Tidewater Community College Campus Project Ashleigh Dulaney

INTRODUCTION

As part of my interview process with Pearson Education, I was given the opportunity to conduct a campus project for Tidewater Community College (TCC). I was assigned to the TCC Virginia Beach campus and was able to visit other campus locations as needed.

The objective of this project was to gain insight and perspective on what "a day in the life" of a Pearson sales representative entails through first hand experience in the field. My personal goal throughout the project was to have fun, apply my previous work experience and ultimately determine if this position was the right career fit for me.

PLANNING

Preparation is vital for success, so I immediately began developing a game plan for my day in the field. I needed to ensure I was spending my time efficiently and effectively in order to accomplish my goal and carry out the project successfully. Below is a list of the steps I took in preparation for game day:

  • Researched enrollment data
  • Printed off campus maps for routing
  • Made a spreadsheet of information that included the faculty's: disciplines, office location, office hours, phone number, email, etc.)
  • Created a customer information sheet for each individual professor
  • Developed a list of interview questions for both professors and the campus bookstore manager
  • Emailed professors
  • Created campus binder
  • Planned out my routing

The TCC online directory was helpful when preparing my faculty information spreadsheet. Since the directory had all of the professors' emails, I was able to send out an individualized email to each instructor. Of the 30 emails I sent, I received a response back from six professors. It was exciting to see that the email strategy worked, I received far more responses than I originally anticipated. I was able to set up multiple appointments via email and professors that were unavailable for a meeting were able to respond to a personalized questionnaire that I created.

I started at the Virginia Beach campus because of the large student body and additional disciplines offered when compared to other campuses. The bookstore was my first objective, followed by the Business, Engineering and Computer Science departments. Each had the highest enrollment out of the offered disciplines on campus. During interviews, my goal was to not only ask the "right" questions but actively "listen" to their responses in order to get a better understanding of their wants and needs.

INTERVIEWS

FEEDBACK: My first stop of the day was the campus bookstore where I met the store manager, Donna. She was very helpful but unfortunately the textbook manager, Aleshia (the best point of contact) was out of town. Donna informed me that the relationship between her, Aleshia and the textbook representative was overall good. Her expectations of the textbook rep were to always continue building and maintaining a positive relationship with both the bookstore managers and the professors. Donna explained that the bookstore and the professors are not allowed to have any direct contact, and since the reps see the professors first hand, a positive relationship was vital for success. Her decision of "which" textbooks and "how many" to purchase are based off of student enrollment and last years sales. She mentioned a number of professors encourage their students to look for course materials outside the bookstore, in search of cheaper options. Her recommendation was to improve relationships with professors since they speak directly to the students. The book store offers a rental and price match guarantee program which helps with the issue of students looking elsewhere for their course materials however, some professors are not aware of these programs. Since she does not have direct contact with the professors, the textbook representative can help by informing professors of these options for their students.

After leaving the bookstore, I was fortunate enough to meet Barbara. Barbara is the head administrative assistant to the Business school at TCC Virginia Beach. She was extremely helpful and provided me with a great deal of information about the professors and even printed off a directory with each professor's updated contact information. She knew just about everything there is to know about the professors in the business department. After speaking with a number of professors and administrative staff I noticed that each professor used a variety of different publishers when it came to their textbook of choice but the two most common were Pearson and McGraw-Hill. Professor Plumb specifically said he favored Pearson textbooks in particular because they are simpler and his students seem to be more responsive to the content. Professor Carter likes to use "OER" (which I learned stood for open education resources) whenever possible because it allows students to openly use learning tools free of charge. As far as technology being utilized in the classroom to enhance learning, it seemed each professor preferred a number of different resources. Some used Blackboard, Connect, PowerPoint slides included with the textbook, Camtasia for video lectures, Livescribe smart pens, and Ebooks. One professor even admitted to steering clear of technology resources because she doesn't feel that it truly "teaches" her students.

The responses varied when it came to how often the professors switched/refreshed their textbooks. Professor Plumb preferred to refresh his books every 3 to 6 months before each semester. He believed staff should be forced to switch textbooks every 3 to 4 years because students circulate them and share notes, tests, quizzes, etc. based on that given book. For the Engineering department, the main reason for switching textbooks was for the better graphics and calculation problems. One professor I spoke with taught a technology class and due to rapid innovation, she is forced to switch materials more frequently. The actual "process" of switching course materials seemed to be common across all departments. They hold department meetings to gather feedback and determine which course materials will be used in the classroom for upcoming courses.

