Role Playing

While most companies, sales people, managers and company owners resist it, role playing is one of the best ways to get your team prepared for any potential scenario. Other professionals in the field role play every day because they never know what challenges might arise. Why should it be any different for a sales executive? If you think you're too advanced for role playing, you're wrong. Many experienced sales executives have gotten stuck in the field with a client problem and lost the opportunity due to lack of understanding of the true situation or a lack of preparation. Don't let your ego get in the way of taking the time to understand your client's needs.

The best of the bunch, such as firefighters, doctors, nurses, military and police, are willing to risk being embarrassed in front of their peers in order to keep their skills sharp. They go through regular field training to prepare for the unexpected challenges. Although sales people are not dealing with life or death situations, they are faced with issues that might save or kill a deal.

If you are new to team role playing, the best way to get the exercise started is to bring your sales team together. I call this exercise "Uncover the Opportunity." First, solicit a list of open-ended questions from your sales team. Put the group's list on a board in the front of the room. Tell your team that the questions should be framed in a manner designed to elicit critical information from the client:

Examples of such questions:

  • How did you hear about us?
  • What is your role within the agency?
  • What is the situation?

Choose one person to play the end user and one person to play the sales person. Ask the sales person to step out of the room while the group builds a "story" around the end user. As the team leader, ask your team to develop the end user's professional background and his or her current needs. Consider addressing the following topics:

  • Who is the end user/client?
  • What is their title?
  • How important are they in the decision-making process?
  • What are the client's needs?
  • Where is the pain? Do they have a current contractor that they don't want to re-hire or is their job on the line?
  • What do they fear in choosing a new contractor?
  • How did they hear about our sales person? What caused the end user or her agency to call the sales person in?
  • When will the end user need the project finished/product delivered?
  • Is this a long-term opportunity or a test?

Next, step outside with the sales person and prepare them for an appointment. Tell them they have been called in by the end user's agency and there is an opportunity. Inform the sales person that she has never spoken with the client and, the appointment was booked by another party in the agency. The goal of the role play is to uncover the "situation," the "need," the "pain" and the "opportunity" without presenting anything about your company. The minute the salesperson starts to go into her company dog and pony show, the game is over. Feed the sales person an opening line so they won't be too nervous. Remind them to find out about the end user's background. "Tell me about your role here at the agency? How did you hear about my company?" Other alternatives include asking "In order for me to understand your needs and how I can best tailor my products and services to meet those needs, I might need to ask you a few general questions. Would you be comfortable with that?"

The role play will begin awkwardly. Don't be surprised if you will call them out once or twice for presenting rather than listening. But once the salesperson gets it, she will answer every client question with a question. For example, if the end user says, "How much," the sales person should respond, "That depends on what your needs are, when you need it and how many you need. Can you help me with those issues?" If the sales person is really struggling, refer to the board with the team's open-ended questions. Hopefully, a review of the questions will get the sales person back on track. By the third or fourth role play, your team will be expert interviewers. Furthermore, you will have ultimately created a group of advanced sales executives who will leave no stone unturned.

Salespersons cannot be expected to go into meetings having learned everything there is to know about a client. Many business managers believe the salesperson was remiss when they went into a meeting without knowing the client's background or the overall situation. Actually, a good salesperson, even the one who knows everything about the client, needs to be all ears because situations, titles and responsibilities change every day.

Being on the front lines means listening to the changing situations and taking advantage of those changes. If you train your team to be listeners, they'll be successful sales professionals! Instead of saying, "Practice makes perfect," let's start saying, "Practice makes money!!!"


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