Role playing is an ancient practice used by sales managers in an attempt to identify how skilled their team was at selling. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. The sales manager can not learn how good a sales associate is by having her stand up in front of her peers and pretend.
Any sales person will tell you that role playing is uncomfortable, unrealistic, and a waste of valuable time. And yet, it continues to be part of annual sales meetings everywhere.
Let’s explore the motivation behind this exercise.
Sales Role Playing
Presumably, the sales manager believes it’s a good idea to have colleagues act out how they handle situations in front of each other. The thought process is most likely that they can receive input and feedback from their peers. In addition, role playing can seem like an efficient use of time. After all, working with everyone at the same time has got to be more time effective than meeting one on one with each team member.
Let’s back up one more step to the goal. What does the sales manager really want the result of the time spent together to be? A good sales manager wants to discover what her team is encountering and offer insight and resources. The goal is for each sales person to maximize their efforts and therefore, their results. The best way to do this is to have a conversation with the team. This conversation can occur as a group or individually. The most effective process, in my opinion, is to do both.
When the group is together, there’s real value in having them share their experiences. They can ask each other questions and use the relationships they have with the other teammates to uncover methods and practices that work well. Each sales person will take what they need from that conversation and apply it.
When we remember that each salesperson is an individual we embrace the idea that each is going to engage in the sales process in their own unique way. That’s a good thing. The more genuine they are the more they will resonate with others. Because each of them confronts situations from their own vantage point, there is also value in meeting with them one on one.
I’m a big fan of feedback loops. These are communication processes that encourage two way conversation and input. When the sales manager implements a feedback loop she is more aware of the struggles each sales person on her team is experiencing. She is also able to be more effective in helping them overcome those struggles.
The only thing role playing does is make people uncomfortable. And I mean everyone in the room. The people picked to play roles are uncomfortable because it’s just not a natural process. They have to think on their feet because they aren’t really in a situation. What’s missing is the relationship they have with the other person, the previous meetings and interactions, and the depth of understanding of the situation. Role playing is a snapshot in time. It’s a snippet of a situation. It’s difficult to drop yourself into that place and effectively carry out the scenario.
In addition, the other people in the room are uncomfortable. It’s not easy watching your peers being put on the spot. While they are glad they aren’t the ones in front of the group, they can’t help feeling sorry for those who are. What gets missed is the point of the exercise. Moreover, because a role playing exercise is a snippet of a situation it isn’t relevant to everyone in the room. Many people will tune out. If we circle back to the goal, it is clear that the goal isn’t met through role playing. People don’t pay attention, there isn’t an opportunity for them to weigh in on the situation. Rather, they will be critiquing their peers – which no one really enjoys.
When sales managers and business owners want to take full advantage of a sales conference or team meeting, they can do so by holding roundtables. These roundtables can be divided into specific sales topics, allowing the attendees to select where they’d like to learn. Or it can be one big open discussion that everyone participates in. Allowing the team to talk about actual experiences and seek input and advice goes a long way in helping them improve their results. In addition, the sales manager can identify areas where they can help the salesperson one-on-one.
When the goal is improving the results your sales team is experiencing, consider replacing role playing exercises with discussion sessions. You’ll find the sales team gaining more benefit, and the company gaining more sales.
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