Role Playing for Sales Reps

Photo by Braydon Anderson via Unsplash

Role playing is dreaded by many sales reps.  They may feel put on the spot in front of their peers. Sometimes it becomes a game of “stump the chump”.  Other times it’s a farce comprised of unrealistic scenarios fed to skeptical sales reps. Used the wrong way, role playing is ineffective.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Instead it can be a great training technique that helps the new rep learn to sell effectively, hones the skills of an experienced rep, encourages peer to peer mentoring, and helps the team bond. Here’s how I do it.

The location

When training a New Rep (NR), I prefer to role play in my office where we have access to 3 chairs, a whiteboard and  privacy. A conference room can work too.  Since effective role playing requires a knowledgeable ‘prospect’ and ‘rep’ I have an Experienced Rep (ER) join us to assist. I always have the ER sit near the NR. (It’s a psychological thing so that they are on the same side).

Setting the tone

The first thing I like to do is help the NR to relax.  Although we are deadly serious about our craft and expertise, I want the NR to associate role playing as challenging but enjoyable. It’s tough enough to be the new guy, much less to be in your boss’s office worried you are about to be critiqued.

The ER and I will usually crack a few jokes about our worst calls or training experiences to lighten the mood. Then I explain our purpose is to teach the NR how to be extremely effective on the phone. But first, there will be some role playing that will feel awkward to him.

The process

I select a call which the NR will make often. For example: We’ll pick a lead and provide info the NR would normally have access to like this, “Bob Smith of Smith Company downloaded a 30 day trial of XYZ. In Salesforce we see that Bob also attended an intro to XYZ webinar a few months ago. His company manufactures pharmaceuticals.”  (My common scenarios include lead qualification, cold call prospecting, opportunity nurturing/development, and closing. You should use whatever scenarios makes sense for your NR. It will vary based on the rep’s role, as well as the purpose of the call.)

The role play begins with me as the prospect and the ER as the rep.  The NR’s job is to observe. The ER will attempt the basics: break the ice, build rapport, uncover additional info, qualify the prospect, and close for the next step. (Again, substitute whatever “basics” are appropriate for your NR’s role here).

Throughout the role play, I will pause to call out points to the NR such as:

“Notice how he’s not listening and responding to my concerns? He’s just vomiting content at me.”

“Am I really a buyer…or am I wasting my time on this call? How can you tell?”

“What are the next steps? How do you think we should close this call?”

“See how he tried a trial close on me to see if I’d start the eval this week?”

There’s usually lots of laughing during this process.

We’ll run through a couple of these role plays with the NR observing and discussing with us.

Now it’s NR’s turn

Next up, I’ll be the prospect and NR will role play with me with the ER observing and coaching. I face my chair away from the reps this is more like a real call.  This way there’s less intimidation for the NR.

I’ll start by being an easy prospect feeding him softballs. The results generally land somewhere on the scale between rough and awful.  The conversation will be filled with stuttering, ums & ahs, premature ‘go for the kill’ closing attempts, made up technical answers, etc. That is all to be expected. It’s no big deal.

The 3 of us will then break it down and start to work on parts of the call together.  For example, NR’s usually struggle with the opener. So we’ll work on openers until he’s comfortable. Others get caught up when the conversation turns technical. We’ll work with the NR on how (and when) to address this.

We’ll do a couple of these.

I’ll try to have the ER do much of the coaching. He does this job all day long – he’s far more skilled at it than I am.  It also develops a connection between the ER and NR as teammates. I want the NR to become very comfortable going to the ER for advice.  Lastly, since there’s only 1 of me the nest way for me to develop the effectiveness of the team is to have them coach each other.

Now for live leads

By this time, the NR is likely spent. He should have a few pages of notes and a better idea of how to structure a call. Now he needs to go make a couple hundred calls and have a bunch of conversations. I’ll tell him “Once you’ve had about hundred conversations, you will feel much more comfortable with this process”.  I’ll direct the NR on which leads I want him calling on and we’ll setup a time to review things in a few days.  I’ll then assign the ER to the NR as an official coach and ask them to work together over the next few days.

I also tell the NR there’s NO WAY HE CAN SCREW THIS UP. Here’s the real truth. If he calls a lead and totally blows the call, we’ll survive. If the prospect really wants to buy from us, almost nothing he says can prevent it from happening. If they aren’t ready to buy, almost nothing he says today will convince them. On the off chance that he  uncovers a “blue chip lead” and gets stuck, I tell the NR to wave to me or the ER and we’ll jump in on the call.

Wrapping Up

I suggest limiting each session to 60-90 minutes. It’s a lot for the NR to remember.  He’ll be wiped out by the end of the session.

One more thing. Most of the reps end up enjoying this type of role playing. It is a common practice on my teams. We get to a level of comfort where we’ll occasionally do role plays live in front of the entire team- especially when launching a new product.

(For more see my post on Call Coaching. It’s the natural progression after role playing). 


If you want some help building your sales team or improving sales, contact me here. I’d love to hear from you. 


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