When training managers mention role-play sales training, one word comes to mind for most salespeople (and the managers themselves): cringe. It’s awkward and embarrassing for several reasons, not least that most people dislike performing and like getting judged on performance even less. However, this discomfort doesn’t change a core truth about role-playing: it’s one of the most effective tools for training because it provides both active learning and real practice. Reading tips, watching demos, and prepping for calls don’t offer the same learning rate or sticking power.
But even sales reps who have undergone successful role-play sales training and know the benefits still roll their eyes and drag their feet if they’re role-playing in front of a crowd or with their manager. If you want to engage your team in the process and see those results in employee and customer performance, you must prioritize that engagement from the start. Here, we briefly explore why it’s worth the effort. Then we lay out four essential steps for eliminating the resistance to putting genuine effort into the training and making it a better experience.
4 Benefits of Role Play Sales Training
Role-playing has been identified as an effective strategy for decades. Harvard Business Review was even discussing tactics about how to use role-playing to build sales rep confidence way back in 1987. Its sticking power is because of the wide range of benefits it offers sales reps regardless of industry level, experience, or specialty. Some of the most valuable benefits of role-play sales training are:
- Comfort handling rejection: New sales reps find it hard to face a constant barrage of ‘no’s. But even experienced sales reps can benefit from ongoing role-playing training to end the call on as positive a note as possible—both for their mental well-being and to keep your company’s brand reputation high.
- Foundation for building empathy: Active listening, empathy, and customer-focused responses aren’t something that can be learned in theory and then applied in practice. Instead, building a solid foundation in these skills through frequent practice and application outside of customer interactions is essential.
- Practicing company messaging, even under pressure: Sales calls help form an impression of your company’s brand, whether that impression is positive or negative. So sales reps must use the right messaging, word choice, and tone throughout the process. But that becomes complicated when prospects are belligerent, become frustrated, or even ask questions sales reps don’t know the answer to. With role-playing, salespeople can learn and practice the right messaging until it becomes second nature.
- Simple practice: Practice is a form of active learning, and active learning is valuable in every type of education, from job training to school learning. Studies show that learners are 50% more likely to fail an exam if they learned through traditional lectures than if they had access to active learning.
But You Can’t Access Those Benefits Without Employee Engagement
Unfortunately, quite a few barriers can stand between your sales reps and these results, especially because role-playing has such a negative reputation. Obstacles that you need to remove are:
- Discomfort: One of the most fundamental and thorny problems with role-playing is the one you must address immediately. Most sales reps simply aren’t comfortable engaging in role-play exercises, and there are many reasons for this. They may find it hard to stay in character. They might not like practicing in front of an audience, whether there’s a group or just a manager. They may also be uncomfortable knowing someone is judging their performance every second.
- Lack of clarity: Sometimes, the rules and purpose regarding role-playing exercises are hard to decipher beyond the general objective of ‘getting better.’ Salespeople become more engaged if there is a clear, specific objective and clear rules for the exercise.
- The results aren’t measurable or helpful: Role-playing exercises can often feel arbitrary, especially if the resulting feedback doesn’t lead to actionable changes or if the practices are random or intermittent. If the activities and outcomes don’t provide clear value, busy sales reps won’t have the patience for them.
- The scenarios don’t match reality: Role-playing scenarios must be realistic and valuable. If your reps act out unrealistic situations or the customer portrayal doesn’t make sense, they’ll feel like the training wastes time. And that might be the case—role play aims to nail down responses (whether those responses are answers, brand messaging, or active listening), and the only way to do that is with applicable, real-world scenarios.
Ultimately, all of these barriers tie to a lack of engagement. If the process is uncomfortable, uninteresting, and uninformative, sales reps refuse to participate or simply go through the motions. This can be disheartening since conventional role-playing is such a time-consuming activity (especially for managers). The rest of this article aims to help you knock down these barriers and provide role-play sales training that is immediately more valuable for everyone.
How to Increase Employee Engagement in Role Play Sales Training
Consider all these barriers and see how these steps will transform the exercises into better practice sessions that sales reps are more eager to engage in.
1. Use AI to Develop Realistic and Individualized Scenarios
If you purchase role-play training scripts and scenarios, they might be severely outdated—customer buying behaviors simply change too rapidly. But, even if they’re recent, they may not align with typical situations in your unique business. It’s like using industry research in lieu of company-specific analytics: it’s similar but not precise. Creating your scenarios based on remembered situations or common frustrations might be better, but it’s a lot of time.
Instead, invest in AI role-play training tools that continuously iterate new scenarios based on specific objectives. Generative AI, like ChatGPT, has reached a developmental point where it can learn from databases and develop unique but proximal content. As a result, you can give your sales rep dozens or even hundreds of scenarios to practice that focus on a key objective like active listening. Then you can generate hundreds that concentrate on removing poor word choice, and so on.
2. Prioritize Privacy and Accessibility
Moving your conventional role-play practices into the digital or virtual spectrum doesn’t have to stop at generating scenarios. Instead, try virtual role-playing scenarios where an AI character plays the prospect or customer counterpart. This removes the ‘audience’ component of role play—and a lot of discomforts. Your shyer reps can practice privately wherever they can access the program. In fact, in a comparative test, we found that reps practice 4x to 6x more with a private AI than with their manager. They can practice repeatedly until satisfied and get feedback from an AI coach or their manager when ready. If your organization requires input from a human training manager, they can simply pick the recorded session they like best and send that in.
3. Let Reps Track Individualized Progress
You already have the ingredients for personalization within the first two steps: AI can generate endless role-playing scenarios based on different goals, and sales reps can practice as often as they want.
Because of this, they can grow at their own pace through a personalized learning course. With the right software, they can track their progress in specific metrics, master specific skills, and demonstrate their progress as part of their career development. Not only is this more helpful, but it’s more motivating and engaging.
4. Check In With Sales Reps
Virtual or AI-based training is also a valuable tool for training managers. You can check in on the progress of sales reps to:
- Ensure they’re reaching the minimum required growth.
- See the strengths of each agent.
- Assess reps for promotions or positions based on their new skills and their effort to learn.
- See frequent hang-ups to reevaluate the training material, sales enablement resources, and your organization’s sales processes.
By engaging with the software, training managers can check in with the reps and ensure everyone has the necessary resources. You can also spend your training time slots getting feedback from your sales teams, focusing on other elements of training and performance, and helping your team grow.
Generate More Engagement by Switching From Traditional Role Play to Role Play Scenarios From Quantified
Role-play sales training is one of the most effective ways to learn sales skills—but only if your sales reps engage with the process. Conventional, one-on-one training has barriers ranging from discomfort to disconnect that get in the way, but AI can help resolve those issues.At Quantified, we’ve developed AI tools that can generate realistic sales scenarios, role-play those scenarios, and coach your reps through them in real-time or after each exercise. Schedule a demo today to see how it makes all the difference.