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Updated Mar 01, 2023

Use Role-Playing to Engage Your Sales Force

Sales skills can be taught, and role-playing is a great way to improve them. Here are tips to incorporate role-playing into your sales training.

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Everyone is an actor to a certain extent, and this is especially true in the world of sales. Sales representatives are under incredible pressure to deliver presentations in front of customers and clients while exhibiting competence, confidence and empathy. These presentations are, in a way, performances. So what better way to prepare for these performances than role-playing?

How to use role-playing with your sales team

Since a company’s ability to secure a customer or client often depends on a salesperson’s skills, it is vital to build a highly skilled sales team and positive sales culture. To achieve this, you’ll want to teach and reinforce the critical sales skills that will help your company meet its performance goals. 

Role-playing is a particularly helpful training technique that engages your sales team in real-world selling scenarios and enhances their knowledge, attitude and skills. Business owners should implement this training method to instill confidence in their reps before they go out into the field. Below are strategies for effective role-playing with your sales staff.

1. Start with customer research.

You need certain benchmark data to develop meaningful sales training and role-playing scenarios. Consider the following questions:

  • Why do your customers choose to do business with you? What are their drivers?
  • For your prospects who went elsewhere, what factors influenced their buying decision? Why didn’t you get the business?

You can ask your sales representatives these questions, but they may be too close to the situation to give you objective feedback. Nothing beats getting perspective straight from your customers, so conduct client interviews prior to your sales training so you can share and incorporate the results into your role-playing exercises.

2. Create a safe environment.

Sales managers and training facilitators should explain at the outset that role-playing requires a safe, positive and respectful environment to bring out the best in participants. As each exercise unfolds, let your team know there are no wrong answers. Employees can only engage in the training and improve their performance in a workplace where they feel supported and safe. Give your employees room to make mistakes while role-playing. This assures them that you care about their success and want them to grow. [Find out why businesses should invest in employee training.]

3. Provide message training.

Role-playing can be especially powerful when participants rehearse cold calls, elevator pitches, key sales messages, corporate presentations and price negotiations. Message training also helps ensure your sales reps speak about your brand in a consistent and compelling manner.

4. Share successes.

Success stories detailing key wins can be very motivating. Break each story down and analyze what went right and why so your entire team can learn by example. Feature your top salespeople in a best-practices panel discussion and encourage other reps to ask them probing questions. Sharing success stories and finding opportunities to learn from one another encourages the rest of the team to believe they can overcome their own hurdles and achieve similar results.

TipBottom line
Make sure your business uses the best CRM software to keep track of sales leads and customer relationships.

5. Dig deeper.

Educating your sales representatives about price, features and benefits is essential, but devote discussion to the psychological reasons customers buy as well. Knowledge of consumer behavior can help your sales reps close more deals. Experiment with different customer types and client personalities in your role-playing exercises. See more on this in the examples below.

6. Reduce the pressure.

Role-playing should make employees feel more at ease. Let your team know that it’s OK to make mistakes as they act out different situations. The more comfortable your team feels during role-playing, even when put on the spot, the more likely they will take what they’re learning to heart and put their training into practice.

7. Demonstrate specific scenarios.

Present common objections and scenarios your sales team members will likely encounter, such as dealing with competitors or challenges introducing a new product. Based on the different circumstances, have your team act out creative solutions to close the sale. The customer research you did in advance can help simulate the specific situations your reps are likely to face.

8. Identify key takeaways.

End each role-playing session by recapping the key takeaways. Based on what team members learned by participating in and witnessing the exercises, have them identify the areas they should improve and where they are already doing well. Everyone should walk away from the training with new sales strategies and insights into what it takes to be a successful salesperson for your business.

9. Make role-play training an ongoing event.

Repetition is the key to mastering any skill. Therefore, role-playing with your sales team should not be a one-time endeavor. You may need to do it regularly, even once a week, for your reps to learn as much as they can and continually hone their skills. Role-playing is often the easiest way to teach salespeople communication skills and to analyze their daily performance and challenges. Fortunately, the only thing it’ll cost you is time.

FYIDid you know
Your sales team will likely need to practice role-playing multiple times before they're able to implement the valuable skills they've learned from acting out scenarios with their peers. Not everyone will feel comfortable during the first session, which makes embracing the lessons more of a challenge. Over time, however, participants should feel more comfortable.

