How To Use Role-Playing To Drive Sales Success

One of the most overlooked and underutilized sales training and coaching tools is sales role-playing. However, just over 20% of sales teams utilize role-playing, despite its effectiveness in improving sales results, In fact, in one case study, daily role-playing exercises took two radio stations from a combined $600,000 in sales to $6 million in two and a half years. While such outsized gains may be an outlier, they stand as a testament to the possibilities for improvement that role-playing can bring to sales reps and to the organization as a whole.

Setting the Parameters
When deciding to implement role-playing as part of your sales coaching methodology, it’s important to establish goals – specifically, what are you hoping to have your sales team learn from role-playing? Is it to overcome objections? Learn individual strengths and weaknesses? Onboard your new hires? Some combination of these, or even something else? By setting goals, you can frame the role-play scenario so that you can accomplish the objectives and learning outcomes you’re striving for.

Are you going to have it as a 1v1 (sales person and prospect) situation? A group role-play, such as a sales rep presenting to a panel of decision makers, or two sales reps in the C-suite? There’s a lot of possible permutations, but they should reflect the real-life situations your sales reps face when speaking to clients and prospects. What forms that take obviously depends on your company and the particular verticals you’re working in.

Other Guidelines
Once you have the goals set and the parameters and scenarios established, it’s time to move on to the fun of role-playing itself (and indeed, it *should* be fun). You’ll want to keep in mind the following best practices:

  1. Use role-playing to tackle your toughest scenarios.
    There’s no better place to practice dealing with difficult sales situations than role-playing. There’s no penalty for bombing an interaction with someone playing the role of an angry customer, for example, as opposed to the real world. So use this exercise as a training ground and a laboratory to test the most extreme situations your sales reps face. It’ll help defuse those issues when they come up when it counts.
  2. Have a safe, positive environment.
    Role-playing is a serious improvement tool, but it should also be fun. More importantly, it should be a positive experience. Therefore, be sure to highlight the things participants did well in debriefing after role-play sessions. This will boost your sales team’s confidence. On the flip side, limit the criticisms. Even if a sales rep did 50 things wrong in a role-play, pick just one or two of the most critical issues to point out for things to work on. Not only does it allow the rep to focus on what’s most important, having a short list will allow them to correct those issues faster, so that you can address other, lesser concerns later.
  3. Remind participants that rejection isn’t personal.
    One of the things that’s often overlooked in the world of sales is that rejection isn’t personal. It’s a business decision that has a myriad of reasons for happening – perhaps the buyer’s just not ready to pull the trigger, or maybe a competitor has a particular advantage that suits the prospect’s specific needs more than your organization. The role-play workshop is a great time to remind your team members of the impersonal reality of rejection and prepare them for the “real world”.
  4. Have both sales reps and managers partake in the role-play
    To get the most out of role-playing, both reps and managers should participate in the role-play exercise. Many sales managers were successful sales reps who were promoted, so they can model some best practices for more junior sales reps. Conversely, current sales reps are aware of what’s going on in the field today, so the various objections, etc. that come up in the roleplay will often be from the reps’ real-life interactions with present prospects and clients. This can be a great diagnostic tool for learning what specific difficulties your sales reps face on a daily basis and how to overcome those problems.
  5. Consider recording the role-play exercises.
    Whether it’s with a video camera, digital technology, or even a smartphone camera, recording role-play exercises and the ensuing discussion and debriefing can significantly bolster roleplaying effectiveness and retention. Even better – by giving the tape or video file of their portion to each participant (leave space if a tape!) and adding on to it for future sessions, the individual participant can track their improvement when they replay the recording.

Keeping these best practices in mind will help you get the most out of roleplaying. They’ll aid your sales team when encountering actual customers and prospects in the real world, and make your sales process that much stronger. One parting note: As with so much of sales coaching, don’t use this as a singleton event. Practice frequently for maximum retention and continued progress.