I’ll Try Taking the Role Plays Seriously

“When I heard this training would have role plays, I was a bit put off. But I’ll try taking the role plays seriously,” a sales trainee commented with a wink at the start of a sales training company’s seminar. Yet within the hour, this same participant was negotiating the facts he learned from the role play instructions loudly and passionately.

While most embrace the role plays that sales training companies deliver from the start, almost all training participants get pulled into their new role play reality. How does this happen, and why do almost all negotiation training companies rely so heavily on role-playing exercises?

Why Are You Still Talking?

Most of us can remember a teacher or lecturer who did too much talking. Our minds wandered, and chances are we don’t remember very much of what they said. Why is it so challenging to learn and remember when someone’s talking for too long?

Sales trainers can only talk at speeds approaching 150 words per minute, but our minds can think at multiples of this rate. There’s debate over the speed at which we can think. Figures typically quoted range from 500 to 3000 words per minute. The truth is that most of us don’t think in language alone – we think in pictures, videos, feelings, and other senses. 

Our brains have evolved to learn in more ways than language alone allows. So, talking alone isn’t the best medium to arrest and hold your audience’s attention. Various research supports that the more senses we are called to use, the higher our retention is.

Virtual Reality

Books, movies, and virtual reality games invite us to leave our reality and step into a make-believe world. In the same way, negotiation role plays invite you to step into the shoes of someone new and engage in their real-life, practical sales. You’re typically handed brief confidential instructions and given some time to prepare before locking horns with another participant who’s holding your counterparty’s confidential instructions. So when compared with sales training lectures, well chosen role plays are more real to life, memorable and enjoyable.


Many sales training companies take role play exercises a step further by video recording your sale and playing this back for everyone to see on the big screen. Your facilitator offers advice on your performance with actionable pointers for everyone to learn from. Participants literally sit on the edge of their seats during the video playback and are riveted to the screen every time they make an appearance. The best video feedback entails two cameras with a split down the middle of the screen, giving participants the unique first-time experience of seeing their behavior while simultaneously seeing the response from their counterparty.

Choose Carefully

Most sales training companies start with short, relatively simple role plays, then the courses build up towards the more complex levels. Here are some questions to consider when choosing your role plays:

1. What level of capability do my participants possess?

Senior sales professionals will be easily bored and derive little sales training benefit from simple role plays. Those new to negotiation will conversely be more likely to lose their way in more complex sales negotiations. If your group is comprised of mixed levels, the sales trainer will want to choose all the more carefully.

2. What are my learning outcomes?

Ensure that your role plays lend themselves to the lessons you’re wanting your participants to learn. If, for example, you want sales force to learn how to make optimal trades, ensure you choose or create a role play that contains differences in how the buyer and seller value interests. If you want to teach a soft skill, ensure that your role play doesn’t lose salespeople in the numbers or analytics.

3. How long do you have?

Role plays usually require more time to navigate than most facilitators anticipate. The ideal is to have a gauge for the time required for each role play and regularly check in on your sales team.

4. Off the shelf or customized?

If your sales participants all share the same industry background, their learning experience and buy-in will be far more powerful if you can give them a role play from their industry. This may require your customization, which is highly time-consuming.

5. Individual or group?

Group sales negotiations are far more complex, requiring team roles and multiple rounds of negotiations. These complexities demand more time from the facilitator to prepare and debrief and from the participants to navigate.

Be Remembered

Without a doubt, the highest praise sales training companies hear from participants will be from effectively facilitating a well-chosen role-play exercise. Sales trainers see evidence on their feedback forms. Role-play experiences will be the conversation on graduates tongues when they next train with you or stop you in the airport. The lessons your graduates will remember long after they’ve forgotten their sales trainer’s sage words will be their direct experiences from your role-play exercises.