Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication/Presentation Date

Fall 9-20-2016

City of Publication or Presentation

Providence, Rhode Island

Conference Name

Marketing Management Association 2016 Fall Educators' Conference.

Conference Location

Providence, Rhode Island


Producing what is often referred to as “career ready” graduates is a challenge that most business department faculty take seriously; after all, we are measured to some extent by the success of our students. As a faculty member with twenty-plus years of experience in competitive sales environments, I believe that it is essential to create roleplay personal selling situations for students that simulate what happens in the consultative sales environment. Providing students with realistic situations calls upon the student to perform at a higher level. It is my position that these role-plays provide the best learning outcomes when conducted with professional sales people versus the use of peers or faculty to facilitate the role play. As educators, we have a luxury that doesn’t exist in most professional settings. That luxury is in our purpose; we are here to develop career-ready business leaders. While this purpose is also true for sales training staff in their respective organizations, they have to do this without exposing their weaknesses. Corporate Sales Trainers cannot, in most cases, bring in one of their top clients and ask them to run role play practices with their new sales trainees. In the collegiate environment, many of those top clients are more than willing to do just that; they volunteer their time to help coach a sales student. Their reasons for doing so are likely quite varied, but regardless of motive, I’ve rarely had difficulty recruiting sales and buying professionals to serve as role-play partners for students. They want to give back; making a contribution is a strong motivator. While I will readily admit that I don’t use professional volunteer buyers in all of my classroom role play scenarios in my sales and marketing coursework, I have reached the conclusion that professional sales people as volunteers are essential to creating a more realistic role play situation. Mary Ellen Weimer in her book Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, states, “(this book) seeks to answer this question: What should teachers do to maximize learning outcomes for their students?” Specifically, as it relates to this topic, I concur with Weimer’s concept that “learner-centered teaching engages students in the hard, messy work of learning.” We need to help our students develop learning skills through personal practice. This situational instruction requires that the following stipulations be followed for the best possible outcome for student learning. These specifications include: selecting the most appropriate professional sales role-play volunteers, creating a case study that is robust enough, but is still easy to follow, and creating a simulation that closely replicates a consultative sales call. In the use of role plays, I believe that student learning maximizes by securing the best professional sales role play volunteers. It is important to find a professional sales person that will be generous with his/her time. Sadly, I’ve had some professionals that have wanted to help, but have then not completely “shown up” for the situation; while they may show up for the event, they’ve over extended themselves and spend the time distracted by what is happening in their lives. While this may be realistic for some sales call experiences, it doesn’t maximize the student’s learning. Also, you need a sales professional that is going to provide detailed and prolific feedback both verbally and in writing. Giving and receiving clear feedback is the “messy” part of learning, but individuals will not grow in their sales skills unless they get accurate and honest feedback. Finally, the sales professional needs to be nurturing. I’m not suggesting that they hold back in their feedback, but they need to be able to encourage and mentor the students – not necessarily beyond the role play, but at least for the time they spend with the student. All of these combined attributes of a professional sales role play volunteer provide a positive learning experience for the student. The second essential element of a strong professional sales role play scenario is to have a robust case study but to not make it overly complex. The important aspects of the case study include having a strong, but not excessively detailed background story. Digging into research to gain product knowledge such as the features, benefits, and

advantages of a product or service is essential learning for students on how to approach a sales call. As a part of the scenario, some conflict needs to be included as well; this can take many different forms as either an objection or a challenge, but this conflict helps students understand that uncovering the client’s “pain” will lead them to better understanding how to meet the clients’ needs. I have also had success with role play circumstances that are somewhat ambiguous. This ambiguity exists in real life sales situations, so helping students understand that they’re not going to have all the answers and that they will need to do some investigation in the form of both research and questions to the client are relevant to the learning outcomes. Finally, the final essential piece of an effective professional sales role play scenario is the creation of a simulated environment that closely replicates a sales call. There are several elements that I believe are important in this simulated environment. First, it is best if the professional sales person has not met the sales role play student before the role play. Not having a prior introduction creates a dynamic similar to that first sales call and places the responsibility of creating rapport in the hands of the student. Next, I think it’s best if no other students are in the room during the role play. It can be videotaped for shared learning later, but having a peer audience changes the dynamic of the situation, and it is a more realistic simulation if an audience is not present. Creating a realistic role play that puts the sales call experience into perspective will help students better understand their strengths and weaknesses as it relates to the sales process. Ultimately, some will argue that this is too much effort to go through to create a professional sales volunteer role play in each class. To not over tax my volunteers and to better utilize class time, I frequently set up many volunteers for the same class period. Also, I usually don’t rely on the same volunteer for more than one class. Following this plan of action puts the pressure on the instructor to develop a strong network of professional sales people. However, I would argue that the effort to present more opportunities for students to practice sales in this way will make a substantial difference in our student’s success in a commission-based sales career.


Weimer, M., 1947, & ebrary, I. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco;Palo Alto, Calif;: Jossey-Bass.

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