Sales Role Play - Does It Make You Shudder?
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Sales Role Play - Does It Make You Shudder?

If you work in sales, I know two words that will make most of you ‘Shudder” … ROLE. PLAY.

But why?

Well, if done wrong it can be awkward as hell. I know first-hand what that looks like.

About 3 years ago I started working for a SaaS business, 2 weeks into my role I faced this sales role play challenge with my line manager.

Knock Knock (that’s right, I had to knock on the door - cringe alert).

“Come in”

“Hi, you must be Sophie, I’m Mark, nice to meet you”

I then spent the next hour and 15 minutes running a mock meeting on site with a ‘prospect’ and this role play had it all… awkward weekend plans and weather talk, rapport, discovery, demo, objections, negotiation, next steps and closing – they didn’t buy either… they said they’d let me know … 3 years on I’m assuming Sophie isn’t buying.

Looking back, that experience was exhausting and in all honesty, awkward as hell. It just wasn’t real, I didn’t buy into it… it was just acting and I think that’s a keyword, acting … my manager even made up a fake family and a fake weekend away!

What did I learn from this 75 minutes of hell? I learnt my manager had a great poker face and a fake family she could turn on and off at the switch of a light. What I didn’t learn though…

  • Did I ask the right questions?
  • How I could have improved my demo?
  • What objections I handled well, what objections could I have handled better?
  • Did I negotiate the best deal?
  • Why didn’t they buy?

In reality, this whole experience could have been so much better, this mock meeting was just too drawn out and covered too much ground. I left the room thinking one thing, role play was Brad Pitt.

Fast-forward to today, I actually enjoy role play and it’s helped me develop loads. I even use role play outside of work. I recently role played with my wife (not like that, unfortunately!), she was worried about a conversation with her parents, I said to her, let's prepare for it, let’s think of all the ways in which that conversation could go – if they say x, what do you say back? If they say y, what would you say?

I even role played with my brother recently (definitely not like that!) he’s getting married next year and I was helping him prepare for a conversation with our dad, I again strategized with him, we worked out everything our dad would throw at him and how he’d respond.

In both situations, my wife and brother won their conversations. I never got a thanks though!

So, what’s different?

It’s short. It’s sharp. It has a focus. It has an objective. We’re not acting, we’re strategizing, we’re predicting how conversations may go, we’re preparing.

To use a sports analogy, we’re practising penalties, not a 90-minute game with a pre match warm up, extra time, spot kicks, a lap of honour, warm down and post-match interviews with the local media.

I genuinely believe role play is one of the most powerful tools a sales coach can use to help prepare their reps and gain insight into how their sales reps communicate with their prospects. I also believe it’s a great way for us sales pros to ensure when we’re waiting to take that penalty we know exactly where we’re putting the ball and how we’re celebrating… top corner of the onion bag and then dab.

At Refract we don’t even call it role play, we simply call it practice. Some say practice makes perfect, others say practice makes permanent, I say practice helps you put your best foot forward in sales, which is what everyone wants.

When we built our conversation intelligence platform, we knew that sometimes looking back at sales calls is already too late, we therefore incorporated a digital practice arena within Refract where sales leaders could create ‘bite sized’ video coaching challenges and set ‘sales missions’ to their reps who can then take on these challenges and practice their penalties kicks. Ensuring when they’re faced with a situation for real they can perform with confidence having played out their frailties when it doesn’t matter.

When done right, role play gives sales managers visibility into how their reps perform in sales situations, it helps sales coaches ensure their team have the right capabilities and knowledge to sell their solutions and products effectively as well as drive best practice across the team.

As a rep, it helps you realise the objections you may face and ways in which you could win and lose the deal. All ahead of time. Role play is the sat nav of sales with built in traffic alerts, ensuring you know the path you want to take and miss the roadblock!

I have a call this afternoon at 4.30, it’s a massive call, potentially one of the biggest deals I’ve ever won and it would be crazy to go into this call unprepared, so I’ve already sat down with my boss and we’ve practiced… we’ve strategized and identified the possible responses and questions I’m going to face and how I would respond.

I know where this deal can be won and lost.

I’m nervous but that’s to be expected. I know at 4.30 I’ll be able to perform with confidence, I know the route I want to take and where I’m putting the ball…

By practicing I’ve given myself the best chance of securing a new client.

Sales Coaching Handbook