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Selling And Sales Management Assignment Questions

ASSIGNMENTS/EXERCISES/PROJECTS:

Castleberry, Stephen B. (1990), “An In-Basket Exercise for Sales Courses,” Marketing Education Review, 1 (1), 51-55.

The author presents an in-basket for use in the sales class that simulates those used in assessment centers. This exercise is based on those found in organizations hiring college graduates for sales positions.

Students are given the exercise immediately before starting; similar to assessment centers, this activity works best when unseen beforehand. Sufficient desk space is required, and a full class period is needed. Students are instructed to complete the exercise in silence, without asking questions. Although the exercise is not graded, students are encouraged to take it seriously. After 40 minutes, students are instructed to stop working. Post activity, the instructor discusses the role of assessment centers in hiring and/or promoting salespeople and sales managers, and gives tips on how students can excel in such activities.

The author discusses both benefits and challenges associated with this activity. An example of the in-basket instructions is included in the article; interested readers are encouraged to contact the author for more details. Note that a commentary by Thomas N. Ingram accompanies this article.

Chapman, Joseph D. and Ramon A. Avila (1991), “Sales Training for Students: An Experiential Approach,” Marketing Education Review, 1 (2), 54-59.

The authors present a method for adding an experiential element to the professional selling class. The authors argue that the traditional lecture and role play format fails to provide students with a complete understanding of the overall sales process, and proposed adding actual sales calls to the class to overcome this gap in student learning.

The steps in the sales process are covered early in the semester. In class role-playing is introduced during the “approach” chapter of the textbook and continues throughout the semester. Exams assess student knowledge of information covered in the lectures. Finally, the students participate in a live selling experience.

The specific process breakdown is as follows. First, students are divided into groups of three-to-five, with a four-person group being optimal. Next, the organization partner speaks to the class about the project and the sales objectives. Each group develops a prospect list along with a sales portfolio outlining features and benefits which is subsequently graded and returned by the instructor. Each group then prepares a sales call plan, which again is evaluated and returned by the instructor. Ultimately students use the sales portfolio to make sales calls.

In addition to the above-mentioned steps, each student gives a sales presentation that is recorded. Each group turns in a final report that outlines feelings about the program, experiences, etc. Finally, group peer assessments are completed. The authors discuss student assessment in detail and provide thorough examples of past projects. Advantages and disadvantages are also discussed.

Doyle, Stephen X. and Kurt Engemann (1992), “How to Teach a Marketing Case About a Supplier Changing its Selling Strategy from Transactional to Relationship,” Marketing Education Review, 2 (1), 41-44.

This article focuses on a specific case used at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, titled “Rx for Increased Sales” and developed by the authors. After recommending several readings on relationship selling, the authors provide case preparation questions, excerpts from the case, and exhibits regarding differences between transactional and relationship selling. A board plan for the two-class case discussion also is provided, along with a recommended post-case lecture. Additional information is provided to students for the second day of class; student groups then present during class, and a post-presentation lecture is suggested.

Dunn, Dan T., Jr., and Keith B. Murray (1992), “Problem-Solution and Consultative Selling Exercise: Simplifying Complex Buying and Selling Behavior,” Marketing Education Review, 2 (3), 28-38.

The authors introduce an exercise to facilitate student understanding of a more complex selling process. After an in-class lecture on consultative selling, a problem-solution grid based on a specific market scenario is introduced to students. This 2 x 2 matrix allows students to categorize current buyer knowledge based on “problem-need expertise” (high/low) and “product-solution expertise” (high/low). This process is repeated with the seller as the focal point. A comparison of buyer and seller need and solution expertise allows the student to develop an appropriate sales strategy. Students work in groups, in class, to complete the exercise. After student groups have finished the activity, the class is brought back together for a short discussion of results. This process is repeated for both the buyer and seller, separately. The authors provide sufficient detail and appendices to allow for easy implementation by interested instructors.

Good, David J. and Cathy Owens Swift (1996), “A Coaching Exercise in the Sales Management Class,” Marketing Education Review, 6 (3), 73-83. *FREE ACCESS*

The authors take role playing to the next level by proposing a coaching exercise for the sales management class.  After a quick review of the coaching literature, the authors present the details of the coaching exercise.

