ENHANCING PERSONAL SELLING SKILL OF MANAGEMENT STUDENTS THROUGH EXPERIENTIAL L by iaemedu

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									International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online),
  INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT (IJM)
Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013)

ISSN 0976-6502 (Print)
ISSN 0976-6510 (Online)                                                            IJM
Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013), pp. 193-199
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        ENHANCING PERSONAL SELLING SKILL OF MANAGEMENT
            STUDENTS THROUGH EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING

                                      Dr. Girish Taneja
    (Professor & HOD – School of Business), Lovely Professional University, Phagwara (Punjab)
                                           Abhisek Dutta
              (Assistant Professor), Lovely Professional University, Phagwara (Punjab)
                                          Rajan Girdhar
             (Assistant Professor), Desh Bhagat University, Mandi Gobindgarh (Punjab)


ABSTRACT

        The paper highlights need of experiential learning for university students in the courses on
Sales and/ or Marketing Management. The students worked on a real time project in order to “Know-
by-Doing” and they were required to sell chosen products in order to learn the personal selling skills.
Though, this approach had been a real challenge for students but without this, they may not learn real
essence of this course in regular lecture-based classes. The insights gained by students have been
stupendous for their understanding of sales management, per se, sales pitching, follow-up,
negotiating, product knowledge and closing sales. Meanwhile, the instructor has regularly provided
valuable inputs to the students in form of lectures, role plays and case studies, which helped students
to perform better in their activities.

Keywords: Experiential learning, Management Education, Sales Management

1. INTRODUCTION

        Industry expects that academic institutes must supply skilled and trained professionals.
Practitioners often express dissatisfaction regarding what they perceive to be the gap between skills
they would like to see in graduates and the skills those graduates actually possess (Leisen & Lilly,
2004). One of the major reasons for this gap is teacher-centered exposition methods adopted by the
most management education institutes (Prasad, 2005). Moreover, the conventional lecture delivery
method is quickly becoming an impediment to most of our current students, who have been raised in
a different learning environment than their professors (Perry, 1996). As compared to global
counterparts, in India, other than few top management institutes, the shift from conventional teaching
methodology to more interactive learning experience has not taken place (Prasad, 2005). In practical,
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when management students actually reach out to the industries for jobs particularly in the areas of
sales and marketing, the skills which are needed in them can only be imparted through letting them
experience and understand the real life situations. Therefore, the challenge for management
education is to bring the students close to real life situations. While discussing the strategies for
grooming managers in India, Bowander and Rao (2004) opined that learning must be experiential.
The present paper is an attempt towards this direction to primarily focus upon an idea of how to
impart student-centered experiential learning in management education.

2. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING

       The term “Experiential Learning” is used to describe the sort of learning undertaken by
students who are given a chance to acquire and apply knowledge, skills and feelings in an immediate
and relevant setting. It involves a “direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than
merely thinking about the encounter, or only considering the possibility of doing something about
it” (Borzak, 1981). In this paper, an attempt has been made towards this direction by simulating an
environment where students learn through reflections on doing, which is often contrasted with rote
or didactic learning – a conventional learning. But in management education, it does not fit in place
since one has to deal with real people with real situations. For instance, Clark and White (2010)
argued that business and industry involvement in educational program encourages professional
development through experiential learning component. The Kolb’s Model of experiential learning
(Figure 1) creates a cycle of experiences and activities connected in a cyclical process to achieve
concrete experiential values for the students while they involve in experiential exercises (Kolb,
1984). In this model, the first input obviously is the Reflective Observations that students see and
learn in classrooms and around which further leads to Abstract Conceptualization of how they might
work and experience in real life situation. Thus, while performing the experiential learning exercise,
they involve in Active Experimentation of those concepts to deduce Concrete Experiential
knowledge.

                            Figure 1: Experiential Learning Cycle (Kolb, 1984)


                                                Concrete
                                               Experience




                        Active                                            Reflective
                    Experimentation                                      Observation



                                                   Abstract
                                               Conceptualization


                                  Figure 1: Experiential Learning Cycle

                             Source: Kolb, 1984; Kolb and Kolb, 2005


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       Experiential learning can be a form of great learning technique in sales wherein the students
need to experience the sales problems in real world and handle them then and there only, by using
the knowledge imparted in the classrooms, thus can be called “knowledge-by-doing”. Developed by
David A. Kolb and Alice Y. Kolb together, this approach of experiential learning suggests us to
implement it as regular method of teaching sales management to the students. It also makes the work
of assignments and evaluation more realistic and equated.

