Piloting Sales and Negotiation Skills with CLIL Approach
Karelia University of Applied Sciences piloted content and language integrated learning (CLIL) in three international courses this autumn. All these pilots were part of the CLIL4ALL programme that aims at advancing the knowledge of the CLIL approach within the context of higher education pedagogy and learning, as well as creating methods to implement CLIL in teaching teams of language and content teachers.
In this article we describe the planning, implementation and assessment of “Technical Sales and Bidding” course in the Degree Programme in Industrial Management. In this course, the students studied business-to-business (B2B) selling and sales negotiations skills in practice with a CLIL approach. The teaching team consisted of two content teachers for B2B sales and bidding, and one English language and communication teacher.
1 PLANNING THE CONTENT AND LANGUAGE INTEGRATED COURSE
The Technical Sales and Bidding course took place on campus from September to October 2023. The planning process was started in August with a discussion among the teaching team on including a CLIL element into a course primarily focused on learning the core content areas, namely sales, bidding, and negotiation skills.
After agreeing on the plan for the CLIL activities and lectures for the course, the team proceeded to outline the requisite tasks, design lesson structures, and establish assessment criteria for the assigned tasks (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The process of planning a pilot CLIL course using the team-teaching model
Finally, the planning phase encompassed the coordination of a sales simulation, coupled with a subsequent session focused on providing constructive feedback on best practices, with a specific focus on language and communication aspects. Within the best practice session, feedback was additionally gathered from the students anonymously through a pre-determined survey. The primary objective of the feedback survey was to evaluate the learning outcomes of the students in this particular course.
2 HOW CLIL CAN SUPPORT IN LEARNING SALES AND NEGOTIATION SKILLS?
Technical sales and negotiation demand specific professional vocabulary and argumentation skills. Through the integration of technical sales and negotiation content into language learning within this pilot, the students were provided with an approach that enabled them to practice negotiation skills within scenarios mirroring actual real-world sales negotiations.
Via the CLIL method, students practiced their communication skills and applied theoretical knowledge in a practical scenario. The collaboration allowed the students to develop their communication and persuasion skills as they worked towards a consensus that aligned with the needs of the case customer. This required a proactive approach, compelling the students to find common ground despite potential differences in their perspectives.
3 CLIL LECTURE IN PRACTICE
The objective of choosing CLIL approach in the course of Technical Sales and Negotiations Skills was to provide the students with essential English language expressions and strategies to navigate negotiations and learn to use persuasive arguments. These skills were actively practiced through a workshop comprising both a lecture and a sales negotiation simulation case, where the students could apply the information in small group settings.
Picture 1: Learning useful English language expressions to navigate negotiations
The lesson was collaboratively conducted by both content and language teachers, focusing on the general structure of negotiations. Emphasis was placed on best practices for win-win scenarios, effective verbal and non-verbal communication, and a toolkit comprising expressions for persuasive arguments. Subsequently, students engaged in a small group activity where they participated in a simulation assignment. In the simulation, students were assigned roles as either customers or sellers, each party with their specific negotiation targets. The objective was to find a win-win situation that would mutually satisfy the interests of both parties (picture 2).
Picture 2: CLIL lesson in practice: sales negotiations in process
During the simulation workshop, the negotiations were overseen collaboratively by the content teacher and the language teacher. The content teacher contributed subject-specific content and essential strategies for technical sales and negotiations, while the language teacher offered support in terms of appropriate vocabulary and expressions. The collaboration between the content and language teacher was supportive. It can be stated that a positive attitude towards collaboration is essential for creating a productive lesson with an encouraging class atmosphere. This was also later reflected in the students’ feedback.
After the workshop, a discussion was held with students about their feelings regarding the exercise. The feedback was consistently positive, and there was a clear recognition of the need to practice argumentation and negotiation skills along with vocabulary before the final negotiations. This classroom exercise, supported by both teachers, helped create a safe space for the practice of linguistic tools and strategies that would not only prove beneficial in the sales negotiation simulation but also be applicable in real working life.
4 IMPLEMENTING THE SALES SIMULATIONS
The case description: the customer is a marketing agency that has offices in different cities. They needed a solution for serving excellent coffee to their customers. They wanted the coffee machines to have multiple coffee and tea options, easy maintenance, fast service, modern design and it had to be sustainable to fit the company’s values. Students were asked to design their own brand that imports and sells coffee machines in Finland.