The goals of the exercise are twofold: (1) teach students sales management skills, i.e., observation, employee management and assessment, and personal development; and (2) provide a realistic job preview. Toward this end, each student in the sales management class watches a videotaped sales call.  Next, that student visits with that salesperson to coach on call performance. The content of the recorded sales call can be changed to vary the type of coaching required.

Both instructors and students bear significant responsibilities to prepare for this activity. Instructors must develop the role play, create a specific buyer-seller history, provide performance objectives, provide information on previous coaching sessions with this salesperson, create the videotaped sales call, develop criteria for a successful vs. unsuccessful sales call, grade the coaching session, and provide feedback to students.  Students must evaluate salesperson performance, assess the buyer-seller relationship and evaluate past buyer behavior, prepare the outcomes of this buyer-seller interaction with previous coaching, assess performance on criteria, prepare documentation and comments, perform the role play, and demonstrate coaching techniques.

Alternative methodologies are offered, including using student sales manager-salesperson pairs for the role play.  Detailed sample materials are provided to assist instructors.  Challenges and benefits for students are discussed.

Hawes, Jon M. and Linda M. Foley (2006), “Building Skills with Professional Activity Reports,” Marketing Education Review, 16 (1), 35-40.

After a quick review of the skills sought by employers, the authors present a skill-based class activity: Professional Activity Reports (PARs).  PARs specifically address professional involvement, oral presentation, and written communication skills, and are experiential in nature.

Students are asked to pick two activities from a menu of items, such as attending a professional meeting or event, conducting a personal interview with a sales professional, shadowing a sales representative for a day, summarizing a sales journal article, or watching a sales-themed movie (e.g., Tommy Boy).  Students then prepare a report that outlines that activity and relates it to class concepts.

After completing the activity and written report, students present their findings in class. The written and oral communication skills demanded by employers are developed, and students to think like professionals as they are exposed to the ‘real world.’

Using a menu of activities makes it easier for students to complete the assignment; for example, not all students would have access to a sales professional.  Additional, students gain a sense of control and responsibility as they choose and set up the activity.  Prospecting and cold calling skills can be developed, as can interpersonal skills.

The authors present empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of the projects.  An analysis of grades across the first and second PAR, over an 11-year period, reveals a significant increase in grades earned.  Additionally, a review of student comments from teaching evaluations suggest the exercise has been received positively by students.

Disadvantages of this activity include the amount of class time devoted to oral presentations and the grading required. Instructors are also encouraged to consider professional liability issues.

McDonald, Robert E. and Joseph M. Derby (2015), “Active Learning to Improve Presentation Skills: The use of Pecha Kucha in Undergraduate Sales Management Classes,” Marketing Education Review, 25 (1), 21-25.

The authors present the Pecha Kucha method (Beyer 2011) as a new means to develop students’ presentation skills. Pecha Kucha is a Japanese term meaning ‘chit chat’ or ‘lightening talk.’ Essentially, students learn how to present 20 slides in six minutes 40 seconds, or 20 seconds per slide. Rather than using bulleted text, the content of the slides in the Pecha Kucha method is visual representation of ideas (pictures, graphs, etc.).

The Pecha Kucha assignment includes three components: preparation, execution, and assessment. To prepare, students were given dates to present, along with a topic and links to information on Pecha Kucha.

To execute the assignment in class while at the same time maximize learning time, students sent the slides in advance. Slides had to be set to advance automatically, every 20 seconds, and the use of note cards was discouraged. To accommodate all students, the time allocated for each presentation was 3 minutes, 20 seconds (10 slides).

Assessment includes pre- and post-surveys of student perceptions. Grading rubrics were used to assess presentations, and a content analysis was conducted on the reflection papers. Finally, student exam grades were analyzed. Students’ responses to the surveys were positive; however, examination scores were not affected significantly.

Milewicz, Chad (2012), “The Commission Game: An Ethics Activity for Professional Selling Courses,” Marketing Education Review, 22 (1), 45-50.

The author proposes an experiential method for teaching sales students about ethical behavior. Specifically, he presents the Commission Game as an effective method for teaching ethics. Identified learning objectives include ensuring that students understand their personal codes of ethics, as well as how their decisions are affected by deontological and teleological evaluations.