The benefits of role-playing in sales training

Just like Broadway actors, good sales performers need to practice their lines before they go live. Businesses that incorporate role-playing into their sales training can reap the following benefits, all of which can translate into increased sales.

It allows sales reps to experience real-life sales scenarios and gain confidence in their abilities.

When role-playing real-life sales situations, your sales representatives will gain experience dealing with a variety of challenges, such as gruff potential clients or customers who don’t know what they want to buy. Your team members will navigate these role-playing scenarios in a stress-free and safe setting. This will allow them the freedom to explore in a consequence-free environment where they can build up their confidence for navigating these challenges when selling in the real world.

It improves listening and communication skills.

A critical component of good role-playing and good salesmanship is strong listening skills. Your sales reps need to be able to listen closely to what their prospects are saying and pay attention to nonverbal cues and body language. This way, they will be attuned to what the customer needs. Role-playing gives employees opportunities to practice their listening skills and different communication styles so they’re prepared for interactions in the field.

It provides sales reps with the opportunity to develop creative problem-solving skills.

Even though salespeople can practice out-of-the-box scenarios when role-playing, surprising and outlandish challenges arise in real-life sales pitching that even a whole sales team cannot anticipate. Nevertheless, imaginative role-playing allows your team to develop creative problem-solving skills to better navigate such scenarios during real sales pitches. The more your employees work on problem-solving in these fictional situations, the more they’ll be able to apply such skills during the real thing.

It is efficient to learn in a group setting.

Since your sales force is learning as a group, they will benefit from exposure to a multitude of perspectives and scenarios in a short time frame. They can give feedback to each other, provide pointers for different situations and be exposed to tactics they might not have thought of otherwise. In this sense, role-playing sessions can be more efficient than individual training. Plus, these exercises can fuel teamwork in the workplace that isn’t limited to sales activities. [See the habits effective teams have in common.]

It lets salespeople get feedback from multiple team members.

Role-playing with team members allows your sales reps to get feedback from people at all stages of their careers with a wide range of experiences. While one-on-one coaching and mentoring relationships can be beneficial, the person being mentored is limited to the guidance their individual coach can offer. In contrast, role-playing incorporates multiple perspectives, which allows for more well-rounded instruction.

Bottom LineBottom line
The advantages of role-playing include building confidence in your sales reps as they develop critical listening and problem-solving skills in a group setting where they can receive valuable feedback from their colleagues.

Sales role-playing examples

To help you establish sales role-playing exercises, examples of scenarios your team can practice are listed below. Keep in mind that while the basics of the sale process are consistent from company to company, the most effective role-playing sessions will be based on customer research specific to your client base and the experiences your salespeople regularly have. It’s always best to tailor your role-playing situations to your business.

1. Role-playing with an indecisive customer

Indecision is a normal customer emotion during the buying journey. Some prospects are so overwhelmed with information, they experience decision paralysis. For these situations, you’ll want to practice persuasiveness techniques so you can convince the customer to make a purchase and close the deal.

2. Role-playing with a detail-oriented customer

Some prospective customers enter sales meetings with a thorough understanding of what you’re selling. They’ve already done their research, so a cold-call-type pitch is unlikely to be effective. Instead, sales preps should practice answering in-depth questions and be prepared to cover even the most intricate details.

3. Role-playing with a distrustful customer

Just because a prospect agrees to hear your pitch doesn’t mean you’ll actually have their true attention. Some people are inherently disinterested in what salespeople have to say because they don’t trust them. Practicing relationship building can help sales reps win over distrustful prospects.

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Mark Fairlie brings decades of expertise in telecommunications and telemarketing to the forefront as the former business owner of a direct marketing company. Also well-versed in a variety of other B2B topics, such as taxation, investments and cybersecurity, he now advises fellow entrepreneurs on the best business practices. With a background in advertising and sales, Fairlie made his mark as the former co-owner of Meridian Delta, which saw a successful transition of ownership in 2015. Through this journey, Fairlie gained invaluable hands-on experience in everything from founding a business to expanding and selling it. Since then, Fairlie has embarked on new ventures, launching a second marketing company and establishing a thriving sole proprietorship.
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