Preparations: The students had one meeting with the customer representative (=teacher playing the role) before the final negotiations. During the first meeting, their target was to clarify the customer need and ask the right questions to understand what kind of solution the customer was expecting. Students also decided which roles (eg. CEO, Sales Manager, etc.) they would have in the final sales negotiations and divided the preparatory work according to these roles. Together they prepared the bidding documentation which included e.g. quotation and scope of work.
The final sales negotiations were implemented on campus during one morning. The small classroom was transferred into a customer’s office with a large conference table in the middle to demonstrate a meeting room. The teachers were playing the roles of customers by having the roles of CEO, Account Manager and Financial Manager (two content teachers and one language teacher).
Each group had 15-20 minutes booked for the customer meeting during which their aim was to
- Introduce their team and their company (values, mission and business)
- Summarize the customer need (why do they need the solution and what problems does it solve)
- Present their solution with the bidding documentation (documents defined in the task instructions)
- Build a win-win situation
The meeting involved a thorough discussion of the proposal. The customer representatives tried to influence the contents and pricing of the contract, attempting to introduce additional elements. The students had to work as a cohesive team, present their respective roles convincingly and adeptly respond to the customer’s requests. Their performance was assessed based on language and communication skills, sales and negotiation techniques, as well as their ability to create a positive atmosphere and achieve favorable outcomes. The final assessment took place after the negotiations by using an assessment grid specifically designed with a CLIL aspect for this assignment.
To ensure a comprehensive review, all the negotiation sessions were recorded with the students’ consent, and links were shared with each group for subsequent self-evaluation. Additionally, a joint feedback session followed the negotiations with all the teams. During this session, two teams qualifying for the hypothetical second round of negotiations were announced. The details of the feedback and best practice session are further explained below.
5 FEEDBACK AND SHARING BEST PRACTICES
After the sales negotiation simulations, the teacher team conducted a best practice session for the students. This session involved a comprehensive review of the sales documentations, with particular emphasis placed on highlighting how the bidding documents could be effectively crafted within the context of a real business case.
The feedback session continued with a sales communication analysis, where the success and development areas for improvement were discussed and analysed at a general level. Notable approaches that proved effective for certain groups were highlighted and explained, taking into consideration how these situations influenced the overall atmosphere and, potentially, the customer’s attitude towards the seller. Furthermore, situations where the students were able to build a positive relationship and facilitated a win-win situation in the meeting were pointed out. The feedback also included encouraging observations of their roles, teamwork, and efforts, as well as non-verbal communication elements such as eye contact and body language, along with the application of sales techniques.
Concluding the feedback session, an assessment of the CLIL method was conducted through a student survey. The students were asked to evaluate their language skill enhancement in connection with the topic and assess their proficiency in mastering the key objectives of the course – specifically, sales and negotiation skills. Results revealed that over 80% of the students felt that they had improved their English proficiency, increased their vocabulary and learned professional selling terminology. However, challenges arose in their interaction with each other, particularly in expressing their thoughts clearly and understanding others from diverse cultural backgrounds. Some students noted that language barriers posed challenges to smooth interaction in the groups. This was expected, as the students came from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Among the 12 students, there were a total of eight different mother tongues (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Different mother tongues of the students in the CLIL course
The overall motivation to complete the sales negotiation course assignment was notably high, with 75% of students expressing a very high level of motivation and the remaining 25% indicating motivation. This outcome can be considered a very good result, especially given the technical focus of the course tailored for engineering students, where sales may not be the most fascinating aspect of their core studies. It is noteworthy that only two students felt the best practice session at the end of the course was not particularly beneficial for them. The majority, however, found the session highly valuable for their personal and professional development.
From the teachers’ viewpoint, the team-teaching experience was definitely positive. Collaborating with colleagues who were open to new ideas and eager to experiment with innovative approaches and methods to enhance the original sales course and support language learning was highly rewarding. The shared teaching environment on the Moodle platform ensured that all teachers remained informed about the ongoing developments in the course in real time. This supported active and timely participation from everyone involved.
To facilitate collaboration and communication within the shared course, a joint workshop was conducted for planning the implementation. Additionally, the evaluation of students’ work was a collaborative effort. It can be stated that these discussions contributed to the professional development of the teachers, providing opportunities for mutual learning, sharing experiences, and exchanging observations. The seamless collaboration was also reflected in the students’ immediate feedback: the course helped them to gain practical intercultural skills that will be highly beneficial as they transition into the working life. Undoubtedly, this outcome aligns with the primary objective of the CLIL pilot.
Authors: Varpumaria Jeskanen & Heidi Vartiainen