Below are some of the important factors professors look for when updating their course materials:

  • Content/how well book is written
  • Supplemental materials
  • Better graphics
  • Cost
  • Website resources offered with the book
  • Practice problems/supporting problems
  • Online homework tools
  • Interactive presentations
  • Online course material
  • Support and resources offered to students

The feedback I received involving problems/obstacles professors encounter during courses seemed to vary based on the discipline. The Engineering department was not satisfied with the graphics shown in the textbooks, as well as the PowerPoint slides students can access from the book. Additionally, they prefer non-calculus engineering books, which are hard to find according to multiple Engineering professors. A few of the textbooks they utilize do not offer resources available through MyLab. This increases the difficultly when transitioning courses to an online offering. In the Computer Science department, professors were not happy with book editions changing so frequently, and supplemental material being tied to an access code. Cost of books and other course materials were an additional concern for employees from the Business department.

Professors' definition of "success" were very similar across the board. In their words, "Success is based on how well students understand the curriculum and how well they are able to apply that knowledge in their future career." Professor Cartwright stated, "I teach for that light bulb moment." Professor Plumb hopes his students do well in their future careers by "busting their chops!"

Nearly every professor I interviewed saw their publishing representatives one or twice per year. It's usually right before each semester starts since that is when textbooks are being purchased more rapidly. Below is a list of responses I received when asked how their current publishing representative could better help them with their needs:

  • Get to know them better
  • Being prompt with requests sent through email
  • Send materials/info on a timely basis
  • Be an expert with their materials and textbooks especially with the frequency in changes
  • Send copies of new editions as soon as possible

A special thank you to the professors and administrative staff that helped me throughout the interview process: Donna Canup, Barbara Blanchard, Professor Cartwright, Professor Carter, Professor Gordy, Professor Bird, Professor Plumb, Professor Sherrill, Professor Eldridge, Professor Lacroix, Professor Don Mendonsa and Professor Shaw

EXPERIENCE

Visiting the TCC campus and speaking with a number of professors and staff exceeded my expectations. I was a little nervous before the first call, but I adapted quickly and I could feel my confidence building with each additional interview throughout the day. Even though I come from a pharmaceutical sales background, I felt there were more similarities than differences during my day in the field and I was excited to flourish a different sales environment. Sales is in my blood, so I am confident I will be just as successful selling to professors as I was selling to physicians.

I really enjoyed the conversations I had during my day in the field. The professors were very responsive to me and I was able to get a better understanding of the value Pearson representatives bring to the table. I also think being a military spouse worked to my advantage. A number of the professors I spoke with were either in the military at one point or knew someone close to them who was, which I felt made me relatable and allowed them to communicate more openly with me. This made it easy to help build a positive first impression with my customers and I believe I have already begun to establish great rapport.

One of my objectives at the start of this project was to determine if this position was a good fit for me and I can say with complete confidence that I am beyond excited about this opportunity and I truly feel I am the ideal candidate for this position.

WHAT I LEARNED

I am pleasantly surprised with the amount of knowledge I gained during the short time I spent in the field this week and I'm excited about the opportunity to continue learning more about the role as a publishing representative. The first thing I learned was I needed to invest in a new pair of comfortable shoes!

I have learned that effective planning and organization is key in order to be successful at this position. I have experience with planning and organization from my previous work experience, but it was very different from this type of role. Professors are in and out of their office at very odd times and their office hours are ALL different. This makes it challenging to plan the routing accordingly. I learned that the administrative assistants for each division are very resourceful and offer a great deal of knowledge when it comes to specific details about professors.

I now understand the importance of the relationship between the bookstore manager and the sales rep. Since the bookstore has restrictions on communication with professors there is obviously a disconnect between the two. My job as the rep would be to bridge the gap and provide important information/feedback between the professors and the bookstore. For example, ensuring professors are aware and communicating to their students that the campus bookstore offers a price match guarantee and a textbook rental program. I believe getting the campus bookstore and the professors on the same page is vital for success and it's a win-win for everyone involved. Establishing a good relationship with the bookstore manager is also very beneficial to the rep because the bookstore interacts with the students first hand and are able to keep the rep up to speed on the students buying habits as well as their wants and needs.