In the game, students make one decision: buy or sell. That decision has shared risks and rewards for students, as well as consequences for other actors (e.g., customers). The author provides nine steps to use the game in class: (1) the instructor asks students to reflect on their own personal moral codes; (2) the class discusses an ethical framework and the ethical dilemmas faced by salespeople; (3) the instructor provides a realistic ethical scenario to get buy-in from students; (4) the instructor explains to students the potential outcomes of various choices; (5) students are required to take ownership of their choices; (6) students reflect on the choice made; (7) students relate their decision to the ethical framework; (8) students reflect on ethics in sales; and (9) the instructor relays the results and the commissions earned.

Neeley, Concha R. and Kenneth S. Cherry (2010), “Zero to 60 in One Semester: Using an Applied Advanced Selling Project to Build a Professional Sales Program,” Marketing Education Review, 20 (2), 123-129.

The authors present a project for the advanced selling course that can result in sales program growth. The goal of the project is to help students across campus understand the career-related benefits of a sales minor; as well as create a selling-based team project for the advanced selling class.

Students are divided into teams; each team is assigned a prospect to contact. This prospect is in a discipline outside the College of Business, with each team receiving a different discipline to target. The objective of the project is to have student teams work through the entire sales process, from cold calling to presenting and closing. Prior to delivering the presentation, each team meets with the faculty prospect twice to gather information and develop an understanding of needs.

To determine project effectiveness, data were collected from (1) faculty via survey, and (2) students via end-of-semester feedback.  After the semester ended, the sales program grew from zero to 60 students. This, combined with evidence from the surveys and feedback, suggest the project was successful.  Challenges and issues for consideration are reviewed.

Peterson, Robin T. and Andrew Melendrez Stapleton (1995), “Life History Study for the Personal Selling Class,” Marketing Education Review, 5 (3), 51-56.

The authors argue the need for salespeople to develop a unique style that capitalizes on strengths, and propose the life history method as a method for developing this style.  The method is as follows:

1. Students are provided a written, complete life history of a successful salesperson, from childhood to adulthood;
2. Students explore the life history to identify (a) success factors contributing to success; (b) techniques and principles contributing to success; and (c) how the students can apply what was learned;
3. Each student writes a short paper addressing these questions;
4. Students are divided into groups to discuss the life history and reach consensus answers to the questions addressed in the paper;
5. Student groups report the findings to the class.

The authors conducted an assessment to determine the efficacy of the life history method as compared to other techniques used in class. The life history method ranked second behind role playing for the questions “how much did I learn,” “how valuable was this method for future job success,” and “how much did this method interest you in a personal selling career?” Life history ranked first on the question “how much did this method motivate you to achieve?”  Benefits of the method are discussed, and an example of a life history is provided.

Rippé, Cindy B. (2015), “Show and Sell: Teaching Sales through Hands-On Selling,” Marketing Education Review, 25 (1), 15-19.

The goal of this project is to provide students with actual sales experience. Students were required to sell chocolate bars. Bars were sold to two groups: Consumers and businesses. Separate quotas were set for each group. Prior to starting the live sales experience, students were exposed to the sales process in class.

Post-project survey results support the effectiveness of the project. Additionally, the class raised $2200.00, which subsequently was donated to a scholarship fund in the College of Business. Challenges and concerns are also discussed.

Weeks, Williams A., Marc Filton and Gilberto Luna (1997), “Enhancing Sales Skills and Cultural Awareness: An International Competition Approach,” Marketing Education Review, 7 (2), 67-73.

The authors present the North American Sales Cup Competition, a role play event spanning two days. This event accomplishes two goals: developing (1) student sales skills, and (2) cultural awareness.  After reviewing the relevant literature on the use of role plays, the authors discuss the need for students to develop cultural awareness and the value of building that awareness via an experiential learning approach. Next, the specific details of the North American Sales Cup Competition (NASC) are described.

The NASC involves a collaboration between three universities: one in the U.S., one in Mexico, and one in Canada (French-Canadian), with the location of the competition rotating between the three universities. Case information was provided to students one week in advance.

The first two years of the competition are discussed. The first year involved an individual role play with a buyer, followed by a team role play with three-member teams comprised of one student from each university. In year two, students ‘sold’ in their native language the first day, and in a foreign language or via interpreter the second day. The competition also featured opening receptions and an awards dinner.

Benefits of this competition, as described by the authors, include job offers for students, an understanding of sales in an international environment, and an increase in cultural awareness for both students and faculty. Recommendations are offered for faculty considering such an approach.

Williams, Jacqueline A. and Kathryn Dobie (2011), “Electronic Reverse Auctions: Integrating an E-Sourcing Tool into a Sales and Purchasing Cross-Course Negotiation Project,” Marketing Education Review, 21 (1), 35-42.

