October 13

5 Sales Role-Play Tips for Success from the Theater


Sales Reps hate to role-play.

But you knew that, right?  Done well, role-play can be an exceptionally powerful tool in helping sales reps master communication skills and navigate many  changes in products, customers, and competition they continually face.  Unfortunately, approaching it with a gallows-like resolve as most sales reps do, limits the opportunity to get the real transformative benefits that role-play can produce.  What Sales Role-play Tips can help?

Look no farther than your local theater.  Stages across the world consistently churn out winning performances using role-play as their primary tool.  Applying a few fundamentals from the theater to your sales role-play will greatly increase your sales reps’ understanding and confidence in the process and provide them with valuable insights they can apply immediately in the field.

5 Sales Role-play Tips for Success from the Theater:

  1. Clarify expectations. 

    Making sure everyone is clear about the goal of the role-play is key.  Keep your objectives simple and specific:  Is it to practice specific skills, like objection handling or getting familiar with discussing a new product or features?  Be clear with your team upfront and stay focused on the primary goal in your feedback.

  2. Foster a safe environment.

    Role-play by it’s nature is an experimentation in new behavior.  This means you need to take off your manager’s hat and allow your team the room to experiment and try out new behaviors and skills without judgment.  Let them know that.  Sales reps learn more about themselves and their behavior if they are allowed to take  risks and make mistakes as opposed to trying to meet your expectations by nailing all the lines.

  3.  Create a specific scenario.

    Actors often have the nightmare of  being  thrust on stage without knowing their lines or even the play. Unfortunately, this is often a reality when it comes to sales role-play.  Giving your team more specific circumstances helps the sales rep to ground themselves in the “reality” of the role-play environment.  It gives them something concrete to focus on so they don’t feel so panicked.  So instead of vague instructions, like “you’re meeting with a doctor,” get specific.  For example, “After multiple attempts to see a busy internist in a large practice, you finally have an appointment.  The waiting room is full and he’s running thirty minutes late.”

  4. Get your cast into role.

    Actors need a moment to “get into role” and so do your sales reps.  Whether they are playing the sales rep or the customer, give them a few minutes to focus on the scenario circumstances and the objective of the role-play.  Questions for sales reps to consider include: When and where is this conversation taking place? What is their relationship to the prospect? Sales reps playing the client should also try to really step into the shoes of the client by asking themselves what they want or expect out of this meeting and just how much they know (or likely, don’t know) about your product or service.   Imagining or even role-playing what just happened “the moment before” the scenario starts is extremely helpful in giving the sales reps confidence and getting the role-play off to a more natural start.

  5. Give feedback like a director.

    Having set up goals for the role-play be sure that your feedback doesn’t stray too far from those goals.  Remember also that you set out to create a safe environment.  Reps took risk by trying new things, and likely made some mistakes.  Honor their trust and courage by avoiding labeling things “right and wrong.” Start by asking the rep how they think they did, what observations they made, and what they would do differently.  You can then expand on that, adding some specific suggestions for improvement and next steps.

While your sales team may not ever learn to love role-play, by using some sales role-play tips for success from the theater, they will feel more prepared, empowered, and confident, and you will all reap greater benefits from the experience.

TIP:  Often the mere presence of a manager in the room can inhibit spontaneity and exploration.  It can be difficult for salespeople to resist saying what they think management wants to hear.  If you really want to maximize role-playing’s effectiveness within your organization, consider hiring a qualified facilitator.  We can help.  Contact us here. 

Want more help Selling on Video? 

For improving your confidence, credibility and connection with customers on video, check out the self-paced Selling On-Camera Master Class.

For workshops, keynotes, and events, get in touch with us here.


role-play, sales managers, sales skills, sales tips

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  1. These are some great tips for being good at acting. I love how you mentioned creating a safe environment, free of criticism. I always get nervous doing this kind of thing, so personally, a safe environment is vital.

    1. Thanks Ridley. I don’t think you’re alone getting nervous! Whether you’re working on improving at sales or acting, you need to have a safe environment to practice and try out new things.

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