Posted by Ken Eiken, Advisory Council Member of the EcSELL Institute
Like many of you, I've been watching the Olympic Games the past couple of weeks. It's a great time to be an American rooting for the US Olympic Team! One aspect of the games that has been very interesting for me is watching Lindsey Vonn of the US Ski Team visualize her run BEFORE she gets on the mountain. You can see that she is previewing every aspect of her race and coaching her mind and body to be proactive attacking the course. Obviously, her methods work - 2 medals (Gold and Bronze) in 3 events (unfortunately, she fell during the Slalom portion of the Women's Super Combined otherwise she might be 3 for 3!).
What can we as sales leaders learn about Lindsey's race preparation?
If you think about it, every time one of your sales people visits a customer, it is as if they are performing in the medal race of their Olympics. This may be their ONLY shot at Gold - one misstep and their next chance could be a "figurative" 4 years away! Just a little pressure... Fortunately, we have more opportunities to succeed than an Olympic athlete - but what would the results be if we could perform at Gold Medal levels with EVERY customer visit?
Using Role Playing to prepare YOUR team to win Gold!
I've had great success using role playing to improve individual sales performance. Sadly, if your team resembles the typical sales organization, when you propose role playing during your next sales meeting, 50% of the group will roll their eyes and the other 50% will wet their pants. I've yet to find a sales person who enjoys role playing; however, the great ones use this technique to improve their skills! You as the sales leader need to set the tone and be an active participant in any role playing exercise!
Here are a few role playing ideas to try with your team:
- Focus on your team members' weak areas: Uncomfortable with the term "weak areas"? In sales, we don't have time to be politically correct... we all have skills that we must improve to be more successful. If your team members claim not to have weak areas, you might be able to help them identify focus areas after a joint customer visit (from last week's Blog). The key is to invest your precious training time improving skills rather than rehearsing areas of strength.
- During role play, act as a credible customer: We don't learn anything if the only possible result is failure. Even the toughest customers have some need that we haven't discovered, waiting to be pulled out through effective questioning. While it is OK to role play a difficult customer, even a "jerk" if that's the scenario you need to practice with your team member, engaging in a "hopeless" scenario will only build frustration and cause them to lose confidence.
- Keep it real: A clever technique for role playing is to have your team discuss "real" customers / prospects that they're working on for the simulations. Make sure that they give you all of the information so that you can accurately perform the role of that particular customer. When executed successfully, your sales rep may develop a new tactic for working with their customer - maybe resulting in some sort of breakthrough in the sales process.
- The more the merrier: Some of the best role playing exercises I've used have a number of people; the "customer" (usually me or an executive from the organization), an observer (consultant or sales manager), and 1-3 other sales people (they'll get their chance too)... Each one of these participants is responsible for providing feedback and suggestions to the person "on the hot seat". Please reinforce with everyone that these role playing scenarios are "safe". In other words, it is a learning environment where experimentation is encouraged and mistakes are not fatal!
Elite professionals throughout sports, the military, and other organizations use role playing to improve their probability of success. Role playing is a critical coaching tool for sales leaders to improve their team performance. Go for the Gold - Role Play!!!
Your fellow student of leadership - Ken