If you’ve spent any time in sales at all, you likely know that there is a right way and a wrong way to run a sales role-play exercise. Role-plays and are an incredibly powerful sales training tool and are an excellent way for reps to perfect pitches, run in to objections, and practice negotiation tactics in a consequence-free environment. Much like a pilot trains in a flight simulator, sales reps get the opportunity to experience challenges and receive feedback and coaching without any real risk.
Despite all the benefits, role plays are one of the most universally disliked activities among sales teams. The combination of public speaking with a very public test of career competence while the entire team looks on causes many salespeople shudder at the mere thought. We’ve covered how to address some of this sales role-play awkwardness in a previous post, but today we will look at some of the top role play formats that successful teams are using.
When it comes to role-plays, how you format the exercise is just as important as what you practice. A properly formatted role-play increases the effectiveness of the material that you present during it and introduces your reps to more relevant scenarios that they can draw from in the future.
As you structure your training it’s important to consider that different types of teams will benefit from certain role play structures while other may not be as effective. For instance, inbound sales reps or those who make cold calls will benefit more from a high pressure, on-the-spot format that recreates some of the pressure of cold calling a contact. On the other hand, account executives or customer success roles that deal with warm leads or nurture existing accounts may be a better fit for lower pressure role-play formats that allow team members with specialized knowledge to share it with their colleagues in small groups.
Here’s some of the most effective role play formats, and how to use them:
Structure: Basic format where two people each take one role. Typically one is the sales rep and the other is the contact. This can be done as needed to practice or reinforce material that was just introduced.
Use with: Anyone, in sales coaching one-on-ones, can be done with the coach and rep.
Use for: Sales coaching one-on-ones or ad-hoc peer-to-peer prep and training. Difficulty can be reduced by providing parties with more information surrounding the scenario
Best practices: Perform two rounds to ensure that both players swap and get experience as the rep and the contact.
Structure: Similar to the Dyad but includes a third player. The additional player functions as an observer or coach to watch the exercise and provide extra input to the other participants. The roles of rep, contact, and observer should rotate between each person.
Use with: Anyone
Use for: Ad-hoc peer-to-peer prep and training, sales meetings, or when introducing new techniques, products, and materials.
Best practices: Play at least three rounds so each player gets a turn in each role. Additional rounds allow players to apply the advice that they received in the first round. Difficulty and can be increased or decreased depending on the amount of information that is provided to the participants.
Structure: With little to no notice, choose two participants to perform a role-play exercise in front of group. This structure works best with cold call or inbound lead situations.
Use with: Inbound reps, SDR/BDR’s, and reps who make cold calls.
Use for: Sales trainings, meetings, sales kickoffs
Best practices: Perform two rounds so each rep gets time in both roles. Although the purpose of this structure is a surprise, ensure it is conducted in comfortable environment where reps don’t feel like they’ve been put on the spot.
Structure: Two or more reps run through a scenario in front of rest of team This differs from the pop since they will have notice beforehand and time to prepare. The entire team is then asked to provide feedback and input.
Use with: Anyone
Use for: Team trainings, sales kickoffs
Best practices: Run the scenario multiple times. You can either run it so each person gets time in each role, or so that the participants remain in the same role but can apply feedback from the audience to see how it impacts outcomes.
Structure: Similar to fishbowl, except with a single person providing input while the rest of the team observe or step in to participate on a rotating basis. This allows everyone to learn through observation and actively apply the knowledge. Whoever is providing input should be a subject matter expert on the situations that reps are being put in.
Use with: Anyone, but the person providing feedback should be an expert.
Use for: Larger and more formal trainings, or when bringing in an external consultant
Best practices: Center role role-play around the knowledge of the observer and focus on practicing a specific problem area.
Structure: Each participant has a specific role to play: salesperson, prospect, customer, etc. You provide further roles such as the VP of Sales at a prospect company, a sales rep at the prospect company, and so on. Form groups that all contain one of each role. The groups then rotate to different stations within the room that each have a specific scenario assigned to them. At each location, the participants role-play that scenario as their role.
In another version, players are assigned specific stations to stay at, while others rotate to them. You can assign prospects to remain at the stations, with varying degrees of sales difficulty and have reps rotate to each prospect.
Use with: Anyone
Use for: Formal, larger trainings
Best Practices: Provide a short break between each scenario to allow reps to record their thoughts and feedback. At the end, review each situation as a team. You can also bring in observers to walk the room and provide feedback as the scenarios play out.
Structure: Process simulations are a highly involved, lengthy role-plays can last hours or even days. They allow you to bring reps through an entire sales process, from the initial cold call, through the discovery process, the demo, negotiation, and close. Each player is assigned a role with an extensive amount of background information. Whomever plays the role of the rep will have to uncover the needs of their prospect and properly sell to them.
Use for: New reps or sales kickoffs
Use for: formal, larger trainings with lots of time.
Best Practices: The more information you can provide the players about their roles, the better.
To help reps with highly specific use cases, product knowledge, or problem solving, involve your company’s other teams. Have members from product or support play as prospects who have atypical use cases or very technical questions so reps aren’t blindsided when the encounter the problem in real life.
If reps require extra motivation, or you need to lighten the environment and make participants more comfortable, turn role-plays into a game with prizes. For example, in the pop-quiz role-play, observers can vote on who did the best pitch or cold call, and the winner will receive a prize. To make role-plays part of your team over time, make it an into a RPG with a leaderboard. Every week, work on a specific scenario where and whoever handles it best wins a point. At the end of the quarter, whoever has the most points wins!
Use these formats to enhance the effectiveness or your sales role-plays, or to simply make them more enjoyable for your reps. It’s important to remember to match the right format with the what the reps will encounter on a daily basis so they best practice what they do.
Zack is a Sales Content Specialist at RingDNA. He is passionate about solving everyday problems and increasing performance through innovative technology. Zack has worked directly with sales teams and understands the challenges they face on a daily basis. When he's not developing and sharing knowledge at RingDNA, he loves being outdoors, hiking, and coffee.