I received a panicked call from a salesperson last week. Carol’s annual sales meeting was fast approaching and she and her fellow sellers were asked to participate in a day of role-playing with management. While promoted as a “learning experience,” Carol knew better; this was a test. Carol and her team would be judged on their ability to successfully articulate the company’s value proposition, highlight benefits, handle objections and ask for the business—all within an artificial, high-pressure scenario. A learning experience? Yes. Learning to hate role-playing!
Under these circumstances, Carol will likely summon up all of her acting experience (dating back to the 3rd grade class play), and put on a role that she thinks is expected of her. A role of what she thinks the perfect salesperson might look and act like. A role that has little or no resemblance to Carol on an actual sales call.
Don’t get me wrong, role-playing can be an extremely valuable sales tool, but too many organizations use it as Carol’s company does: an opportunity to judge sellers on their ability to regurgitate the company line. If that is the purpose, fine. Just don’t call it role-playing, call it role-testing.
Role-play originated in theater as a rehearsal tool, not a performance. It’s a chance for the actor to “try on” different aspects of his character in order to deliver a much stronger performance. Applying this mindset to sales turns role-play from an anxiety producing exercise into a discovery of how we react under specific circumstances within the intricate sales-buyer dance. It’s also a great chance to learn from peers. So often the solution to a challenge we’re struggling with is sitting in the next cubicle without us ever knowing. If everyone is towing the party line, none of this is possible.
If you’re ready to get better results from sales role-playing within your organization try applying some performance-based rules. Below are the first two steps to ensure a more successful sales role-play and I’ll introduce the final critical step in part two of this series.
- Set the Stage:Determine the goal of the role-play. Is it to practice new skills or to explore the way sellers are currently communicating? Either one is valid, however be clear with your team. It is unfair to tell sellers to just “do what you would normally do” and then judge them on how effectively they are using new skills or incorporating new messaging.
- Determine the Scene:Determine a specific set of circumstances for your role-play. Vague set-ups produce vague results. For example, instead of: “An initial meeting with a new prospect,” try: “An initial meeting with a CIO for a healthcare company that is considering upgrading their system and currently shopping several vendors.” The more details you can provide, the more you give your sales people to work with and the greater the potential for insight.
So what happened with Carol and what’s the final piece to a successful role-play? Stay-tuned for Part 2 in this series where we explore the importance of casting!