Role Play

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“Role-playing games are contests in which the players usually cooperate as a group to achieve a common goal rather than compete to eliminate one another from play. Role-playing games bring players together in a mutual effort.”

–          Gary Gygax (1938 – 2008), American author and game designer, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons

Wait!  Even though the post runs a little long today, I gotta get these three things off my chest first…

  1. I am at least a little panic-stricken about what a post titled “Role Play” might bring me via SEO.  Just sayin’…
  2. I know absolutely nothing about Dungeons & Dragons.  If you locked me in a dungeon with a dragon, I would still not make the connection.
  3. #2 doesn’t matter, because this statement from Gary Gygax is brilliant! He should have been a sales leader.

We play the way we practice…

If you’re in the business of selling for a living, your success will occur directly in correlation with how much time you and your teammates spend role-playing.  Lest we get into a “does not, does too” argument, I will resist dropping the mic there.  (Oh, man I am SO tempted to drop the mic…)

When a prospect objects because ____________, we risk being caught flat-footed and ill-prepared if we’ve never role-played the scenario.

The reason it’s a group activity with common goals is that participating with a group brings multiple perspectives, eyes, ears, brains, and voices to the scenario.  It makes our practice feel as much like the real game as we can simulate.  If a double-engine-stall exercise in a flight simulator works for pilots, why wouldn’t an off-the-wall objection role-play work for a sales pro?  (In both cases, by the way, we avert disaster by lowering the stakes, albeit with different carnage factors involved!)

When we recite features and benefits, our mouths work overtime while our brains take PTO…and our prospects check out!

I’m not saying we don’t need to know our products.  We also shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking our prospects care about them.  At. All.  Role-playing forces us off the script and into the world of “why did they say that?”

At the risk of role-playing in a blog post, let’s start with the script and move on to the stuff that changes the conversation; in other words, let’s role-play in a blog post!

Us:  “…and that’s why our widgets are the highest rated widgets in the entire widget world!”

Prospect:  “Seriously?  Do you think I give rat’s booty about widget ratings?  I care about one thing!  My costs.  No matter who made the widget or where that widget ranks!

Us (if we’ve never role-played):  “Well, duh!  You should!  I mean, cost?  Really? Why would that matter when you could have the top-ranked widget in your machine? And besides, our competitors just mark up other stuff to cover the real cost of their widgets.  Please-oh-please-oh-PLEASE buy my widgets!”

Prospect (if we said that):  “Get.  Out.  Now!

Let’s try that one more time, from the part where the client asked a perfectly logical question…

Prospect:  “All I care about is my costs.  Why do I care where the widgets rate?”

Us (when we’ve role-played): “That makes perfect sense.  Tell me, how do you factor the variables into your cost models?”

Prospect:  “Huh?” (Also knows as the “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” response…)

Us (when we’ve role-played):  “Does downtime get factored in as a cost?  What about reputation risk if the machine breaks down?  Are your customers sort of like you, in that they won’t always know (or care) what made it break — they’ll just want it to work?  Does time-to-market get measured in your cost model?  Our customers find they get their widgets a week sooner than other widget providers, because of the precise specs to which ours are manufactured. That gets them to market faster, and because of our customer-focused terms, their cash flow usually gets a nice bump.  So, shame on me for not making the point better earlier, but if the cost is your primary concern, I’ll bet you and I could put pencil-to-paper and figure out exactly where we come in — and I like our odds.”

But, Steve, we can’t imagine the conversation playing out like that!

It might not.  But if we’re just wanting to parrot features and benefits, the first conversation — the one that ends in “Get. Out. Now!” — is pretty likely to occur.

Speaking of imagining — role-play in sales training is about being ready, nimble, sharp and compelling.  It’s about bringing the players together in a mutual effort to make a difference.

Post-Script, featuring my friends, Tom and Tim

Tom Miller and Tim Luger are two of the best dudes with whom I’ve ever worked.  Tom called me one night from a nice restaurant, where he was celebrating with his wife.  “We were just talking about a decision we had to make, and she stopped in the middle and said, “Did you just Heston me?”  Tim and I were at a Packers game at Kroll’s getting a pre-game, 4,000 calorie meal  Tim’s significant other was weighing what to order.  Tim started to role-play the benefits of the burger vs. the chicken sandwich, fully hamming up the role-play.  She looked at me and said, “I blame you…”

It’s a way of life for us.  It’s how we changed the conversation and dramatically amped up our outcomes.  It’s how we learned and grew, together. Even though we no longer work together, we frequently connect to role-play scenarios, some professional, some personal.  Role-playing makes a difference for Tom, Tim and me and for every team-member I’ve ever worked with.

It’ll make a difference for you, too.

Drop me a note in the comments if you’d help with getting the discipline in place for your team.  Better yet, drop me a note if you disagree, and then let’s role-play it out!





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