Think about your favorite athlete or actor; how did they become so successful? Were they simply born with unmatched skill and blessed with a lot of luck? Yes, probably, but top athletes also put in hours of practice every day to be at the top of their game, and actors rehearse their scenes for days, if not weeks, before the final product is ready for an audience.

Why are we talking about movie stars and professional athletes? The reason is simple: Practice is essential to high performance.

In sales, we practice our craft with role-play. If you are serious about sales coaching, role-play has to be in your bag of tricks. What does role play entail? The short answer is, “Everything.” The long answer is, “Prospecting, presenting, negotiating and other skills relevant to the learner’s job role that he or she will face when interacting with customers.” And while the new sales rep with little to no experience will benefit the most from this process, the truth is that all sales professionals, regardless of experience, gain something from practice.

Here are some tips for coaching sales reps using role-playing.

Make the Scenario as Real as Possible.

The key to being successful in role-playing is making your situations as real as possible. While the circumstances are fictional, and the sales reps are playing a part, it is not enough to simply go through the motions with a remote to your ear. Give your reps assignments. Have them go home and practice in front of a mirror or with a spouse. Give them a script, and make sure they master it. If you want the best results, have them record it. Nothing brings about self-awareness like listening to (or watching) yourself.

But be aware that it’s important to have a plan when you are role-playing. Hit key points; set objectives; and practice the ideal, the normal and the unexpected. In the perfect world, a customer would sit back, listen to what a sales rep has to say, and then say, “Yes, please.” But in the real world, that doesn’t happen often.

Perfect the Art of Dealing With the Challenging Customer.

It’s critical that reps know that the sales process won’t always be easy. They will interact with customers who question everything and want to know every little detail about a product. These interactions are where practice really pays off. Throw a few difficult customer examples at your sales rep to make them think on their feet. The more they practice dealing with challenging customer types, the more prepared they will be when they do interact with that type of client.

Play it Back.

You’ve had your reps record themselves; now, it’s time to listen. It’s amazing how much we fail to see until we are confronted with it face to face. Reviewing a role-playing experience can be enlightening and help bring about radical change. This experience allows your sales reps to identify their weak points and develop a plan to improve.

To get the most out of the experience and help develop a sales rep into a force to be reckoned with, keep the following items in mind:

  • Mix things up. Create an eclectic cast of characters for your sales reps to interact with and scenarios where your reps have to adapt to varying needs.
  • Let mistakes happen. Don’t stop your reps when they make a wrong turn. Often, we learn the most when we make a mistake and have to figure out how to fix it.
  • Be constructive. Keep your remarks simple and to the point. This exercise will be futile if your rep is overwhelmed or frustrated with the feedback you provide.

Role-playing is a powerful tool. It can bring tremendous growth and prepare sales reps for whatever their customers throw at them. Remember, the goal of role-playing is to create a stronger, more confident sales rep, but don’t be afraid to have a little fun with it. After all, you are the rep’s mentor, and they need someone they can relate to and trust. Hold their hand, guide them through the hard parts and take pride as they show you how much they have grown.