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The need for role-play in sales training


A 2019 report by LinkedIn states that soft skills training (honing creativity, persuasion, analytical reasoning, collaboration, and adaptability) forms one of the top seven focus areas for employers.1 In building soft skills, one of the most useful and popular tools is role-playing, which finds application in diverse fields ranging from the educational to the corporate environment.

Role-playing allows a learner to assume the role or tasks of a job by practicing or simulating real working conditions. The primary objectives of role-playing are to learn, improve, or build upon the skills or competencies necessary for a specific position or outcome. In the sales context, the trainee practices the role that he or she is expected to perform (such as initiating a sales conversation or closing a sale) with one or more “customers," played by a more experienced peer, manager, or, at times, even a professional actor. Such role-plays are often conducted with an entire group of sales reps who observe each individual role-play. The role-plays can either be scripted for a sales rep, containing appropriate cues to steer the conversation, or the conversation can be improvised for each scenario. The idea is to simulate real-life sales situations as a way to resolve them.

In the corporate scenario, role-playing for sales training leads to several desirable individual and organizational learning outcomes.

Individual learning outcomes


Self-confidence is one of the primary tools of a successful sales rep. In this context, role-playing works on inculcating the positive belief that you can generally achieve what you set out to do. Behaviorally, role-playing builds self-confidence by encouraging participants to maintain eye contact and articulate their thoughts more clearly.

Oral Communication:

Role-playing can be structured to benefit trainees in multiple ways. Such structuring, for instance, can help sales reps speak more clearly and fluently while learning how to vary pitch and tone. They can also be taught the power of pausing, the impact of body language, and how expressions play a prime role in communication.

Active listening:

The ability to listen closely forms one of the greatest assets of a sales rep. Active listening is a skill that is usually hard to teach through any form of sales training other than role-playing. An active listener pays close attention to the speaker’s choice of words, tone of voice, and body language. Role-playing demands the same of its participants – namely, that they listen to others' dialogues and pay attention to their body language and intentional pauses. In a sales context, such active listening can provide crucial clues to a customer's state of mind and reveal the true nature of the problem they face. This can direct the sales reps to veer the conversation to how they can actually help solve the customer's problem.

Emotional Intelligence:

Role-playing enhances emotional intelligence. It puts sales reps in touch with their emotions and sensitizes them to the feelings of the customer. Trainees get to understand the impact of emotion on customer interactions through the various roles they play. This enhances their empathy and the ability to handle such emotions more effectively in a real-life situation. Often, the focus of a sales conversation is restricted to making the sale and not empathizing with the person on the other side. The application of emotional intelligence tells the customer that they are being valued for their opinions, emotions, and concerns. Emotional intelligence can often prevent emotionally damaging situations from occurring. Constant awareness of the emotional quotient of the situation can help bring the conversation back to objectivity and problem-solving.   

Organizational learning outcomes

Concretizing abstract learning concepts:

Much of soft-skills training requires the learning and application of different behavioral models to suit different sales scenarios. When presented on paper, slides, or even in videos, these concepts can appear abstract. However, role-playing in such scenarios can concretize learning by turning a concept into an experience, thereby ensuring greater clarity and longer retention of the concept by the participants.

Quick assessment and ramping up of skills:

Role-playing can be used to gain valuable insights into the skill levels of sales teams. A role-play session with a given challenge can help trainers assess the skill levels of individual sales reps better than any survey or interview. By the same token, role-playing can be effectively used by trainers to ramp up the skills of new recruits quickly. Varying the challenge levels can lead to skill-building and development among the participants. The use of a professional actor who can make things behaviorally difficult while staying “real” can contribute enormously toward hastening the knowledge assimilation process.

Providing a safe, yet real environment for learning:

A well-conducted role-play within a tightly focused scenario is perhaps as real as it gets for the sales rep before meeting the actual customer. More importantly, by allowing a rep to respond to a sales situation in multiple ways and letting him see for himself the impact of each of those responses on the customer, role-plays help in furthering the learning process and in building confidence in a sales rep. At the same time, they offer a safe and non-judgmental environment wherein participants can make mistakes and learn from them without the fear of retribution or an adverse fall-out.

Harnessing the benefit of “groupthink”:

Some types of role-play harness the wisdom of an entire group in problem-solving. Here, when a sales rep is put in a difficult spot with a customer (usually played by a professional actor), the entire group is asked to suggest ways to resolve the problem. Having heard all the suggestions, the rep does the role-play again with the benefit of the knowledge and experience of the entire group. This approach often produces multiple solutions to the same problem. It offers further insights into the complexity of the problem and creates empathy for the customer’s situation. This type of role-playing gives sales reps the freedom to work out and test theories amongst themselves.

Tapping into rich debriefing possibilities:

Valuable insights gained from role-plays allow trainers to conduct rich and tightly focused debriefs with participant trainees. Facilitators can help reps identify the pivotal moments in the role-play where certain actions or words said by the participant helped in steering the situation toward one of the desirable outcomes. Reviewing a role-playing experience allows your sales reps to identify their weak points and develop a plan to address them. Reps will find it much easier to understand where they went wrong (or right) when they actually see it for themselves.

How sales enablement can help in role-playing

Role-playing is an important feature of an effective sales enablement program. An integrated sales enablement and sales training platform provide simulated sales scenarios for virtual role-playing exercises, and trainers can get reps to participate in them from anywhere in the sales network. A sales enablement platform allows the use of video in sales training. Recording videos of a role-play can lead to the creation of a large volume of useful data for analysis and discussion. For instance, trainers can record their top sales performers in a role-play and use the video as a reference for the other members of the sales team to emulate and learn from. Additionally, trainers can use the sales enablement platform to integrate role-plays into their ongoing sales training programs for sales reps, facilitating continuous learning and reinforcement.


Role-playing can help sales reps prepare for unfamiliar or difficult sales situations. It can also help them with their general level of communication skills, and provide them the opportunity to explore areas such as non-verbal communication and the effective use of language in the sales process. Through role-playing, sales reps can develop their emotional intelligence, and further their skills of active listening. These skills can elevate the sales rep from being a mere seller to being a trusted advisor to the customer. An integrated sales enablement and sales training platform can help organizations integrate role-play into their regular sales training program.

To know how can help you with role-plays, schedule a call with us today.