3. SHARPENING PERSONAL SELLING SKILLS

        Sales management as a subject had been taught for a long time now in all business schools
across the globe and the delivery of knowledge of this subject has always been an issue wherein, the
inputs are only made in theoretical forms in class lectures or in form of case studies where some
extent of inputs do come from the students. But at the end the students, even if they come up with
some idea or suggestion after a case discussion, don’t have to live with it. And talking of lectures,
over a period of time, they become monotonous and boring with loads of real time examples and
stories of successful sales people. It is widely recognized that teaching is still very much a one way
transaction and the challenge for management education is to bring students close to real situations
(Prasad, 2005). However, Warren (1997, p.16) suggested that students not only learn the content of
information, but additionally “improve their critical thinking, learn to manage their time, practice
interpersonal, listening and speaking skills, become better writers, and gain a sensitivity to cultural
differences”. (Froctczak, N. T., 1998) argued that experience alone is insufficient to be called
“experiential learning”. If an experiential leaning assignment of marketing course lacks any of the
four stages in experiential learning such as concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract
conceptualization, and active experimentation (developed by Kolb, 1984), the learning may be less
effective for the students (Loo, 2002). Student developed case studies on ethical dilemmas appears to
effective learning tool to actively engage students in a consideration and discussion about ethical
issues in management and to learn from experience of others. Keeping this in mind, a real time sales
activity was planned and encompassed as the assignment in the course of Sales Management during
spring term of year 2011 for the students of third semester – MBA (Masters of Business
Administration).
        The products were chosen by course instructor and an open option was put forward to the
students for selecting amongst three type of products – mobile sim card, magazine/newspapers, and
herbal beauty products (also called ayurvedic products) that were coded as A, B and C respectively.
Of these, product C, the herbal beauty products were developed by pharmacy department within the
university who were given orders in advance to manufacture sufficient units of the products to avoid
supply bottleneck. The time allowed to the students for completion of this sales activity was thirty
days along with the actual delivery of lectures. The students were allowed to sell these products
anywhere across state of Punjab (India) as well as within the university premises. Different vendors
inside university were selected who acted as suppliers of chosen products (A, B & C) to students.
These vendors were the only source of supply for the students. Moreover, these vendors maintained
sales reports regularly in order to cross-check the actual sales data supplemented by students to the
instructor after completion of the assignment. Each student was required to maintain the list of
customers and their active phone numbers in the final sales report prepared by them when submitting
their assignment.
        This assignment carried 10 percent weightage in the continuous assessment of this course that
was 10 marks. The evaluation criteria consisted of two dimensions: (a) achievement of the sales
target (07 marks); and (b) sales plan and reporting (03 marks). In order to ensure the active
participation of students, also monetary incentives were fixed on percentage of sales basis that is 10

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percent on the actual amount of sales for product category A as well as B and 15 percent for the
product category C. Relatively more percentage of incentives in product C was fixed due to time
constraint and late replenishment period of this product. And students had to deposit the whole
amount of money upfront right at the time of order placement for product C.

4. ASSIGNMENT, OBJECTIVES AND LECTURE PEDAGOGY

         As soon as the course of sales management started, all the instructors gave a presentation
before the students regarding sales plan, product types, sales targets assigned for each product lines,
incentives structure with clear rules and regulations to be followed in this activity. The whole activity
was pre-planned and the orders for the third product i.e. the herbal beauty products developed by the
department of Pharmacy in the University, were placed as per the quantities decided by students who
opted for the sales of third product: herbal beauty products. However, the product A and B (mobile
SIM cards and Newspapers/magazines) were readily available with selected vendors within
university premises. The vendors were allowed to issue these products only when students furnished
the filled requisition (in format provided) with required details. Following were main objectives of
the assignment: (a) To gain understanding of the terminologies used in sales management as a
subject; (b) To provide a real time experience of sales i.e. working knowledge; (c) To understand
customers and how to cater to their needs; and (d) To change their attitude towards selling
profession.
         It was kept in mind that lectures to be delivered in the class should go hand to hand with the
activities that students would be doing. Hence, the traditional method of lecture delivery was
replaced by a more interactive and effective means of teaching using role plays and cases studies.
The instructor used a standard text book on Sales Management and also used the cases, role plays
and leadership challenges usually provided at the end of each chapter. Students, at the end of each
class were assigned one role play, one case study and one leadership challenge to come prepared
after reading the chapter. In such activities, the role of instructor was very important to guide the
students how and what to prepare for the work. Moreover, the instructor also needs to understand
where to emphasize when the discussion is taking place in the class amongst the students. Many a
times, the instructor would also stop the discussion and take the usual course of action i.e. lecture
mode to explain certain complex concepts and methodologies, wherever deem important.

