A good salesperson knows just what to say to convert a potential customer into a paying customer. Professors at Xavier University in Louisiana know that fact to be true, and now they are using Artificial Intelligence to help business students become better salespeople. The school has introduced its students to Jenny - an AI-powered sales training avatar, to help them practice their sales conversation skills.
Sales is one of the least diverse fields, particularly in the area of high tech, where only 4 percent of U.S. sales employees are black. Second Nature is the world’s first interactive coaching platform which features AI sales coach Jenny. No more watching videos of practice sessions or being paired with a classmate who is less than prepared. Jenny’s role-play simulator technology helps Xavier students practice their conversations and gives them real-time feedback to help them improve.
According to Amanda Helm, Assistant Professor of Sales at Xavier University, having access to AI technology makes sales role-playing a lot easier to implement in her classes. She uses Jenny in her personal selling class, where role playing is key part of the curriculum.“Role plays are a really important tool for students to learn how to sell. But they’re a pain. Without an AI tool, you have to bring in professionals to play the role of customers or use students to sell to each other,” she said. “But the problem with that is they are not as good at role-playing a professional buyer because they don’t have the experience.”
Helm believes the AI technology helps students get valuable sales practice without having to be watched and judged by other people. Jenny can evaluate students on important criteria including vocal inflection, fluency, how clear they are speaking and their level of energy.
Xavier Senior Kaelyn Moore says using Jenny in her coursework gives her a holistic view of her performance as a salesperson, something she feels will help her when she joins the workforce. “Working with Jenny has helped me with fluency and being comfortable with talking to people. It helps with the “ums.” It will track how energetic you are throughout the whole experience,” she said. “I’m in a sales internship right now, and I can’t wait to go to customers and use what I’ve learned with Jenny. I think it will help me relate to people of different cultures.” She adds that talking to Jenny can be a lot more helpful to her coursework than a classmate who isn’t prepared. “You don’t have to be worried about someone not being able to flow with the conversation because they didn’t study the case as well as you did,” she says.
Second Nature CEO Ariel Hitron says AI technology can help eliminate biases that exist when humans are evaluating salespeople. “Jenny helps by leveling the playing field and ignoring the tendency to give preference to someone who looks like us or has the same background as us,” he says. And Professor Helms agrees. “I appreciate that the AI can do a much more objective evaluation than I can do and isn’t influenced by where I think the students should be,” she says. “I sometimes grade my best students harder because I’m looking for them to hit certain levels but the computer can ignore that.”