By Michael Smith
Apr 29, 2020
What do professors Ricky Fergurson and David Fleming of the Scott College of Business have in common? Aside from their passion for sales and negotiation, these two professors share a drive to help students better themselves, and their potential for real world success.
The Sales and Negotiations Center (SNC) is one of the shining programs of the Scott College of Business that serves as a hub of connections between the students who attend, the industry that they hope to work in and the academics that will help them get there. It is the belief of Fleming and Fergurson that whether or not the students themselves realize it, they will all have to deal in sales one day. They went on to explain, that whether it’s actual selling of products, selling your ideas to your superior in a pitch, or even just selling yourself to a company during an interview; the art of selling is one that everyone can benefit from, and when sharpened, becomes a wonderful tool to have. The professors try to teach life skills through their lessons in selling and negotiating. They pit student with student in role-plays, exercises that have the students acting as though they are in a certain position trying to obtain something from the other student. These experiential learning pieces provide valuable insights into each student’s strengths and weaknesses and offer potential for immediate feedback by the professors as well as other students.
The two professors work alongside a consortium of 55 other schools in the University Sales Center Alliance that all have formalized sales programs that share resources and best practices, as well as create a set of high standards for all accredited programs to follow. They are also a part of two other organizations: The Direct Selling Education Foundation and the Sales Education Foundation. All three of these groups help to provide students with resources and opportunities that they wouldn’t regularly have access to otherwise.
Another extremely important piece of the Sales and Negotiations Center is competitions. The SNC has the students in the sales courses compete in various competitions at Indiana State and around the country that teach them how to sell in a high stakes situation. Some examples of these are: the elevator pitch competition, the speed selling competition, the reverse career fair, and more; all of which involve evaluation and feedback from corporate professionals. Perhaps the best example of this experiential learning is the RNMKRS Virtual Sales Competition. Pronounced ‘rain makers’, the RNMKRS competition is a selling competition that is nationwide. The students in the competition get a chance to sell to an AI. This AI, or artificial intelligence, uses machine learning to adapt and act just like an actual buyer for the students, they speak to it, try to build rapport with it, perform a needs analysis, do a sales presentation, and eventually, try to close a sale. In the fall of 2019, an Indiana State student, Sullivan’s own Kenadi Hollis, won first place out of 1,509 participants from 40 schools in the inaugural RNMKRS competition. This semester, there were 49 schools and over 1,400 participants in the competition. On April 20, 2020 Hunter Dively became Indiana State’s second winner of the RNMKRS virtual sales competition making Indiana State students the winners of the first two RNMKRS competitions ever. Talk about real life experience!
These professors also aim to give students opportunities to network with those working in sales, and have their questions about what a career in sales entails answered. This comes in the form of Coffee Corners and networking dinners. Coffee Corners see a corporate partner of the SNC come to Indiana State for a few hours to meet with students informally to talk, or answer questions that students might have about careers, their company or sales in general. This allows students to come and go if they have time and hopefully learn more about companies they have interest in, or the ‘real world’ of business as a whole.
Finally, it would be remiss to not mention the Sales and Negotiations Center’s sales competition team. The team currently consists of five members who travel across the country competing against other schools. They sell to live buyers who know their product intimately because they are sales reps for the products being used in the competition. This gives students a chance to showcase their abilities to an actual company, thus the students are selling themselves to the companies at the same time. The companies use objections to products that the students are selling that they would actually receive in the field and then watch closely how the students handle those objections. In this way, the competitions are based around actual things that could arise in the field, thus giving the students valuable lessons that they can carry with them into the future.
Recently, however, the focus for Fleming and Fergurson has been devoting time to the online transition. They wanted to be certain they could minimize the amount of disruption in the learning environment as much as possible. They want it to feel as though students are still at school so they don’t check out. They’ve done this by attempting to keep the syllabus as similar as it was prior to the transition, not adding other work, nor cancelling everything, simply keeping things as similar as possible with the obviously required adjustments. The students still have role-plays, the professors still hold class, and they attempt to be as available as possible for the students should they have any questions or concerns during this time. I, personally have a class with both of the professors and I can confirm that they truly do care and want their students to succeed on a real world level. Their willingness to help and to advise students through this time has been invaluable and will be something for which I personally am always grateful.