5. FEEDBACK SESSION

        Followed by this activity, a feedback session took place after completion and submission of
assignment by the students. Feedback must be considered as an important phase of experiential
learning model. The central idea of feedback session is to know the extent of students’ learning and
recommendation for improvements in future. The variables selected for feedback form consisted of –
students’ understanding of real world situation and issues related to sales, improvement in
knowledge, sharpening of selling skills, learning of sales techniques, and attitude towards sales
profession. Interestingly, majority of the students agreed to recommend this assignment to others, as
shown in Table 4. Students’ response in feedback session revealed that the exercise has benefited
them in improving personal selling skills. Our findings are consistent to the outcome of McCale
(2009) who found that most students do benefit from the self marketing plan. One page questionnaire
consisting four questions was prepared in order to collect feedback of all 51 students who
participated in the assignment. Since, all of them participated in feedback session the response rate is
100 percent.


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              Table 4: Summary of Result and Students’ Feedback on Assignment
                                                               To a great         To some         Not at all
     1. Due to this assignment:                                  extent            extent
                                                                   (2)               (1)              (0)
     1.a I have understood the real world situation            27 (52.9%)        22 (43.1%)       02 (3.9%)
     and issues in ‘Sales Management’
                                  No incentive earned              01                00               00
                                             < Rs. 300             09                12               02
                                           Rs.301-600              17                09               00
                                             > Rs. 600             00                01               00
     1.b My interest in this course has increased              18 (35.3%)        29 (56.9%)       04 (7.8%)
                                  No incentive earned              00                01               00
                                             < Rs. 300             07                13               03
                                          Rs. 301-600              10                15               01
                                             > Rs. 600             01                00               00
     1.c My knowledge in this course is improved               34 (66.7%)        15 (29.4%)       02 (3.9%)
                                  No incentive earned              00                01               00
                                             < Rs. 300             13                08               02
                                          Rs. 301-600              20                06               00
                                             > Rs. 600             01                00               00
     1.d My selling skills has been sharpened                  23 (45.1%)        25 (49.0%)       03 (5.9%)
                                  No incentive earned              00                00               01
                                             < Rs. 300             10                12               01
                                          Rs. 301-600              13                12               01
                                             > Rs. 600             00                01               00
     1.e I have learnt the important sales techniques          25 (49.0%)        23 (45.1%)       03 (5.9%)
                                  No incentive earned              00                00               01
                                             < Rs. 300             08                13               02
                                          Rs. 301-600              16                10               00
                                             > Rs. 600             01                00               00
     1.f My attitude towards selling profession has            21 (41.2%)        23 (45.1%)       07 (13.7%)
     become positive
                                  No incentive earned             00                00                  01
                                             < Rs. 300            09                10                  04
                                          Rs. 301-600             11                13                  02
                                             > Rs. 600            01                00                  00
     2. Recommendation of this assignment to                            Yes                     No
     other students                                                      40                     11
                                                                       (78.4%)                (21.6%)
                                 No incentive earned                      00                     01
                                            < Rs. 300                     16                     07
                                          Rs. 301-600                     23                     03
                                             > Rs. 600                    01                     00
     3. Reasons of •          Practical knowledge;
     recommendation     •     Understanding how to achieve targets;
                        •     Learning how to convince customers;
                        •     Selling skills and Knowledge of real world sales techniques;
                        •     Raises interest towards course; and
                        •     Opportunity to know consumer behavior, and earning while learning
                        •     Prior training sessions by sales professional;
     4. Suggestions for •     More time span required;
     improvement        •     Lesser number of classes of other courses required;
                        •     Language barriers for other state students while selling products in Punjab
                              can be reduced by making team of mixed students.

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                    Table 5: Products Opted by Students for Assignment
                Products             Students opted                    Total Sales
                                      for products        Percent
                                                                          (Rs.)
             Mobile SIM card               35                68         1,73,747
            Magazine/Newspaper              9                18          70,000
            Ayurvedic products              7                14          40,000
                    N                      51              100%         2,83,747

