Sales role plays: what you need to know for great training outcomes
In every profession, practice makes perfect. It’s no different in sales. But, besides practicing on the job with real clients where the risks are high, what other methods are available for sellers to perfect their sales skills? An obvious answer is role playing. In fact, most sellers have performed a role play with their colleagues or bosses at some point in their career.
A role play can take on many forms: the most classic being the live role play, where participants pretend to be a seller and a buyer acting out a specific business scenario such as a contract negotiation, in real time and usually face-to-face. But there are other ways that role plays can take shape, such as in a computer simulation. Here we examine where live role plays and simulations can fit into a successful sales training approach that will ensure great outcomes.
The benefits of live role plays for sales training
1. Transfer on-the-job knowledge
Live role plays give experienced sellers an opportunity to transfer acquired specific on-the-job knowledge to less experienced counterparts. For example, a seasoned salesperson who has spent years in the field can use some of the real-world encounters he or she has faced with customers when taking on the role of the buyer in a live roleplay conversation.
2. Collaborative learning
Live role plays also act as a continued learning process for everyone participating — not just the person doing the role playing. When done in a group setting, it is a great way to create an environment of collaborative learning, as there’s always something new for everyone to learn from someone else.
3. Perform under pressure
Performing in a high-pressure environment in front of all your peers is probably one of the most difficult situations a salesperson will come across. If they can excel under these kinds of stressful circumstances, they will be able to perform well in front of a real client. Live role plays reinforce “thinking on your feet” and reacting quickly to various situations.
4. Get feedback from multiple people at once
Doing live role plays gives the person a chance to get honest, constructive from their peers (but note that getting honest, constructive feedback can be a challenge if the conditions are not set up properly.) With all levels of salespeople participating, it gives everyone a chance to gather feedback from different perspectives and learn from each other.
5. Help work through a specific problem
Role plays can help sellers overcome specific problems they might face in their roles. For example, if a seller struggles with caving into buyer pressure, a live role play can be designed to help overcome this issue, by giving concrete examples.
The weaknesses of live role plays for sales training
1. They can make people uncomfortable
Most people don’t like to be put on the spot, and live role plays, especially when they are done in front of a group of people, do just that. While this approach can help build character, it can make many people uncomfortable. And when you are uncomfortable, you don’t perform well, and even worse, you don’t LEARN.
2. Humans are biased
No matter how experienced or talented a role player is, whether they are playing the buyer or a 3rd party judge, they will have inherent biases. It’s simply human nature. It’s hard to get objective feedback and scoring when humans are involved. One judge might give a seller a 5 out of 10 score, whereas another might give that same seller an 8 out of ten.
You can’t always easily find willing and able buyers and judges to perform effective role plays. You can end up spending lots of your time getting this part of a live role play training organized.
4. Not scalable
You might be able to gather a few competent buyer and judges to perform live roleplays for smaller teams. Even then, it can be a challenge. But, if you are training large teams ( think 50 + sales reps), getting enough buyers and judges with the right competences to perform the live roleplay becomes a real hassle.
5. Hard to keep them serious
Live roleplays can quickly tailspin into chaos when doing peer to peer interactions. For example, if you place 2 junior level or unmotivated sales reps together, they may not take the role play seriously, thus resulting in ineffective interactions.
Where a sales training simulation can help
A sales training simulation, such as our REVMANEX sales simulation, can eliminate a lot of the weaknesses of live role plays.
What a sales simulation does that live role plays don’t:
- It creates a safe, risk-free environment (no stage fright or fear of failure like a live role play).
- Ensures competent buyer components.
- Can be scaled to be used for small or big teams.
- Provides serious, objective scoring and feedback.
- Flexible: an automated tool that can be used for remote, blended, or face-to-face training.
When to use live role plays or a simulation
Live roleplays can work well as a targeted, focused approach. For example, in a one-on-one coaching scenario, aimed at a very specific aspect of a conversation a seller and a buyer might have. Using experienced sellers and sales consultants are a must to ensure the live role play experience is beneficial and stays serious.
Simulations allow for more flexibility and unbiased, meaningful feedback for learners. They can also span beyond one simple interaction to include a series of buyer meetings and scenarios. They can give a more global understanding of how a seller can contribute to a business’s overall value creation.
Ultimately, both have their merits to be included in a successful sales training program.
See how to implement a sales simulation in a free sales & negotiation program.
We are offering a free program on creating value in sales & negotiation presented by INSEAD Emeritus Professor JC Larreche. He will demonstrate an in-depth learning program featuring our sales simulation, REVMANEX. It’s your chance to see how to incorporate a similar training in your programs develop your own sales & negotiation skills or discover the ins and outs of a sales simulation.