Role-Playing Exercises. For some salespeople, the mere phrase draws a shudder or an eye roll. But role-playing can be a fantastic training tool to help your team improve their ability to think on their feet, overcome specific objections, and work on areas they’re lacking in.
It isn’t a new concept, either – back in 1987, Larry Robinson of J.B. Robinson Jewelers credited daily role-playing exercises for his sales reps as one of the biggest drivers behind building the revenue of two separate radio stations’ sales from $600,000 to $6 million over 2.5 years.
Role-playing can be helpful if performed correctly, but how can you develop these exercises for your own team? And more importantly, how can you develop them so that your salespeople actually improve?
A few tips before starting
Before we explore some specific exercises, it’s important to understand what the goals of role-playing should be. First and foremost, it should improve sales technique at a high level by:
- Creating real-life scenarios to prepare your sales reps for any possibilities in the field;
- Understanding the customer’s psyche by pretending to be in their shoes;
- Knowing how to resolve conflicts, handle objections, and interact with dissatisfied customers.
Again, these are high-level objectives. More specific objectives can include overcoming specific objections, thinking and reacting quickly, and any areas of the cycle that your team or individual reps need improvement in.
Now with those in mind, look at the exercises to follow through the lens of these thoughts:
- Get your sales reps comfortable. The point of role-playing isn’t to catch salespeople off-guard – it’s to learn and improve, and help them get comfortable for when they’re actually dealing with clients.
- Become familiar with specific scenarios. Make a list of common scenarios or objections and concentrate on them.
- Sharpen their listening skills. Role-playing allows you to evaluate and work on your team’s listening skills. Do they tend to interrupt the prospect? Do they talk about themselves a lot? Do they explain the business/product clearly? Help your salespeople practice active listening.
- Go beyond first-contact scenarios. There are many scenarios and points of contact that you can practice through role-play beyond the first call. Help them prepare for follow up discussions, demos, and re-engagement calls, as well as asking for referrals.
- End with actionable takeaways. Note where you and your team can improve and make them as quantifiable as possible. Debrief these takeaways to your reps so that everyone has something they can walk away with to work on until the next time. Your goal is for each of your team members to work so much on a weak area that when they encounter it over the phone, responding becomes second nature.
7 Role-playing exercises
For each exercise, let your team know what roles they’ll be playing ahead of time. Have either your manager or yourself run the exercise and evaluate performance. For each (unless otherwise stated) all you really need is someone to play the rep, and someone to play the prospect. Let the scenarios play out completely.
1. Archetype exercise: The hesitant or “I’m interested, but…” customer
No matter what products or services your organization sells, there are recurring objections. Price is often one, i.e. “I like this [product/service], but I’m not sure about paying X for it.”
For this one, take the list of objections that you created earlier and have your “prospect” start things off. Let the sales rep respond at the moment and see where it goes.
2. Archetype exercise: The unhappy/argumentative customer
Create a list of comments that have been received in the past, like:
“I ordered this product 2 weeks ago and still haven’t gotten it!”
“I paid a month ago and still haven’t received my order!”
“I received your product, but it’s broken!”
Have the prospect start this off and let your rep respond. Make sure your team remains informed ahead of time about all the tools they have available to address customer complaints – discounts, coupons, protection plans, warranties, etc.
3. Archetype exercise: The detail-specific customer
Some prospects come into the conversation well-researched on your product. Test your reps’ knowledge of it, too. For example, a customer might say, “On the X1500, what is the part I would need to purchase to fix the C900?”
How does your rep respond? That can include discussing your company policy of redirecting prospects to the right resource to answer the question. If so, make sure they’re up-to-date on that policy: where to direct them, how long to wait for a call-back, title of who they’ll be speaking to, etc.
4. Archetype exercise: The tech-savvy customer
There are prospects out there who do their research and are very knowledgeable about the technical differences between your product and your competitor’s. Have a prospect open up with a technical question – “What’s the difference between an AMOLED vs an LCD screen?”
To prepare your reps before the exercise, have them research every technical detail of the products they’re responsible for.
5. Archetype exercise: The comitto-phobe customer
If your product or service requires upfront payment for some time, like a SaaS product, or it otherwise takes longer to realize value, this one can help overcome some common objections.
For example, have your “prospect” say something like, “I’d love to buy [XYZ product], but why do I need to enroll for a full year right away? What if I decide I don’t want to use it anymore? I don’t know that I’m ready to commit to a full year right away.”
Again, prepare your reps by getting them up to speed on how to handle this one. What selling points should they bring up? How do they break the cost down per month? How can they affirm the customer’s concerns, then move them past their objection?
6. Skills exercise: Active listening
This exercise can be done in either a large group or with as few as two people.
- Start by having one team member make a statement, preferably about the organization, but it can be something unrelated, too.
- The next person in line has to begin their statement using the last three words of the previous person’s statement.
- Repeat until everyone has gone or for a specific length of time.
While less orthodox, this exercise can help your reps learn to pay attention to what others are saying, instead of “living in their own agendas and planned responses.”
7. Skills exercise: Personas
Start with your list of personas that your reps typically encounter — like CXO, Director of Y, Gatekeeper, etc. You can also use “direct”, “rushed”, “distracted”, or more. Next, write each one down on a slip of paper and pop into a bowl or hat.
When you start your role-play, have your “prospect” pull one out at random and adopt the quality written on it. Start the role-play from the top and do at least two rounds with the same persona or trait before grabbing a new one.
To prepare your reps, you can share the list ahead of time so they can quickly identify the persona being used and adjust their approach as necessary.
- Start your reps off with a script, especially new ones or if you’re instating role-playing exercises for the first time.
- Let the scenario play out before you interrupt. If you feel interruption may be necessary, first consider your objectives, the length (a 1-minute scenario vs a 15-minute one is a lot different), and how far off-track the rep or prospect have veered.
- Remind your reps that rejection isn’t personal, and “failure” isn’t fatal.
- Get your reps to the point of playing through the role-play, not talking through it – i.e. saying “Here’s what I can do to help you with [problem]…” vs. “I would say what I can do to help them solve their problem.”
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