Fable Friday: How to make role play work as a training tool

One of my clients negotiates payments between their insurance company customers and the health care providers who send the bills. My client makes its money by taking a cut on what they save the payer.  I help their sales team with calling skills and their telephone negotiators with negotiation skills.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedIn one of our sales team workshops we discussed a tactical approach to a delicate conversation, and one of the learners raised her hand and said, “Let’s role play it.” Because I seldom hear this from a workshop participant, I was surprised and pleased.  What I have learned over the years is that the more committed and engaged the employees, the more willing they are to do anything they can to improve. Not everybody hates role play.

In my last post here I talked about the down side of role play, when it doesn’t work. But because it is such a powerful learning tool, let’s balance the scales today and share some best practices that will make it more effective.  Here are three ideas to consider in using role play to train your sales team:

Keep them short—Practice short, realistic scenarios.  There is less discomfort, greater concentration and greater likelihood of retention.  For example, at a sales meeting you’re discussing how to open the on-site call. After various ideas have been shared, say to your team, “You are making an on-site call to a good prospect.  After the introductions when everyone is seated, what’s the first thing you should say?  (Name), you go first.”

Provide expert, relevant feedback—Remember that practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.  This means that whoever is giving the feedback should have some expertise. If you’re the sales manager or the training facilitator, it’s usually you. In the scenario for opening the call above, it’s good to have other team members share their best practices when it’s their turn, but make sure the feedback is on target and provides specific help.  Say, “It helped when you asked the prospect to comment on the agenda you sent. It was a useful way to get him engaged right away.” Don’t say, “You asked a couple of good questions.” See the difference?

For this same reason, short fishbowl role plays, in which each learner practices before the entire group, are preferable to learners working in pairs where the partner may not be competent to provide useful feedback.

Use a structured feedback model to build confidence—My preference is to seek comments from the learner first about what went well, and have others comment specifically on the same topic, to reinforce positive behavior. Only then do I allow the learner to talk about an opportunity for improvement, which allows for self-discovery and commitment and keeps the learner from being daunted by the negative data dump of what he didn’t do well.  “You didn’t ask enough open-ended questions and you forgot to mention the promotion…” Unless I nip this early, there is a tendency for the other team members to overload.  Once the learner acknowledges a key area for her own development, you’re pretty much done with the feedback.

Keep in mind that role play, along with simulation, is the most powerful of all experiential learning tools, so don’t abandon it. Just work harder to use it well.

If you have tips, ideas or practices that work well for you, please feel free to share them in your feedback.  My wife keeps telling me I don’t know everything and of course she is right.

Think Like Your Customer

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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