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In many companies, I find sales managers don’t role-play enough during coaching sessions with their reps.
One reason is that managers neglect the development of their salespeople and underinvest in the training of their sales force. On the other hand, managers are often poorly trained themselves and don’t understand when and how to role-play. Above all, they don’t understand its benefits.
In this article, I’ll explain 4 situations where role-playing is particularly useful.
However, first, let’s look at what role-playing is.
What is role-playing?
Role-playing games are a powerful development tool. In fact,
[r]ole-play sheds much needed light on what salespeople tend to do on their calls, even when they have been trained to use a consultative approach to selling. Instead of listening, they skip ahead, and rush to the close. Ironically, the proper approach is counter intuitive. You will shorten your sales cycle, improve your win rate and gain traction by slowing down, while speeding up leads to longer sales cycles and lower win rates.
These are situations that allow a sales representative or sales manager to visualize and experience what he or she is likely to face in real life to better prepare for difficult situations.
They can be used at all levels of the company, for example between a sales manager and a representative, between a sales leader and a director, or between sales representatives or managers.
The only rule is that someone – an external person or someone experienced in role-playing, sales or sales management – can assess the quality of the interventions, practices, tone used and other factors necessary for a successful sale.
Under what circumstances can role-playing be used?
You can use role-playing at any stage of a salesperson or sales manager’s career. For example, they can facilitate sales recruitment, onboarding and, subsequently, be used on a recurring basis to improve specific sales skills.
1. During the hiring process
During a second-to-last or final interview, a manager may use role-playing to assess a candidate’s learning or reaction to criticism.
For my part, I always prioritize a three-step approach:
- I start by asking the sales candidate to contact me by phone to simulate an discussion with a prospect. Their task is to come up with a positioning statement, find at least one problem and plan a future meeting with the prospect I personify. At the end of this first game, I ask the candidate to tell me what he or she could have done better.
- We then repeat the exercise, reversing the roles. The candidate becomes the prospect, and I play the part of the salesperson. I conduct a thorough prospecting call, and then I ask the candidates about the differences between the two calls and the lessons they learned from the exercise.
- Finally, the candidate plays his or her salesperson role again for the third game so I can determine whether the candidate has applied what he or she learned.
In the context of a job interview, role-playing becomes another tool to improve your sales recruitment efforts. By including it to your selection strategy, it can help you make decisions.
When hiring a sales manager
The three-step approach also applies when recruiting a sales manager. The difference is that the sales leader first plays the role of the representative, while the candidate plays the part of the manager.
For example, he or she may be asked to intervene to solve a salesperson’s work ethic problem. I would follow the same three-game process, making sure to reverse the roles during the second turn.
2. During the employee’s onboarding
Role-playing is also very useful as part of a new rep’s 90-day onboarding plan. They allow them to more easily learn your company’s sales process, especially if they have to adopt a new consultative sales methodology, like Baseline Selling.
Once again, you can perform a series of three role plays, but for each step of the sales process, whether it’s prospecting, getting to first base, discovering needs or negotiating and presenting an offer. The same principle applies when seeking to strengthen consultative selling skills.
However, make sure not to work on developing more than one skill at a time. It’s always best to focus on mastering a single element of the sales process before proceeding to the next.
For a new sales manager’s, role-playing can be used in the same way to develop coaching or motivation skills.
3. When setting a pre-meeting strategy
Role-play can also be used during pre-meeting coaching sessions to perfect a salesperson’s approach. The simulation then allows the representative to visualize and structure the progress of an upcoming appointment with a client.
This process can help him or her to determine their prospect’s decision-making ability, the other people to influence within the company, the desired objective and the meeting’s agenda.
4. To improve specific sales skills
The same three successive role-play sessions can improve specific sales skills in a salesperson or sales manager. Which skills need improving are often identified during a sales force evaluation, or sales pipeline review.
For example, if the sales manager notices that a sales representative has a consultative selling weakness, he or she can simulate a scenario for the rep to learn how to ask the right questions. If the salesperson has difficulty handling their customers’ objections, the simulation will focus instead on how to identify through questioning the real concerns of customers.
Feel free to be creative! In addition to the three alternate scenarios method, there are several other ways to integrate the game into coaching.
Other than being a useful skill development tools, role-play sessions are an excellent way for managers to diversify their coaching instead of relying on as well as add a little fun touch.