An article originally published in the May 1987 issue of the Harvard Business Review, “Role Playing as a Sales Training Tool” recently bubbled up in my news feed. 28 year old news? Well, maybe not news but a great reminder.

In his article, Larry J.B. Robinson writes, “Executives frequently pay too little attention to the key elements of a good sales force: hire trainable people with pleasing personalities, give them effective, continual training, and motivate them to pursue and close the sale.” This assertion is still spot on today, in fact recent research reveals sales reps receive an average of 31.5 hours of training a year, and 63% of sales reps say it’s not enough (read more from our recent release, “Sales Training & Sales Enablement“).

But Robinson goes on to point out that committing to ongoing training isn’t easy. The very idea of continual training can scare a manager – all of the time spent creating courses, assessing and evaluating knowledge, plus pulling reps out of the field for a large amount of time hardly sounds productive. However, Robinson continues, “unlike other training tools, such as manuals or classroom lectures, role playing is active. And because of the activity, involvement, and peer pressure people feel in the “drama,” the learning rate is high.”

Even today, the benefits of sales role playing as a training method are clear:

  • Practice & Improve skills before seeing the client
  • Uncover individual skills gaps
  • On-demand to fit you and your teams schedule

Role playing is something that can be squeezed into busy schedules, and when recorded, can be referenced time and time again by both new hires, sales reps looking to learn from their peers, and by managers focused on improving client-facing communications further.

Robinson concludes on another easily forgotten but important to remember tip: don’t forget about your top performers and veteran reps.

“Even for competent veterans of the retailing scene, role-playing sessions can be useful. Salespeople can develop bad habits like unconsciously uttered expressions such as “you know” and “great, great.” Role playing can reveal these habits. Training should continue throughout a salesperson’s career; the veteran baseball player never stops taking batting practice.”