I learned that the wants and needs of each professor varied across different disciplines. One thing I have learned from working in sales over the years is how vital it is to really "listen" to your customer. As an eager young professional just starting my career, there were times when I was guilty of "hearing" what my customer was saying but not truly "listening" to what they were saying. With experience comes knowledge, and I have learned the importance of listening. The more you listen to your professors, the more information you uncover. This allows you to better meet the customer's needs. Furthermore, listening to your customer helps with establishing strong relationships, which is another key component to success. When you've established a solid relationship with your customer, it makes it easier to educate them on your products to better meet their needs which ultimately leads to driving sales upward. If given the opportunity to be a Pearson Rep, I am confident that with my skill set I will be able to establish and build these critical relationships between the professors, the bookstore managers and myself.

When conducting my interviews, I learned that a number of professors were already implementing Pearson textbooks in their courses. But, they weren't frequently utilizing the technology resources to enhance learning for the students. When talking to Professor Cartwright, an Engineering professor, we covered the topic of technology and learning. He said if it were up to his students they would prefer anything digital compared to a general textbook. His conversation really got me thinking and made me realize that in my opinion, there is a disconnect between the students wants and the professors wants. The students want more technology but the professors want to stick to what they are used to, which is general textbook learning. The current student body grew up in a technology driven environment. Students tend to favor digital course content over textbook print every time. My job as a Pearson rep will be to help educate professors to the benefits of the technology tools in the classroom and what they bring to the table for their students. Technology is not only preferred by the students, but a benefit for the professors as well! Just like in pharmaceutical sales, a doctor is always hesitant to venture into a new product because they are unfamiliar with the drug and are ultimately responsible for their patient's well-being. In publishing sales, professors are not familiar with the technology resources available and are hesitant to try something new because they are equally responsible for their student's success.

Judging from the feedback I received, the rep to professor relationship seems to be very minimal. I don't believe the professors see the true value a rep can bring to them and their students. As a Pearson rep I will make it my utmost priority to change this stereotype by educating professors on all of the resources available to them in order to better meet their teaching requirements on a regular basis. Additionally, improve student involvement and engagement in the classroom.

CHALLENGES: Below is a list of some of the challenges I learned throughout this experience:

  • Coming up with an effective routing plan given that the professors schedules vary so drastically
  • Professors encouraging students to purchase their textbooks elsewhere for cost reasons
  • Trying to change the habit of professors and get them on board with more technology options/instructor inertia
  • Getting enough face to face time with my customers

In my opinion, the most important challenge a publishing rep faces is the buying habit of students, and professors resisting change in their classroom. Being an expert in your products and having a strong, trustworthy relationship with your customer helps overcome this problem. Furthermore, listening to your customer and having the product knowledge to tie their needs to your product can help them identify current product shortfalls and future product enhancements. I plan to impact my territory by making a number of strong contacts and getting in front of the right key decision makers. I want to be an educational resource to the students, bookstore and professors/staff. I have always been a firm believer in building strong enough relationships so your customers don't see you as a sales rep but rather a valuable resource. Given what I have learned from this experience, my plan as a Pearson sales rep is to close the gap between not only the bookstore and professors, but the gap between professors and the students to better meet both of their wants and needs.

WHY ME?

When I first heard about the opportunity with Pearson I was very interested in learning more about the position and I was excited to see what the position entailed. Since completing my campus project and gaining insight on the sales representative role, I am even more ready and eager to get out in the field. Throughout this experience I was able to get in front of a number of professors and gather a great deal of information. I feel that I was able to fit into the roll easily and I have already started to establish relationships with the customers.

Coming from a pharmaceutical sales background I feel that I already possess the skill-sets that are required in order to be successful at this position, for example:

  • Effective pre-call planning
  • Development of strategic questions to help drive business
  • Giving presentations
  • Working in teams as well as independently
  • Building strong relationships

I have a passion for education and I am confident that my previous work experience, coupled with on the job training, will enable me to adapt and successfully grow the territory. I really enjoyed my experience establishing relationships with the TCC staff. I have always been a very driven individual with an extremely strong work ethic, which is a crucial quality needed to be successful at this position. I am very organized, goal-oriented and competitive when it comes to meeting and exceeding sales goals. I have always been able to easily communicate with others, which is why I think sales was my calling. I know sales is the industry I was meant to be in and I truly believe Pearson is the company I am meant to work for.

THANK YOU!

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