6. OUTCOME ASSESSMENT

        Out of total 51 students, 35 of them (68.6 percent) opted for Mobile SIM card, 9 of them
(17.7 percent) opted for Magazines/Newspapers and only 7 of them (13.7 percent) opted for
Ayurvedic Products (Table 5). The main reason of least number of students opted for ayurvedic
products ought to be longer production and delivery time by ayurvedic department. The findings of
feedback by students clearly revealed that most of the students were satisfied with their learning
experience through this assignment. The detailed summary of result for feedback by students can be
seen in Table 4. According to the findings of feedback, more than 90 percent of students realized
that after working on this assignment they have understood the real world situations and issues
involved in sales. It has not only increased their knowledge towards this course but also helped them
in sharpening their selling skills. With these outcomes, the two of the four objectives - (b) and (c) of
assignment were achieved because the students were primarily expected to gain the understanding of
the course – sales management and also they were expected to develop the required selling skills to
face the real time working environment. Surprisingly, the result of feedback suggests that most of the
students (approx. 86 percent) have developed positive attitude towards selling profession which is
primary goal of this course as well as one of the main objectives – objective (d) of this assignment.
Rest of the students (approx. 14 percent) who could not develop their positive attitude towards sale
profession may be because of several reasons, but, one reason could be that they did not perform
well in this activity. Therefore, they have either earned no incentive or earned very less amount of it,
which might have built a negative attitude towards this profession among them (1.f in Table 4). So,
the overall findings suggest that those students who have performed well and earned incentives were
found to have understood the real world situations and issues related to sales, increased their interest
and knowledge in subject, and also sharpened their selling skills by learning important selling
techniques (see 1.a - 1.d in Table 4).

7. ISSUES FOR MANAGEMENT EDUCATORS

        There is need to re-think the effectiveness of teaching pedagogy used in management
education at present. Most of the business schools are using lecture based and case studies as
pedagogy for teaching various management courses. There is still a scope to innovate new teaching
pedagogies which are interactive, more engaging as well as interesting, and effective in imparting the
management education (Prasad 2005). This field sales project was an attempt to enhance personal
selling skills of students in an interesting and effective manner. So, this approach of learning proved
to be both challenging and rewarding to the students as well as the instructor alike. The role of the
instructor in such projects is more as a guide, motivator and leader who must spend time with each
participating student separately for understanding and resolving their problems and challenges. The
instructor may also highlight achievements of good performing students in the class. At the same
time, good performing students must be encouraged to share their success formula and experiences
with other students. This requires a different mindset as well as skills. While not a panacea,

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experiential methods should improve decision-making, problem solving, and communication skills in
the students. These so named as “soft” skills, prized by corporate employers (Wright 1994) are
invaluable to all marketers. While we teachers often teach students the “right” answers in class, we
frequently spend too much time disseminating information, and little time developing the
interpersonal skills and decision-making criteria which is critical to success in today’s workplaces
(Chonko 1993). Management educators must share the pedagogies which are more student-centered,
interesting, engaging and effective in producing skilled and trained management professional as per
the changing demands of the industry.

8. LIMITATIONS

       This paper has some limitations which paves the path for the next challenge to sort them out
and extend the research in the right direction. Firstly, our sample size is small and restricted to only
students of a single university/college. This sample cannot be an exact representative of the
psychology of all management students and the global education system as a whole. The paper also
do not mention anything about the understanding/ perception towards the subject before and after the
experiential learning which do not provide an insight into the amount of learning absorbed by the
students due to this exercise.

9. REFERENCES

 [1]  Bowander, B., & Rao, S. (2004). “Management Education in India: Its Evolution and Some
      Contemporary Issues.” All India Management Association, New Delhi.
 [2] Chonko, L. B. (1993). “Business School Education: Some Thoughts and Recommendations.”
      Marketing Education Review, 3 (1), pp. 1-9.
 [3] Clark, J., & White, G. W. (2010). “Experiential Learning: A Definitive Edge in the Job
      Market.” American Journal of Business Education, 3 (2), pp. 115-118.
 [4] Kolb, D. A. (1984). “Experiential Learning: Experience as a Source of Learning and
      Development.” Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall.
 [5] Kolb, D.A., & Kolb, A. Y. (2005). “Learning Styles and Learning Spaces: Enhancing
      Experiential Learning in Higher Education.” Academy of Management Learning and
      Education, 4 (2), pp. 193-212.
 [6] Leisen, B., J., T. M., & Lilly, B. (2004). “A Broadened Sales Curriculum: Exploratory
      Evidence.” Journal of Marketing Education, pp. 197-207.
 [7] McCale, C. (2009). “Experiential Learning & the Self Marketing Plan: Transitioning Students
      from Theory to the "Real World.” Argosy University/Sarasota.
 [8] McCarthy, M. (2010). “Experiential Learning Theory: From Theory to Practice.” Journal of
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 [9] Perry, N. W., Matthew, T. H., Bradley, D. McAuliff, & Julie, M. G. (1996). “An Active-
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 [10] Prasad, T. (2005). “Mandi: A Field Sales Campaign for Teaching Personal Selling Skills
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 [11] Warren, R. G. (1997). “Engaging Students in Active Learning.” About Campus, 2 (1),
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 [12] Dr. A.G.Matani, “Curricula Challenges of Technical and Management Education
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