50% of a sales training session is forgotten within a month – and 95% is forgotten within a year.
Given this – what can be done to ensure new sales behaviours are both learned AND RETAINED?
“Living it” is by far superior to “hearing it” – and hence “role plays” are a key tool in the professional sales educator’s armoury.
But we’ve all been on dull role playing sessions – where we all divided into pairs, taking it in turns to play the part of the customer, and then the sales person, in some vaguely defined scenarios offering dubious value.
How can we deploy a role playing format that will lead to DEMONSTRABLE LONG TERM BEHAVIOUR CHANGE? What is BEST PRACTICE in building and delivering role play exercises?
Our experience in building and facilitating B2B sales role play sessions indicates the following proven 10 point checklist will help:
1 - Use experts
Role play sessions can be quite intimidating, so always best to use a sales consultant with skills and experience around both sales training and also facilitation. Their early involvement should include providing advice on the format for the session, what the objectives are, how each role play should be constructed and how the feedback should be provided. A good sales consultant will also be able to offer advice as to the best follow up activities for after the session.
2 - Draw scenarios from the current sales funnel
The role play scenarios should be built as closely as possible to current opportunities within the sales funnel. This makes the learning more concrete for participants – but could also lead to the opportunity’s sales owner receiving some insight that they could put into practice in front of the “real” customer.
3 - Expert or “real” customer to play the part of the customer
Whilst it is valuable for members of the sales team to play various customer roles during the role play sessions, there is value in “mixing this up”, perhaps by using the expert facilitator – or perhaps as a surprise involving a real life customer! The opportunity to involve a real customer in a role play session – and to follow this with a properly facilitated Q&A session on “what it’s like to be sold to” - can be most revealing. After all – when we’re “actually selling” to a customer it’s unlikely we’ll get the feedback that we need on our sales techniques!
4 - First train everyone
Role plays need to be constructed to test out each participant’s skills in pre-defined areas. To this end an initial “refresher session” is useful to get the upcoming participants to focus on what is required – but equally important it allows observers to understand specifically the areas within which they need to review and provide feedback.
5 - Build scenarios along the buyer’s journey
In a session where the opportunity exists to have a number of role plays, it is recommended that the role plays be constructed to align with buyers that are at different parts of their buyer’s journey.
For example – some buyers are “calm” when they shouldn’t be: a good salesperson who has done the appropriate research needs to be skilled at pointing out to some prospects that things in their business aren’t as good as they need to be. This role play can revolve around “shattering the status quo” of a “calm” prospect that has a business issue that they’re either not aware of, or ignoring.
Further down the buyer’s journey, a role play could be held at the stage where a buyer reaches out to engage with a number of service providers – how can we best differentiate our organisation based on an understanding of the buyer’s needs?
Even further down the buyers journey – perhaps a role play in a situation where a customer has promised us that they will move forward with us – but now things seem to have “gone cold”.
These are all real life scenarios where our sales people need to be practiced and polished
6 - Observers have to work just as hard
Role play observers need to work at least as hard as the role play participants themselves. Instruction needs to be given as to the key criteria by which the role play will be assessed, and feedback provided. Whilst certainly the expert facilitator can provide the feedback – if the role play genre is going to find a home within the sales organisation on a permanent basis then the team needs to become self sufficient. Providing a “feedback framework” gives observers a useful structure within which to observe and then report back their observations.
7 - Fully brief customer role players – “don’t be obnoxious”
Members of the team playing the role of the customer need to be fully briefed in advance of the session. They need to understand what the customer situation is (even if this is not fully revealed to the sales person), what the various customer personality types are, what information is NOT to be revealed etc.
A key success factor – though – is “not to be obnoxious”. Including “roadblocks” outside of the written brief can make things unnecessarily difficult for the person playing the role of the sales person.
8 - Record problem areas for future work
There are 2 opportunities to create any necessary behaviour changes in the sales team: immediately after the role play finishes, but also via practice and reinforcement into the future. It’s critical that the role play session is seen as the START of a process – not an END in itself. The observations from the role plays should identify a number of areas for future work – this future work will NOT happen by itself.
9 - Embed into the fabric of the sales organisation
Whether it be strategising a major opportunity, critically undertaking the bid/no bid process, or developing winning account plans – the “peer review” process is a key pillar of modern B2B selling. Superior ongoing advantage will accrue to any sales team that commits to assisting all its members to publicly practise – and hence improve - their professional skills on an ongoing basis.
10 - Make it fun
Whilst the outcomes are serious – the role playing process can be fun! Embrace it and enjoy it. Give awards – and celebrate failure(!) – as “safe failure” is what role plays are all about.
How does the above list work for you? Any comments or additions?
Special acknowledgement to Steve Terry, State Manager|Queensland, TechnologyOne for inspiration. TechnologyOne is a leading enterprise software solutions provider.