The authors present a semester-long project that integrates electronic reverse auction technology with a negotiation activity. After reviewing the importance of student understanding of electronic reverse auctions within the context of sales and purchasing, the authors present the project, including a detailed discussion of learning goals.

The project incorporates a variety of pedagogies. In-class lecture and discussion over the course of the semester set the foundation for student knowledge. Support is provided from guest speakers. Experiential exercises allow students to apply what they have learned. For example, purchasing students develop Request for Quotes (RFQs), and sales students respond to RFQs. Similarly, negotiation in-class exercises allow students to develop their negotiation skills.

Four research papers allow students to explore concepts more fully, and reflection papers enhance experiential learning. Other project elements include a reverse auction workshop and a “live” reverse auction.

To facilitate the project, a purchasing course was paired with a sales course. The authors worked with RFQ Hosting, a reverse auction software provided.  The software facilitated the live auction experience. Pre- and post-project assessment suggest student learning improved significantly, and that the project was viewed positively.  Considerations for instructors are highlighted.

Young, Joyce A. and Jon M. Hawes (2013), “Using Sales Management Students to Manage Professional Selling Students in an Innovative Active Learning Project,” Marketing Education Review, 23 (1), 37-42.

The authors discuss a unique educational innovation in which students from a professional selling class serve as the sales representatives for a scholarship fund-raising golf outing, and students from the sales management class managed the “reps.” The overall goal of the 16-week-long project was to reinforce class concepts via applied learning.

After instructors prepared students appropriately by covering sales and/or sales management concepts, the classes came together. Each student sales manager covered three “territories” and conducted interviews to “hire” sales representatives. This was followed by manager-led sales training and role plays. Ultimately, sales representatives moved into the field, with managers accompanying them on a number of calls. Sales meetings and one-to-one meetings were also conducted, and incentive programs designed. Sales representatives engaged in activities to meet behavioral and output quotas. The class ended with performance evaluations and a reflection paper.

Student evaluations of teaching suggest this format was more effective than a traditional lecture-type class. Limitations include the amount of instructor time required.

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In my previous post, I talked about the top 10 interview questions to use in your sales hiring process.

In this post, we’re going to look at three homework assignments you can give to potential sales hires to help you determine if they’re a good fit for your business.

You can only get so much information out of questions. Putting potential sales hires in practical situations to see how they act—and not what they say—is when you’ll learn the most about their talents and truly discover what they’re capable of.

Here are three simple yet powerful and practical tests that you can give your potential sales hires to uncover whether they’ll be a good addition to your sales team.

Want more tips on getting better at hiring top sales reps? Download a free copy of the Sales Hiring Playbook!

 

Let’s take a look.

1. Ask them to sell you something

When people show up to interviews, they’re dressed perfectly. They smile perfectly. Every strand of hair is perfectly in place. They walk and talk like a salesperson.

By the first look, you’re probably impressed and you might think, “If I feel like this, then our prospects and customers will be impressed, too.”

Often, this could not be further from the truth.

I’ve seen a lot of people who’ve sailed through the interview process. They’ve nailed every single question. Charmed the entire room. Said all the right things. But the moment you put them in a realistic sales situation? Complete meltdown.

That’s why asking them to pitch you something will help you find out if they’re more than just talk.

What should they pitch you?

  • The previous product they were selling. See how they act selling something they’re experienced in and have extensive knowledge about.
  • Your product. They might not have a full understanding of your product, but you want to see how they navigate the conversation when they don’t know everything about what they’re selling.

Ask them to sell you something in a way that fits your sales process. This could be an in-person sales conversation or a mock call. You can do this one-on-one or raise the stakes and do it in front of the entire team.

Here at Close.io, we do mock calls right in the middle of the office, in front of the entire team. It adds to the existing pressure and you’ll see how they handle the heat and the feeling of being judged.

This is a test to see what they’re made of, right on the sales floor. Do they like the challenge and rise to the occasion? Or do they crash and burn?

Create a realistic sales scenario

You don’t want to make it as difficult as possible, you just want to make it as realistic as possible. That means creating a scenario that fits your sales process and the way your sales team works and see how they do.

Things to take into consideration:

  • What’s their energy like?
  • What’s their body language like?
  • How do they talk?
  • How do they structure the conversation?
  • What kind of questions do they ask?

