competitor is instructed to study the Dell Rugged Laptop line and uncover the specific features that the customer is looking for. This competition really emphasizes your ability to listen, respond, and empathize.” 

Students use the voice technology on their phones to have fully contextual conversations with the customer bot as they try to win his trust and educate him on their product line of laptop computers. The customer bot listens, adapts and responds as the students go through the sales call.

“During these difficult times, RNMKRS came through with an exciting and challenging experience that I’m glad I was part of,” Ramirez added. “Participating in the professional selling program at Northern Illinois University helped me develop the needed sales skills and mentality to make this an experience I could learn from.”  

RNMKRS is an industry group that focuses on improving sales and communications by leveraging technology. The overall goal of their Virtual Sales Competition is to help students learn how to communicate more effectively – particularly in the face of the unknown. RNMKRS founders believeffective communication requires practice…a contention Peterson wholeheartedly agrees with.  

Along with the distinction of holding a named professorship in the NIU College of Business, Peterson was among the group of original advisors to RNMKRS when they developed this event. He has also won a number of awards from a variety of industry associations, among them outstanding teaching awards from the American Marketing Association, the Marketing Management Association, and the University Sales Center Alliance to name a few. 

The NIU Professional Sales Center in the Department of Marketing in the College of Business continues to earn top accolades on a national level for its activities in and out of the classroom. Some of these include the program’s Sales on Wheels initiative which brings students face to face with C-suite executives in their corporate headquarters, the program’s Sales Advisory Board with membership that includes top sales professionals from a number of industries and companies around the country, as well as the many conferences and competitions — like the RNMKRS Virtual Sales Competition – where NIU sales professors and students continue to make an impact, virtually and in reality.