Real-World Scenarios: The Key to Effective Sales Role-Playing

While role-playing is an excellent tool for coaching and developing sales reps, specific parameters that more accurately replicate their real-life selling experience is needed to maximize the value of the experience. Not only does the role-play then become a teaching moment to improving sales reps’ skills and weaknesses, it’s an opportunity to model the preparation needed for your own employees.

Define the objectives of the specific role-playing scenario.

Many times, sales managers will only share the overall objective of a role-play with their reps, for example to close a deal or move to next steps. While this provides a goal, it can be made stronger by delving into more details. For example, let’s say you have a team member, Bob, who has a tendency to mumble when he talks. Bob is a sales development rep, and his primary focus is converting leads into prospects. While you might say “convert this lead into a prospect” as the role-play goal, you can better define objectives by telling Bob, “In this scenario, I want you to qualify the lead using the guidelines you learned in training, book a demonstration meeting if you believe they’re a prospect, and speak loudly and clearly.”

Now, instead of just having one aim, Bob has three: 1) qualify the lead, 2) book a meeting if the lead is a qualified one, and 3) work on not mumbling. Not only does this give Bob a clear road map for the scenario, it allows him to think about the sales conversation on a more granular level – one that involves stages. In this case, two – qualifying and then booking if the lead passes the qualification test. These instructions also provide Bob a specific detail to work on to improve his own selling process – avoiding mumbling by speaking up and enunciating his words.

Create real-world scenarios that will challenge your reps.

If you’re just referring to the roles as sales rep and customer or even sales rep and one type of buyer persona, you’re missing the opportunity to demonstrate for the sales rep what needs to be done to prepare for reaching out to customers. Let’s continue using Bob for our example. He knows the objectives you want him to achieve, but still doesn’t really know who he’s talking to.Instead of keeping it high-level, provide a scenario to bring it to life. One possibility: “You’ve tried to reach Joanne, the vice president of Elephant Ear Enterprises, four times now. On the fifth time, Joanne has finally agreed to speak with you. You know from your research that Elephant Ear Enterprises is a mid-sized company that specializes in high-end noise-cancelling headphones. Sales have been good overall, but in the last year, they’ve lost market share to Donkey Audio Technologies, a rival firm. One possible cause is their microphone supplier has lengthy shipping times, which might be resulting in production delays. Our microphones can be delivered two weeks faster, but they’re more expensive than the overseas supplier they’ve been using.”

Yes, that’s more information to process (not to mention a test of your own creative skills). But it will make Bob more effective in the role-play scenario. He now knows what he needs to achieve and what he’s heading into – specifically the buyer persona, the previous relationship, the background and current situation of the lead, and potential discussion points and objections.

Perhaps more importantly, Bob is now aware of the type and breadth of research he needs to conduct before contacting a customer. While he’s probably been told before he needs to research as part of his preparation, hearing this exact example gives him a better idea of what specifics to look for.

Frame feedback in terms of suggestions for improvement – not right or wrong.

When providing feedback to a role-playing session, rather than treat it as a binary right/wrong, shape your response to helping the reps be more effective sales people. Also think about coaching it in terms as something for the rep to consider, rather than an ultimatum.There’s a couple of reasons to take this path: 1) it’s less confrontational and more collaborative; and 2) it creates an environment where the rep thinks about the suggestions and evaluates the value in the advice. When this occurs, reps will many times acknowledge the accuracy of the feedback and independently make the necessary adjustments. It’s a particularly effective method for dealing with strong-willed reps who might resent being told what to do.

As a follow-up to feedback, have reps run through the role-play again, focusing on one or two changes only. The limited scope allows both you and the rep to see more clearly how the adjustments impact the role-play. It also increases the probability that the behavioral change will stick. Trying to change everything at once can be overwhelming and may result in the sales rep either shutting down or being ineffective in trying to modify their approach.

Role-playing is an excellent tool in a sales manager’s arsenal for effecting positive changes in their team’s behavior. But in order for it to work, there needs to be clear parameters and details, repeated chances at running through the scenario, and a laser focus on a few adjustments at a time.