How to Upskill Your Sales Team with Role-Play Simulations

Today’s marketplace and technological landscapes are marked by constant change. Rapid advancements in technology, new entrants into the competitive arena, and quickly evolving expectations and demands from customers all contribute to a selling environment in which the challenges sales organizations face seem to increase almost daily. As a result, selling skills that were once top-of-the-line may be less than adequate today and entirely insufficient for the future.

That’s why upskilling sellers to improve their sales performance should be a high priority for almost any business. Salesforce puts it this way:

“When companies offer sales reps opportunities to upskill, they’re not just ensuring everyone is maintaining the competencies necessary to do their regular duties. Upskilling represents a chance to learn skills that will take a salesperson’s performance to a higher level.”

Employees themselves recognize the value of upskilling—in a recent Gallup poll 65% said that the availability of employer-provided upskilling would be a very important consideration in their evaluation of a possible new job.

But in a business environment where sales managers are already pressed for time and sales reps are so busy with administrative and other non-selling tasks that they spend only about 28% of their time with customers, how can a company implement an effective upskilling program for its sales force?

One approach that has proven to be highly productive is the use of automated, AI-based role-play simulations that allow sales reps to improve their skills through short practice sessions of as little as 10 or 15 minutes each.

Why Role-Play Simulations are Important for Sales Team Upskilling

Upskilling involves training that helps workers become more productive in their current roles (as opposed to reskilling, which normally prepares them for new roles). In the sales arena, such training typically imparts up-to-date information regarding the company and its industry, customers, products, and competitors. It also covers new sales-related technologies and updates to best-practice selling techniques.

Related: What Are Sales Training Simulations and How Can You Integrate Them Into Your Skills Training Program?

But it’s important to remember that more information does not equate to greater skill. Sales training programs that focus on imparting knowledge, even knowledge that’s highly relevant to the art of selling, are notoriously ineffective in helping reps improve their sales success rate. Research from Gartner reveals that reps forget 70% of what they learn within a week of training. Worse, almost nine out of ten sales training programs have zero detectable impact after three months.

Why does the traditional, information-centric approach to sales training produce such meager results? A recent Forbes article provides this answer:

“One of the most compelling reasons why sales training programs fail is that there isn’t enough reinforcement in the form of coaching to make the training stick… In the absence of a people network and coaching-based reinforcement, salespeople forget the skills and knowledge they have gleaned.”

It’s at exactly this point that role-play simulations make their mark. First, they provide an individualized coaching environment in which sales reps acquire relevant selling skills and not just information. More importantly, reps can use role-play simulations to sharpen and reinforce needed skills through regular practice sessions in which desired behaviors are repeated over and over until they’re not only mastered but become ingrained habits.

How do role-play simulations accomplish all this? Let’s take a look.

How Role-Play Simulations Help Upskill Your Sales Team

Research reveals that effective sales coaching is vital for improving a salesperson’s skills and performance. And role-playing is a critical component of effective sales coaching. It’s so vital, in fact, that McKinsey makes this unequivocal declaration concerning its importance:

“All high-performing sales organizations that we encountered also make extensive use of role-playing as a coaching technique.”

Why is role-playing so important to the upskilling process?

  • It’s a low-stress, “safe” methodology. Rather than making their mistakes in front of real buyers and perhaps not only losing the sale but also potentially negatively affecting the company’s relationship with the customer, role-playing allows reps to engage in realistic selling encounters without fearing possible repercussions.
  • It makes use of experiential learning (“learning by doing”) which, research shows, is superior to simple information transfer in building skills.
  • “Practice makes perfect”—it allows sellers to practice critical selling and interpersonal skills, receive instant feedback on how well they’re doing, and make immediate corrections until the skills are mastered.
  • It builds confidence by allowing reps to sharpen specific skills, such as building rapport with buyers, demonstrating products, carrying out pricing and terms negotiations, handling objections, and closing deals, in a variety of common selling scenarios.
  • It allows sales managers, and the reps themselves, to evaluate progress and refocus the training as needed to achieve desired goals.

