“I don’t like that role-playing stuff.”

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A couple weeks ago while sitting in on a client’s sales meeting, I heard one of the sales people say, “I don’t like that role-playing stuff.” That’s too bad, because role-playing is a very important tool to improve your sales and customer communication skills.

One of the key elements of in a well-received infographic on Conducting a Sales Meeting I posted a few months ago is the need for training and role-playing, the heart of every sales meeting. Being a Chicago native, I often point to Michael Jordan as someone who practiced constantly, even when he was the best active basketball player winning championship after championship. Practice helps makes you great–and if you’re great it helps keep your great.

But MJ didn’t wait until the championship game to practice. And you and your sales team should wait until you’re in front of a customer. That visit is too important, and too expensive, not to be ready. Role-playing helps you get ready in a friendly environment, strengthens your skills and understanding, and can help build your confidence.

That’s why I recommend it be part of your weekly sales meetings. If you’re not doing this, start. You’ll likely experience some resistance, and almost certainly some initial awkwardness. But paying attention to the points below can reduce the angst and increase the effectiveness. The same is true even if you’re already using role-playing.

1. Make it Regular

Role-playing works best when you do it week in and week out, improving the team’s ability to place themselves into the right setting, and to use the words they’d actually use in the home. The conversation isn’t “I would tell her what the blower door is.” Rather, it’s “Ma’am, I’m going to set this fan in the door to find out how much air leaks in and out of your home. Can you help me want through the house and find the leaks?”

2. Make it Safe 

Most adults tend to be uncomfortable playing house. You job is to make it safe and comfortable. This isn’t a time to attack. It’s not a test. Role playing is a chance for the whole team to learn and grow. If someone struggles, let someone else offer suggestions (in the form of role-playing!). Always look for the positive way forward and do whatever is needed to make the participants feel comfortable. The main point is to give your team a safe environment where they can learn, practice, and sharpen their skills.

3. Ensure Everyone Participates

This isn’t a passive exercise. Each person must participate, both as the sales person and as the homeowner. And while some are role-playing, the rest as the people are observing, perhaps learning a new way of delivering a message, or perhaps offering a constructive suggestion and jumping into the scenario. Make sure that everyone knows that everyone participates in each role play.  Even if they are not the sales person or the customer, they are to observe carefully and be ready to provide helpful observations and input after each session.

4. Start with the Simple

You’ve got tot have the fundamentals down before you can add the complex. At the end of a long practice, Michael Jordan used to shoot free throws over and over. The basic skills, such as finding jargon-free ways to talk, and asking simple questions rather than preaching from a soapbox, are important themselves, and they set the foundation for the more advanced skills. At the beginning in particular, you’ve got to make it easy to raise the comfort level (see #2, above).

5. Use Positive Feedback

Take the time to ask the participants–the sales person and the homeowner–what they thought went well. And ask them for something they might improve. Remember the “safe” part (Rule #2)? Ask the observers for their impressions, too. The idea here is to reinforces what went well and find one, or maybe two at the most, area that the sales person could work on. Most of us can really only fix one thing at a time, and the idea isn’t to generate the laundry list of needed improvements, but to have them improve steadily over time, one step at a time. When you’ve identified the one are to work on, give the exercise another pass so the sales person can immediately incorporate feedback by applying it.

Consider including role-playing in every sales meeting as a way to keep your team “blocking and tackling.” Your win/loss record will surely get better and each of your sales people will understand that working together as a team is will only make each individual a better performer.

 By role-playing on a regular basis, you can strengthen the sales team’s ability to understand and to communicate. You help them learn to ask good questions and listen for important answers. You build their ability to deliver on your sales process, and ultimately, to generate more sales to help your customers and your bottom line.
I’d love to hear what works for you, and how you get folks onboard and engaged with role-palying.
BTW, role-playing isn’t just for sales. It’s important for people answering your phones. It’s important for technician’s that you want to generate leads for you while they’re in homes and neighborhoods. And while some of the content looks very different, the same basic rules listed above still apply. Regular. Safe. Everyone engaged. Simple first, and more advanced over time. With feedback to help everyone continually improve.
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About the Author:

Mike Rogers is the President of OmStout Consulting. A nationally recognized expert in residential energy-efficiency, he works with contractors and programs to scale sustainable market approaches to improving homes. More on Google+

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