At the end, give them one thing you want them to improve or change. Then do the whole thing again. Be the same person and say almost the same things. All you want to see is if they took your feedback and made those changes. You want to know if this person is coachable.

You can start off easy and increase the level of difficulty throughout the conversation to get a sense of how experienced this person is and how they deal under pressure. Be really tough just to see what their natural reaction is. Will they have a nervous breakdown or pass with flying colors?

At the end of the exercise, will they ask you for feedback? Did they see this as a learning experience or are they not happy with you? You can tell a lot about a person based on their energy and you’ll get a good sense of their character once the exercise is over.

2. Write a cold email to a potential prospect

Even if cold emails are not a part of your sales process, it’s a great exercise for potential sales hires.

Explain who your ideal customer is, explain your product, then tell your candidate they’ve got 30 minutes to do the following:

  • Research a company that fits the ideal customer profile
  • Find a person within that company to contact
  • Write an email to that person
  • Provide an analysis of why they chose that company, that person and why the wrote the email the way they did
  • Send the email to you as if you were the prospect

This is a great exercise to uncover a few things:

  • Do they understand who your customer is?
  • Do they understand your market?
  • Are they strategic in the way they communicate?
  • Are they able to analyze themselves?

This simple exercise will tell you a lot about what type of person they are, what kind of experience they have and what their ability and talent for this job is.

Even if you don’t do cold emails, your salespeople will have to communicate with your prospects and customers in a written format. If they’re really good at it, it will be a huge plus.

3. Call your competitors

Tell your potential sales hire to do a little bit of research to find out who you’re competing with. Alternatively, give them a list of your top five competitors.

Tell them to look at their products, sign up for a trial, request a demo and get on a phone call with them.

Tell them to ask as many questions as possible to learn as much as possible about the product. What features do they offer? Who buys from them? Why does their pricing look the way it does? Then ask them to come back with a summary of what they learned.

This is an exercise that’ll familiarize them with the competition, but it will also help you see how good they are at asking questions. How good are they at being a prospect?

If you don’t know how to be a prospect, you don’t know how to be a good salesperson.

Here’s an example.

If one of the competitors says “We’re really exciting about releasing a new feature in three months”, your potential sales hire should ask:

  • Why are you building this feature?
  • Did your customers ask for it?
  • Why are you launching it in three months?
  • Why didn’t you build this earlier?
  • What’s the purpose of this feature?
  • Which pricing plan will this be on?
  • What’s the UX/UI like?

The information they bring back to you has to go beyond, “They’re doing X.” You need to make sure you know why. Did they ask these questions or do they not know?

If they’re not in the habit of asking follow-up questions and going as far as they possibly can in their quest for information, they’re not going to be great at sales.

When they present you with all this data, ask them: “How do you think we relate to all these companies?”

Because if they talk to a prospect and that prospect asks, “How do you compare to company X?” They need to be able to present this information to them in a way that puts you ahead of the competition. You want to see how they think about the entire market.

These are three exercises that’ll help you uncover a ton of information about potential sales hires.

There are other things you can do that are less explicit, but still action-based tests that’ll help you evaluate your sales candidates.

Here are a few things:

  • Give them feedback throughout the day and see if they change and adjust based on your advice. Are they capable of learning and are they capable of learning fast?
  • How much are they driving the interview process versus relying on you to drive it? Will they ask for next steps? Will they ask for feedback? Will they ask questions or just say thank you and be on their way? This is a great way to see if someone will proactively ask for the next step instead of waiting for you to tell them. If they’re not going for the close for their own job, it’s unlikely they will close deals for your business. The follow-up is the most important thing in sales. If they don’t have the follow-up hustle, then things don’t look good.

Try these three simple exercises during your sales hiring process and let me know how it goes.

Want more tips on hiring great sales reps? Download a free copy of my Sales Hiring Playbook!

Recommended reading:

Top 10 interview questions in sales hiring
Struggling to figure out what you should you ask during a sales interview to find the perfect hire? These are the top 10 questions you should be asking.

My startup hiring interview hack: Why? Why? Why?
A simple strategy to x-ray through the bullshit answers applicants give you and get real insights into what makes them tick.

Hiring for startups: How to recruit the un-recruitable!
How do you find high-performers? And how to make them want to join your team? Here's some unconventional startup recruiting and hiring advice ...

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