Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Doing anything new is uncomfortable. I never have all the answers, especially entering a tech startup. When you have a looming release deadline and you don’t know how long it will take Apple to approve a new build, you just have to get comfortable with that feeling.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stefanie Boyer.
Dr. Stefanie Boyer, Professor of Marketing at Bryant University, is the Co-Founder of RNMKRS, a platform for training and assessing sales talent using artificially intelligent animated customer bots. She is the recipient of the prestigious American Marketing Association Sales Educator of the Year Award. Stefanie is a TEDx speaker and co-author of The Little Black Book of Social Media — Strategies to Ignite Your Business, Influencer, and Professional Brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Staying healthy and in shape has always been important to me. I competed for the U.S. trials in the javelin while I was in college. I spent some time as a firefighter and tried several other paths before went down several routes before landing at the intersection of Professor and co-founder. No matter the road I traveled, selling, and the skills required to do it right emerged. In my MBA program, I finally discovered and formally found my passion in the Ph.D. program studying how adults learn (the best and the worst). At that point, I was on a mission to help elevate the sales profession with education and eventually technology. RNMKRS was the perfect next progression for me.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Sure, we are using technology to train people how to sell. You can’t good a sales without lots of practice. It’s one thing to teach students and trainees sales theory, and you can look at piles of sales call records to figure out what they didn’t understand. But if you give students the opportunity to do multiple role plays in the sales process and give them instant feedback and coaching, they get good at it much faster and better — they just retain more. But orchestrating role-plays with qualified partners is tough. Your Aunt Millie might do it with you but is she qualified? And how much patience does she have to do it over and over? So how do you scale it up to give massive, valuable, scored role-plays to thousands of people?
Rather than meeting with a trainer, manager, or professor, people who want to learn to sell use their phones to practice conversations with Alex. Alex is our artificially intelligent animated customer bot who listens, adapts, and responds to what you say. He gives you clues in the conversation about whether you are on the right track or not. After the sale, players can see the breakdown of the entire conversation — where they went right and wrong and what to work on for next time. The training process is gamified, so you get the option to immediately try again to get a better score. You can see where you stand against everyone else and that keeps you motivated to practice more. What makes it really different is the data. You have access to all of your performance data over time so that you can see exactly where you need to work and how far you have come. Students did over 60,000 role-plays with Alex this semester — some with over a hundred sessions each. Companies who work with us use these performance metrics to evaluate potential new hires or to train them post-hire.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is hard, picking only one of the funny mistakes. You make so many along the way. We didn’t realize how personally people would take it when Alex didn’t like what they said or how they approached the sale. He a pretty straightforward guy and doesn’t beat around the bush much. We didn’t realize how much students would engage with him just to have someone to talk to during COVID campus quarantines. We discovered that, especially during the pandemic, Alex needed to be a little more empathetic with the players. Not such a tough customer!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Scott Randall, my business partner at RNMKRS, was the first person to use game technology for business and successfully sold his business to private equity a few years ago. He has coached me so much. This is my first experience in a startup and there is so much that I just don’t know. He has helped me with strategy, communication, and navigating the chaos of it all. Learning how to be a technology inventor is an ongoing process and he has helped me think about our digital products and how to communicate my ideas to our development team for the most impact. This is harder than it sounds and I’m still working on it.
During my MBA at the University of South Florida, Dr. Marvin Karlins made a huge impact. I was a teaching assistant for his management courses. He invested time listening to my journey, gave advice, and taught me how to engage an audience of hundreds of college students in a giant lecture hall. He gave me more responsibility than I was ready for, but it taught me to jump in because he believed in me before I believed in myself. I try to pass that on now to the students that work for me.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption is great when you can offer efficiency, hope, improvement, and can make a positive impact like empowering people to grow. We work hard to reduce bias and give more opportunities to all, regardless of socio-economic status, race, or access to resources.
But disruption is an interesting word. Tech teams and investors have turned it around into a positive. But think about disruptions that disrupt lives, livelihoods ways of life. Digital products that put thousands of people out of work and don’t replace them with jobs anyone wants or can afford to take. Stores that can’t compete and survive against scaled digital ones. Drivers who have lost control of their business. Young people feel compelled to paint their lives in a certain way and compete with their friends for likes and follows. We focus on the positives of that disruption but don’t always consider the negative effects on people’s lives. Many people are freaked out by the pace of change — much of it digital — and this has negative effects on society as well. I hope we stay in the “good disruption” column!
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
-Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Doing anything new is uncomfortable. I never have all the answers, especially entering a tech startup. When you have a looming release deadline and you don’t know how long it will take Apple to approve a new build, you just have to get comfortable with that feeling. Rather than worrying about the things I can’t control, I just stay focused, stay a little uncomfortable and keep working on improving what I do have control over. When Dr. Karlins put me up in front of those big lecture halls, I just had to embrace it — or run!
-Ask for forgiveness rather than beg for permission — Anything that challenges the way things have always been done, the status quo, is met with a lot of scrutinies, opposition, and paperwork. If I waited to get permission to do the things I have done, I would still be waiting and our app wouldn’t be released yet. I’ve never authored a book before but I knew if I stopped to think about it I wouldn’t do it. I just jumped in and it all worked out in the end.
-You belong here — in a world run by men, especially when it comes to academia and even more so in sales and technology, it can be intimidating to be the only person in the room that is female. I’ve felt like an outcast at times and made sure to work extra hard to make sure everyone knew I earned my spot. At the end of the day, that hard work made me stronger. When I was a firefighter, I would stay in the building after a fire doing salvage and overhaul longer than anyone else. It earned me the rookie-of-the-year award. When we designed the RNMKRS app, even I questioned if it was possible that I was part of the team doing it. It almost seemed impossible. I had to remind myself that I do belong and sometimes I would stay up most of the night to make sure my work was correct. That led to us winning the best teaching application award from NCSM this month.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We have focused on sales programs with our AI bot technology, now we are expanding to give basic selling skills to as many students as we can by opening it up to students who don’t come from a sales program. After all, no matter what you do in life and in your career, you have to be able to communicate persuasively. Soon we will start offering this kind of learning and training to the general public and corporate sales organizations.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Before when I would see obstacles, I would start to feel like a victim. Why does everyone make it so hard for me? Why can’t things be easier? Can’t they see how hard I work or how much success we’ve had? Why am I always asked for more than others? Then, I read The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday. It taught me that I should use the obstacles as paths to success rather than explanations for failure. Now when I see an obstacle, I think of how it will make me better rather than how much of a burden it is. It changed my outlook.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was in high school, I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and found the quote: “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate himself by conscious endeavor” by Henry David Thoreau. It taught me that no matter where we come from, we can make our outcomes better if we commit and go after our dreams.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Help at least one person a day. Cheer someone on, focus on the good, keep an open and positive mind. Sometimes, let that person be you.
How can our readers follow you online?
LinkedIn — you can follow me there.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!