Sales Training Best Practice: Leveraging Role Play Blog Feature
Dan Fisher

By: Dan Fisher on January 28th, 2016

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Sales Training Best Practice: Leveraging Role Play

Employee Training

Whether your chosen sport is basketball, football, baseball or hockey, the key to getting to the top of your game jeter_batting_cage.jpgand perfecting it is practice. After all, practice makes perfect. We first hear this at a very young age and it’s a mantra that is adopted and followed by top performing sales leaders and sales reps.  Top performing sales leaders know that in order to give their reps the best opportunity to win, they have to make sure that they have practiced their pitch, can effectively overcome objections, articulate their value proposition, etc…The point is, top performers don't focus on the end goal, they focus on practicing and getting better. This all comes back to sales training. For sales professionals, role playing gets to the heart and soul of practice and improving sales performance.

One of the key questions that plays out and must be answered before the sales leader can implement a coaching plan is ‘what role does each of my sales reps play in the business?’ Are they account managers farming existing accounts, are they hunters “hunting” for new business or are they simply “order takers” providing customer service?   The answer to this will help sales leaders determine what their reps need in terms of the type of practice and role play scenarios.

Just like a baseball player taking batting practice before a game, role playing allows sales reps to demonstrate that they’re ready to get out in the field and in front of the customer.  Sales role playing tells the sales leader whether or not the sales rep is capable of speaking the language of the buyer and can effectively articulate the value proposition. Unfortunately, what happens all too often in sales is reps are “practicing” in front of the customer. If you have a low sales win rate or the top of your sales funnel is light, most likely your reps are practicing in front of the customer instead of with their sales manager.

Think about this for a second. If the sales leader is not actively engaged in role playing with their sales reps then when is the sales team practicing and with whom?  If I taught your sales rep a new concept and he or she just went and tried it in front of a client (or over the phone), that “practice” ride alone could cost the company a lot of lost revenue, particularly if it takes you several tries to “get it right”. Even if we had to practice multiple times with various objections, the time spent in practice is necessary and valuable so when a sales professional walks into a prospect they are prepared, confident and ready to handle anything that comes their way.

Facilitating Role Play

When it comes to facilitating role play it is important that A.) Sales leaders are directly involved in the process. This includes the sales leader playing the role of the sales rep in the exercise. After all, it is the sales leader’s job to model the desired sales behavior in front of his or her team and B.) Sales leaders understand how to properly structure role play scenarios.

For example, when a rep makes an introductory call to a brand new prospect, how one demonstrates credibility and articulates their value proposition can make all the difference as to whether they can convince a prospect to get on board. So for them, practicing this and obtaining feedback and coaching can make a real difference to their ability to close deals.

On the other hand, with a more complicated situation such as role playing your “discovery” session with your prospect to uncover their compelling event, diagnosing issues or challenges and qualifying the opportunity is often difficult to simulate in a single role play session. Discovery may take multiple conversations so to do this in one sitting isn’t based on reality.

It’s for this reason that top performing sales leaders break down the process and enable role plays for specific problems or new offerings or specific objections so that reps can master how to deal with each unique problem.

The beauty of role playing is it enables sales managers to ensure that their reps have consistent messaging, which means less room for error. In my humble opinion, role playing is the smartest, quickest and easiest way to improve on every step of your sales process and to train ourselves on desired sales behaviors and communication skills

When Is The Best Time to Practice?  

To get the most out of your people and maximize your talent, top sales leaders understand that they need to become part of how reps learn every day. Role playing is not just a “one time event,” but rather something that is used to help guide and improve the reps sales skills on a daily basis. Just like professional baseball players take batting practice every day, sales leaders should be leading sales role plays every day. Here are a few scenarios where we like to use role play.

New Hire On-boarding

If you want to create a culture of role playing and avoid it from becoming a “one time event” you need to start of by incorporating it into your new hire on-boarding program.  Better yet, your interview process.  When going through new hire training reps are being inundated with information and knowledge about the company, value proposition, service offering, case studies and other information. To ensure their reps start off with consistent messaging top sales leaders incorporate role play into the on-boarding process. This helps ensure the reps are internalizing the material that is being covered during the on-boarding process.  It also gives them a “safe” place to practice in front of their manager and other new hires.

Sales Kickoffs

As with new hire on-boarding, sales kickoffs provide an excellent opportunity for sales leaders and sales reps to practice in front of each other and obtain feedback from their peers. It also allows best practices to be demonstrated and modeled and even recorded, ready to be stored in their best practice library for future reference.

Reinforcement Training and Coaching

Role playing is also an important part of an effective sales enablement program on an ongoing basis. They provide an opportunity for reps to practice various sales scenarios including pitching, objection handling, negotiation, value propositions and the use of case studies and handling other curve-ball questions that prospects throw at sales reps.

