As companies pivot and evolve to meet new customer demands in an ever-changing world, Babson Associate Professor Vini Onyemah has found opportunities for his students to learn outside the classroom.
He teaches Sales in Action, an undergraduate elective with a big experiential learning component. During this final segment of the semester, instead of teaching general sales, his students are learning how companies engage customers in the context of the COVID crisis.
“We are so lucky to have so many friends of Babson and Babson alums,” said Onyemah. “The opportunity to get out in the field and shadow world class sales professionals is priceless.”
After switching his classes online, Onyemah used his sales skills to track down decision makers at leading companies to continue the practice of site visits, albeit virtually.
“We only had two live visits—Dell Technologies and ZoomInfo—before the lockdown,” said Onyemah. “So, I had to think on my feet about what was going to happen to this experiential piece of the class. Thankfully, we were able to have a small-group virtual site visit to LifeYield, where we learned from Babson friend and EVP/CMO Jack Sharry and his team. This helped inform the process moving forward.”
After more than a dozen virtual interviews with CEOs and sales leaders, Onyemah saw a theme emerging and concluded learning opportunities abound for sales students.
Next, Onyemah had to figure out how to handle the site visits that were already scheduled. Newton-based digital marketing company TechTarget agreed to move their site visit online.
“We had 100 minutes uninterrupted with the CEO of TechTarget and Babson alum, Michael Cotoia ’93,” said Onyemah. “Christina Stone ’11 is their top sales person and was live with us, too.”
The conversation highlighted how TechTarget is not only helping their customers, but also cross-selling, and even prospecting amid the changing business landscape.
From these conversations about sales during crisis, emerged hope for a path forward.
“Many of the CEOs and sales leaders that I spoke with told me that they are hiring—they want to speak with my students, they want to interview them, and they want to hire them,” said Onyemah. “These interviews turned out to be a great pep talk for my students. Do not give up, do not be disappointed, these companies want you in spite of the crisis.”
The takeaway? “You don’t give up. You don’t take no for an answer. If someone says no, you have to seek the reasons behind the no, show understanding, and provide alternatives. And, once you navigate through that, you get to a yes,” said Onyemah.
Onyemah’s students learned firsthand some of the many ways that companies and individuals can navigate a crisis.
“One thing we learned is that you must be ready to achieve your goal in any uncertainty. In this case, our goal is to continue with our studies, and the new online system is helping to continue achieving our goal and fight this unexpected uncertainty,” said Ignacio Balcells ’20.
Onyemah’s students are now scattered around the world, adapting to new opportunities, and taking these lessons to heart.
“Being able to listen to numerous Babson alumni as well as visiting their companies has given us the opportunity to learn firsthand about what skill sets are needed to advance in our careers,” said Chiara Simonius ’21.
“We were able to do all this because we did not lament or fold our arms and wait for COVID-19 to pass,” said Onyemah. “We swung into action and we made it happen.”