The Challenges of Using Manager Role-Playing in Sales Coaching

Traditionally, the sales manager observes or participates in role-play scenarios to provide necessary feedback and coaching. According to Gartner, the coaching process should go something like this:

“Sales managers should observe the seller in action. Soon after, the manager can constructively identify what went well, and what could be improved. How well did the seller overcome a buyer objection? Did their value statement resonate with the executive buyers? If development is needed, focus on what needs to improve and connect the seller to how they can improve.”

To carry out such a program sales managers should be devoting more than a third of their time to coaching. In reality, they spend less than 10% of their time doing so. There simply isn’t enough time in the typical sales manager’s work week to give each team member the individualized coaching that’s needed.

Related: Can You Measure the Quality of a Sales Pitch Using AI?

Plus, sales reps have sometimes avoided role-play simulations because they felt exposed and intimidated by possibly making mistakes while being observed by colleagues and the sales manager. But the advanced, AI-based sales enablement solutions available today are designed to overcome these issues.

How Technology Helps Teams Upskill

Modern sales simulation platforms allow you to create realistic role-play scenarios in which reps interact with a customer avatar that performs according to your instructions. For example, you can predetermine what questions the simulated customer will ask or the objections it will raise during the simulated sales call.

The simulator records video of sales reps as they engage with the customer during simulated sales calls, and produces metrics that characterize specific aspects of each rep’s vocal and visual delivery. These metrics provide the rep (and the sales manager) with objective feedback detailing how they performed in each session. That feedback can be compared to baselines established by top sellers in the organization, or to the rep’s own previous baselines, to track their progress.

Using this technology provides some substantial benefits for your upskilling efforts:

  • Training focuses sharply on each person’s needs. The entire training program is designed around the specific developmental needs and learning style of each individual. Users aren’t frustrated and demotivated by having to spend time on topics that don’t fit their current needs.
  • Simulations are realistic. The AI simulator can be trained on actual sales conversations and present a behavioral replica of your customer so that simulations faithfully reflect the environment in which your reps will operate. Because the AI can respond flexibly and appropriately to the flow of conversation during a simulation, the experience is highly realistic.
  • Users get immediate, objective feedback. The simulator provides specific, quantitative feedback as soon as a practice session ends. The fact that the feedback is data-based is important because the rep is aware that it represents an objective analysis rather than the more subjective (and possibly biased) assessment of a human observer.
  • Reps can practice in private. Since the AI platform can provide precise analytics to guide users in making corrections as they practice new skills, no other persons need to be involved in the process. Being able to practice and make mistakes in private eliminates the intimidation, embarrassment, and stress factors that could otherwise cause the rep to feel so self-conscious while role-playing that much of the benefit is lost.
  • Reps can take ownership of the process. Because the simulator is online and available whenever and wherever users want to engage with it, reps can practice on their own schedule for as long or short a time as they desire. Plus, they can repeat each scenario as often as they like until the targeted skills are mastered.
  • Upskilling is continuous. Because the role-play simulation approach is so flexible and doesn’t require pulling reps off the job for special training events, it can be built into your team’s normal routine. That will allow the team to stay sharp no matter how much or how quickly the sales environment changes.
  • Sales managers save time. The sales manager no longer needs to spend hours observing each team member in simulated sales calls to provide necessary feedback until new skills are mastered. The simulator cannot replace the sales manager but can scale his or her coaching directives and evaluations across the organization.

Sales Leaders Can Enable Sales Role Play and Practice with the Right Platform

Although a modern AI-based simulation platform can lift much of the burden of upskilling a sales team off the sales manager’s shoulders, that leader remains firmly in control of the process. For example, although you need not be present for reps’ practice sessions, a modern, state-of-the-art AI role-play simulation solution, such as the one Quantified provides, will enable you to track each individual’s progress based on comprehensive, standardized scores and rankings. 

These metrics allow you to see exactly where each rep needs to improve, enabling you to provide the personal guidance and encouragement that will help keep your team committed and motivated to reach new levels of skill and effectiveness. If you’d like to explore how you can drive the process of upskilling your team with sales role-play simulations, Quantified can help. Contact us to see how it works.