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Enhancing personal selling skill of management students through experiential l

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  • 1. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013) 193 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, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT (IJM) ISSN 0976-6502 (Print) ISSN 0976-6510 (Online) Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013), pp. 193-199 © IAEME: www.iaeme.com/ijm.asp Journal Impact Factor (2013): 6.9071 (Calculated by GISI) www.jifactor.com IJM © I A E M E
  • 2. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013) 194 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) Figure 1: Experiential Learning Cycle Source: Kolb, 1984; Kolb and Kolb, 2005 Concrete Experience Abstract Conceptualization Reflective Observation Active Experimentation
  • 3. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013) 195 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
  • 4. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013) 196 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.
  • 5. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013) 197 Table 4: Summary of Result and Students’ Feedback on Assignment 1. Due to this assignment: To a great extent (2) To some extent (1) Not at all (0) 1.a I have understood the real world situation and issues in ‘Sales Management’ No incentive earned < Rs. 300 Rs.301-600 > Rs. 600 27 (52.9%) 01 09 17 00 22 (43.1%) 00 12 09 01 02 (3.9%) 00 02 00 00 1.b My interest in this course has increased No incentive earned < Rs. 300 Rs. 301-600 > Rs. 600 18 (35.3%) 00 07 10 01 29 (56.9%) 01 13 15 00 04 (7.8%) 00 03 01 00 1.c My knowledge in this course is improved No incentive earned < Rs. 300 Rs. 301-600 > Rs. 600 34 (66.7%) 00 13 20 01 15 (29.4%) 01 08 06 00 02 (3.9%) 00 02 00 00 1.d My selling skills has been sharpened No incentive earned < Rs. 300 Rs. 301-600 > Rs. 600 23 (45.1%) 00 10 13 00 25 (49.0%) 00 12 12 01 03 (5.9%) 01 01 01 00 1.e I have learnt the important sales techniques No incentive earned < Rs. 300 Rs. 301-600 > Rs. 600 25 (49.0%) 00 08 16 01 23 (45.1%) 00 13 10 00 03 (5.9%) 01 02 00 00 1.f My attitude towards selling profession has become positive No incentive earned < Rs. 300 Rs. 301-600 > Rs. 600 21 (41.2%) 00 09 11 01 23 (45.1%) 00 10 13 00 07 (13.7%) 01 04 02 00 2. Recommendation of this assignment to other students No incentive earned < Rs. 300 Rs. 301-600 > Rs. 600 Yes No 40 11 (78.4%) (21.6%) 00 01 16 07 23 03 01 00 3. Reasons of recommendation • Practical knowledge; • 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 4. Suggestions for improvement • Prior training sessions by sales professional; • More time span required; • 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.
  • 6. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013) 198 Table 5: Products Opted by Students for Assignment Products Students opted for products Percent Total Sales (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,
  • 7. International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 4, Issue 4, July-August (2013) 199 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 Business & Economics Research, 8 (5), pp. 131-139. [9] Perry, N. W., Matthew, T. H., Bradley, D. McAuliff, & Julie, M. G. (1996). “An Active- Learning Approach to Teaching the Undergraduate Psychology and Law Course.” Teaching of Psychology, 23 (2), pp. 76-81. [10] Prasad, T. (2005). “Mandi: A Field Sales Campaign for Teaching Personal Selling Skills through Experiential Approach.” IIMB Management Review, pp. 87-94. [11] Warren, R. G. (1997). “Engaging Students in Active Learning.” About Campus, 2 (1), pp. 16-20. [12] Dr. A.G.Matani, “Curricula Challenges of Technical and Management Education Institutions”, International Journal of Management (IJM), Volume 4, Issue 1, 2013, pp. 56 - 60, ISSN Print: 0976-6502, ISSN Online: 0976-6510.

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