Doug Robinson: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Doug Robinson

Friday, August 9th, 2013

“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” Confucius penned this quote five centuries before Christ, reminding us today that practice leads to improvement. 

Salespeople continually hear the mantra, practice makes perfect, but that’s not really true. As the title above emphasizes, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect, underscoring the fact that not just any practice will do. 

Your salespeople no doubt understand the power of role-play in improving selling skills, but they also will tell you it is one of the nastiest tasting medicines they’re asked to swallow. Realizing that, what doesn’t kill you makes you better, in this piece I’m offering ten tips to enhance role play among your team members, which in turn will improve their sales performance.

Strengthen – Role-playing should never be made easy. Salespeople must learn to handle pressure and stress in the form of questions and concerns regarding price, value, and the competition. They must also become flawless at verbalizing features and benefits, and tough role-playing will improve all these skill sets.

Scoff – Since role-playing can feel threatening and embarrassing, management must maintain a good finding environment and banish all snipers from the sales room. To raise the safety level, consider practicing in groups of three, alternating the roles of salesperson, customer and observer. Conduct a debriefing session afterward, but agree from the start that everyone knows it’s out-of-bounds to make cutting or snide comments about their teammates. Don’t forget, what goes around comes around.

Support – Add some fun by having your reps vote and award the best role-player an inexpensive prize, or consider giving something to each participant, with the best performer receiving the highest value perk. Even if someone crashes and burns during their role-play, the least bit of recognition should be an encouragement for them to press on with another attempt. Remember, role play is all about getting better, not perfection.

Specify – The way you sell to a residential homeowner is different from selling to a manager or owner of a business, so role-play by type of buyer. Rotate the buyer titles and get into character for each different role you will face during actual sales calls. A property manager scenario won’t help if you normally call on physicians.

Solicit – Role-playing will be more effective when sales managers participate in the exercise. That way the manager can assume the role of the seller to show the troops a picture of what it’s supposed to look like. Next, the manager might rotate and play the buyer’s role, asking serious questions and verbalizing common objections, like those voiced in the real selling world. A side benefit of management participation is that employee-manager relationships will naturally improve because you are working together. 

Standardize – Make a list of real world sales objections and stalls encountered by your reps, and work on them during these test driving sessions. It’s always better to practice offline with live ammunition so you will be better prepared for actual buyer concerns when you are on the live sales firing line. Practice what your folks face on a daily basis.

Steer – Prospects tend to change the subject and steer salespeople into chit-chat, and away from the selling conversation, so practice guiding yada yada conversations back where they belong. Role-play is a great way to get prepared to guide errant buyers back to reality so that the conversation returns to relevant issues.

Simulate – Video the role-playing sessions with an inconspicuously placed camera, to reduce the participants’ anxiety. You will dramatically increase sales effectiveness by using the videos for good finding evaluations. When reps see and hear what they really say and do, rather than what they think they say and do, they are more likely to make individual improvement, without any money riding on their performance. Lights, camera, action!

Suggest – Critique by sharing what went well and what might be done differently next time. Don’t be overly critical, although sales folks are normally tougher on themselves than the observer is. In order to keep them from getting overwhelmed, limit suggestions for improvement to two things, utilizing a worst first strategy. When progress is made on those two, pick the next worst two for improvement.

Summarize – Keep a record of strengths and weaknesses by sales rep, so they can build on what has been learned during follow-up sessions. Over time the list of weaknesses will get shorter, bolstering the confidence and performance of each member of your team. 

Don’t ever forget that training isn’t training unless the participants are doing it. Whether you call it test driving, sales simulation, or just old-fashioned role play, it’s critical to practice regularly, when there is no money at stake.

If your sales team could use some test driving to help sharpen their axes, contact Doug here, and ask for assistance. He can conduct sales meetings that include role play for your company, remotely via Google+ Hangouts very inexpensively!

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.