Even though sales role-play within sales coaching is not a new concept, the way in which it’s often used in companies can be detrimental to the company and its salespeople. However, if used correctly, role-playing can be a vital part of sales training and coaching.
I sat down with two of Refract's Business Development Managers (BDM) Stuart Taylor and Mark Ackers to get their take on their sales role play - the good and the bad. From speaking with both of them I've teased out five things to keep in mind when deciding how to use role-playing in your company.
Why is role playing in sales training important?
Because managers and companies have less time and resources to focus on sales coaching, role-playing by salespeople can become a key way in which approaches to particular deals and clients may be improved upon.
Role-playing different scenarios is also the perfect way to prepare for objections a salesperson may face or negotiation decisions they need to make, or even to prepare for discovery calls and demonstrations.
If one or more salespeople need to focus on a particular area or scenario in their client relationships, role-playing is an excellent way of achieving the goal of focusing them, rather than simply giving them broad training which, most likely, will not have the same impact on their interactions with clients and colleagues.
Through role-playing, a salesperson may also learn how to practically and confidently turn sales conversations in their favour, instead of blindly trying to do so when they have not had the specific coaching or practice to reinforce this skill.
What benefits does role-playing have?
Role-playing holds various benefits for both the individual salesperson and the company. Personal and professional growth for the salesperson, for instance, will mean better work and better performance for the company. But that is only a part of the benefit.
First of all, role-playing gives the salesperson focus and purpose when they’re working with clients. Secondly, role-playing means that the salesperson can prepare beforehand what they may face when they go into a meeting or even make a call with confidence. For example, different scenarios may be played out to ensure that the salesperson is in charge of the situation no matter what happens.
Role-playing helps salespeople to improve on specific aspects, rather than simply pointing out what the person is doing or saying wrong. A new hire’s ramp time may also be reduced by using role-playing, as ways of dealing with clients (which may also be specific to the company culture) can be passed on quickly and easily.
Through technology, managers are able to set challenges in minutes and implement them almost immediately instead of having training sessions which can last for hours and be a waste of resources. These long training sessions may also be of little or no value for the salesperson as it may not touch specifically what is necessary for them to achieve.
What are role-playing pitfalls to avoid?
Role-playing is not, however, all positive – there are some pitfalls to avoid. Probably the biggest of these pitfalls is using role-playing not to improve people, but to berate them or needlessly point out what they are doing wrong. Instead, positive beneficial role-play is supposed to give the salesperson things to tweak and improve on.
Another pitfall to avoid is to treat role-playing as a test. For instance, this isn't the time to simply have a mock interview and score the salesperson according to the type of answers they give. The salesperson must also be coached so that they are able to grow and improve upon their current behaviour and approach.
There also has to be a lasting effect, otherwise, the role-playing will simply be a waste of the company’s time and resources. Therefore, care must be taken to give reinforcement often and not stepping into the pitfall of only doing one scenario of role-playing and expecting it to make a lasting change to the sales person’s behaviour. If the change is lasting, the benefit to both the salesperson and the company is also a lasting one.
Through the correct application of role-playing, the salesperson will grow in themselves and their role, being a boon to the company overall.
How do salespeople experience role-playing coaching?
If done right, salespeople experience role-playing in a very positive light. They will walk away from the role-playing feeling confident, not insecure or embarrassed. They will have the purpose and focus they need to improve on their approaches to clients and to other aspects of their work.
A second way in which role-playing can help coach a salesperson is through relating a real situation in a helpful way. In this way, the salesperson is able to reach out about the areas they still need to improve upon without being in a stressful, embarrassing environment.
Stuart expands upon this:
"At Refract we regularly do sales coaching role-play and it's massively helped me to get up to speed in my BDM role, going from lead generation into more of a closing role. Having the ability to practice common objections, how to position etc., the product has been massively helpful, but also, to get insightful feedback on how I do that, those marginal gains.
A lot of the time they're not massive mistakes, but tiny adjustments can make a huge impact, and that has been hugely beneficial in helping me get up to speed very, very quickly in the role."
Mark also shared a great example with me of a time when role play with Kevin (our CEO) made the difference on a large deal:
I had a deal on the table for 11 months, a huge organisation, lots at stake ... There were around 15 stakeholders, lots of going back and forth. I started to get into the home stretch. A competitor emerged, and this completely took us by surprise, it was a company I wasn't really familiar with.
I had a call coming up with my contact and he wanted to know why we're different. He trusted me as the expert here, but the reality was I didn't know enough about this competitor at all. I sat down with our CEO Kevin and we discussed some of the possible questions that would be coming my way.
So I said to Kevin: Well, let's just play that out. You be my contact. Say to me, how do you compare, Mark? What can we do?" I practised what I was going to say. Kevin said, "Maybe change a few words here and there because certain words in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the wrong choice of words, could really impact their opinion."
I had that call. It went really well. I felt prepared for it. I knew a lot more about the situation, a lot more about the competitor, but I knew exactly the right words and phrases to say because I've played out that conversation beforehand. Meaning, that I could predict about how it's going to go and it went as planned.
Tiny adjustments to a salesperson’s manner of interacting with clients may also have a huge impact in the long run, not to mention that this type of on-the-spot coaching can get a salesperson up to speed faster in a new role. This is because they can focus on specific areas of interest rather than an overarching training session(s) which may not even answer all the questions a salesperson may have.
These instances of role-playing also need not take up much time and can be as short as 30, 60 or 90 seconds. Basically, this kind of coaching is done in bite-sized moments. This is also good news as salespeople are often too pressed for time to attend – and pay attention throughout – long coaching or training sessions.
How can technology help to implement role-playing training and coaching?
First of all, by using the growing technological innovation that we currently have at our disposal, a company can not only save valuable time but also save valuable resources.
Stuart put it really well:
"For me technology is the game changer here, primarily because you can rapidly gain insight into how your peers do things. For me in my role as BDM I can easily see how experienced and successful peers are positioning our offering or overcoming specific objections. That's been massively helpful in getting me up to speed and getting me successful in this role."
Role-playing the bite-sized moments mentioned above and using technology means that there are no time restraints as there is in a normal training session. Furthermore, you can get a good insight into more experienced peers’ approaches.
Thanks to technology – like Refract.ai – managers are also able to set challenges for their salespeople at the click of a button within a few minutes.
As Stuart mentioned - technology is also able to remove the barriers to compressed high value sales role play. Technology like Refract.ai delivers personalized insights, makes sales coaching simple and helps you to be more time efficient while amplifying the benefits you receive.