Friday, April 11, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Role Playing for Salespeople

Over the years, honing presentation skills has been a regular part of "getting the job done" in all the sales jobs I've had. At a certain point, the time comes to "role play"; a practice of giving your sales pitch to a pretend audience made up, usually, of co-workers.

This can cause anxiety and perspiration. There will even be those that feel aggravated that they have to go through this. But the bottom line is that if you're in sales, you need to know your product, your pitch, and feel comfortable speaking to a room full of people.

Most often, the bad sentiments associated with "role playing" come from the make-believe construct ("I know this isn't real. You know this isn't real. I know you know this isn't real. You know I know you know this isn't real. Who are we fooling?") and the relationships we have with co-workers ("My gaffs will be happy hour fodder", "You judgin' me, bro?").

But there are ways to mitigate these issues and get productive. The key is to make sure it doesn't come across as remedial or feel like a tribunal. How do you do that? Here are my thoughts...

- Call it "show n tell". This is less intimidating and not encumbered with preconceived notions of putting salespeople on trial and in front of hard-nosed prosecutors.

- By not calling it "role playing", you're not asking sales people to be someone other than themselves. Salespeople need to be themselves, feel comfortable in their own skin. Let them use their own words and style to convey the message. If it's scripted and memorized, it comes off sounding...wait for it...scripted and memorized.

- Have only one or two people play the prospect at a time. Everyone else is a silent observer. Too many prospects and it turns into a pile on.

- This isn't a game of "stump the chump". No one wins or learns when the prospect tries to trip up or agitate the sales presenter. (See bullet point below on addressing client objections).

- Break it down into its component parts. Presentation pitches have multiple parts (e.g. The opening, the intro, etc.). So, one idea is to have the salespeople break it down and just "show n tell" their opening or their product benefits.

- Open such a session with a white board exercise on the most common client objections and the best way to handle them. This positions the session as more than presentation skills and kicks things off as a team exercise.

- The first person to run through their pitch should be a sales manager, not one of the team members. If you can't step up, or don't know the pitch, you have no business running such an event.

- Don't have the role of the prospect played by the sales manager or a senior exec. The salesperson should not see this as a job performance review, but rather the training session that it is. Have a peer or person junior to the presenter act as the prospect.

- Video tape it. Yeah, this is awkward and often more unsettling to the presenter than the issues mentioned above. But it's incredibly enlightening (and eventually empowering) to see yourself in action. It also gives the team a chance to review in "slow mo" - step by step - what worked, and what didn't, without interrupting the flow of the live presentation.

- Don't make this a one-time big event. Pitches, narratives, and strategies change in response to products and markets evolving. Do it regularly and it will feel less like a final exam, and more like a team scrum.

Would love to hear what you think. Drop a comment below...

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