LMS_Screenshot_role_play.pngAs a general rule, for every common customer facing scenario a sales rep faces, you should be role playing it.  At Menemsha Group, we have built (and it continues to evolve) a library of uses cases that describe all of the most common scenarios IT staffing sales reps face when selling IT staffing services. Our clients are then prompted to engage in role playing through all of these different scenarios. Our training platform allows reps to record themselves into their computer (video and audio recorded). 

We have learned that isolating specific situations for practice is most effective, such as responding to a specific objection or conducting an initial meeting with a certain buyer type. The point is, you want to break you role play scenarios down into specific pieces.

Whenever a new customer/prospect objection arises or for every deal that your company loses, the lost reason should become a scenario in your role play library.  Lastly, role plays can be used to practice the new or revised pitch until it’s ready for a customer.

Best Practices for Implementing Role Play

Below are a few tips and best practices for implementing  role plays within your organization efficiently and effectively.

Breaking Down Role Play Scenarios

Rather than try and role play an entire customer meeting, it’s helpful to break role plays down into smaller, bite sized pieces so that reps can focus on mastering one thing at a time. As a rule of thumb, role play scenarios should only focus on 1-2 goals or objectives.  You don’t want a role play that asks the reps to learn and execute 5 different things. It’s too much and it will overwhelm them.

For example, to break down a face to face customer meeting role play into bite size pieces you might organize it like this:

  • Introductions
  • Agenda
  • Opening the meeting
  • Transitioning to questions
  • Etc…

Remember, when teaching your reps to role play out your sales process you can always add more information into each step of the role play.  This will allow the reps to master that step without adding more complexity.

Scaling Role Play & Freeing up the Sales Leaders Time

With sales reps spending most of their time in the field or on the phone prospecting, it can be difficult to find mindtickle_screenshot_lms.pngenough time to role play face-to-face.  An online e-Learning platform can help scale role play practice. The majority of the role plays scenarios your reps need to practice are things that can be standardized, such as the most common or most frequent objections, your value proposition and “elevator pitch.”  Taking advantage of an online learning management platform like Menemsha Groups allows sales leaders and sales reps to access pre-built and standardized role play scenarios that IT staffing sales professionals need to practice. Sales reps video record themselves role playing a specific situation. The video can then be shared with the sales leader or even peers, for coaching and feedback. This scalability allows sales reps to practice from wherever, whenever they want.  Additionally, it frees up additional time for the sales leader to provide active sales coaching

Lastly, by enabling reps to watch how their peers handle different objections or pitch their value proposition they can continue their learning.

Create Opportunities for Face to Face Feedback

Keep in mind that you will not be able to standardize every single scenario.  For those other scenarios you will need to make sure you create enough weekly and monthly opportunities for face to face feedback role play and feedback.

It’s important to maintain human touch to enable reinforcement and adoption, and for managers to ensure consistency. The key to effective sales enablement here is to ensure that managers create opportunities for this kind of face to face practice and feedback. This is where we suggest that sales leaders have a weekly coach call scheduled with their reps where they can discuss and review these topics in person (or over video chat).

Provide Actionable Feedback

Feedback is critically important but for it to be impactful it needs to be actionable and time bound.  Even if a rep does a great job with executing a role play the sales leader needs to make sure they give them feedback as to why they did so well.  Giving positive feedback reinforces to the rep the behavior they need to continue displaying.

The best feedback is feedback that incorporates real life examples or an includes an actual demonstration. Being able to point to a recording to make a point is especially powerful.  It is also powerful when the sales leader can demonstrate the desired sales behavior or what success actually looks like. This is where leaders share how their peers do it (video/audio recording) so they can learn from them and follow the modeled behavior.

If managers use a platform like Menemsha Group’s to allocate the role plays, they can also use data from the application to identify knowledge or application gaps and inform their feedback. For example, they can see how many times the rep practiced the role play before submitting the final one and compare their performance to that of their peers. This technology enables managers to provide specific and pointed feedback to reps that can be acted upon.

Use Role Plays to Share Best Practices

If you have your entire team practicing role plays, video themselves and improving their pitch and objection handling, you’ll soon have a plethora of examples. These shouldn’t be deleted as they are helpful training tools, both for the individual rep and the broader team. 

What we have learned from our customers is that yes, most sales reps despise role playing  (especially in front of their peers), BUT they LOVE to watch others. They get tons of ideas on what to do and not do.

These role plays can be stored using a platform like ours to create an online library of  best practices that are available to all reps to review and learn from whenever it suits them.

Tell me about role playing in your company? Are you doing it and if so how often?  We would love to hear your feedback.

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About Dan Fisher

Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.

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