Students practiced and competed with artificial intelligence technology for RNMKRS competition.
Plymouth State University (PSU) recently won second place in a national collegiate sales competition, topping 58 other colleges and universities from across the country. Seventy students enrolled in PSU’s introduction to professional sales course participated in the November RNMKRS (pronounced “Rainmakers”) competition, using an artificial intelligence (AI) bot named Alex to both practice their sales techniques and to compete. Three PSU students placed in the top one percent among 2,100 collegiate competitors and 10 PSU students placed in the top 10 percent, improving the University’s results from its first effort in the 2019 competition.
“The PSU sales program earned a second-place rank, edging out schools with top business and marketing programs, because of the hard work and determination of all of our students,” said Robert Nadeau, MBA, Business Faculty, Plymouth State University. “Their success in the competition is a reflection of their enthusiasm for learning, ability to practically apply what they’ve learned, and the rigor of Plymouth State’s professional sales program.”
Other RNMKRS competitors included Boston College, California Polytechnic State University, Johnson & Wales University, Louisiana State University, Purdue University, Southern New Hampshire University, Texas A&M University, and University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Alex, the AI bot, is programmed to respond to students as they lead a mock sales meeting. This year’s competition scenario had students representing a technology company looking to sell equipment to a police department. Students ‘met’ with Alex, going through the steps of a sales call. Alex’s program graded each student based on his or her performance, and the institutions were then ranked based on their students’ results.
Although RNMKRS held its first competition in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic, its focus on artificial intelligence technology has allowed students to practice and compete while adhering to all relevant COVID safety protocols. PSU students logged more than 2,000 practice sessions over the course of the fall semester, while some students practiced 90 times – all virtually, from the comfort of their residence halls or homes.
“My sales class at Plymouth State gave me the hands-on experience I needed to prepare for the RNMKRS competition,” said PSU senior Brennin Loring, from Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, who placed 13th in the competition. “Throughout the semester, we practiced, observed and worked with each other to continuously improve. We are so proud that our hard work paid off with a second-place overall finish for Plymouth State.”
PSU started its professional sales program 10 years ago, and it is now the largest of its kind in the Northeast. More than 200 students are currently enrolled in sales courses, working to complete a minor or certificate through experiential coursework. Most students in the program have multiple job offers when they graduate. PSU is also the only university in the country with a medical sales certificate, helping students prepare for success in a highly regulated sales environment.
“The competition gave our students an opportunity to put the rapport-building, discovery, presentation and objection-handling skills they learned in class to the test,” said Nadeau. “These skills help to set PSU students apart in a competitive job market, as only about 150 schools nationwide teach professional sales. Our students are able to jump into professional environments and quickly make positive impacts.”