When is the last time you prepared for an important telephone sales conversation?

Posted on 12/03/2013 in Selling Skills

In the past year alone we’ve seen about a twofold increase in the number of one-on-one telephone coaching assignments we’ve done for our clients.  In an effort to make the coaching with sales professionals and sales managers as practical and skill-based as possible, we  discovered how valuable short role play exercises can be over the telephone. It’s no surprise, we’ve always used role play exercises in our workshops, but haven’t always used it as frequently in our coaching engagements.  

It is easy to see how telephone role plays can be a very practical way to help new salespeople. In addition it works great for experienced salespeople when practice is needed for a new product launch, dealing with a price increase or some other challenging situation. Telephone coaching with role playing includes the benefits of one-on-one attention with skill practice and feedback in a unintimidating learning environment. 

Advantages of Telephone Role Plays
1. Experiential learning: A telephone role play allows you to learn by doing, which is almost always the best way to learn or improve a skill.

2. Efficient: Telephone role plays don’t take long to do and review.  Select a short realistic segment of an upcoming sales call and then sell as you would during the real sales call.  The entire process – set up, role play, and feedback – can usually be finished in 15 minutes or less.   

3. Realistic: Let’s face it, we all do a lot of selling over the telephone! Many salespeople sell almost exclusively over the telephone. Even those salespeople who make many face-to-face sales calls each day, still spend a large percentage of their time selling over the phone as well.  You can make this a very realistic practice opportunity.

Telephone Role Play and Feedback
It is important to select a role play partner carefully. Ideally, the person knows your industry and can act realistically as a customer.  A sales peer or manager is typically the ideal role play partner.

Choose your role play partner wisely. The person needs to be trusted to give candid and fair feedback.  Avoid picking someone who is at either of these two extremes – someone  who criticizes you 100% of the time is not helpful but you also don’t want someone who only offers you praise.  This person should be told that it is okay and desirable to give you both positive and negative feedback.  

Prior to doing the role play itself, the salesperson should provide some background information to the other person so that he/she can act appropriately as the customer.  To simulate real life, the person acting as the customer should purposely add some information that the salesperson isn’t aware of.  For example, insert a typical objection during the sales conversation.

The role play itself should only take a few minutes, after which the customer then gives feedback to the salesperson.  When giving feedback an important tip is to Always provide an example to support your suggestion.  "You might want to ask some more open=ended questions, such as ‘What do you value most in a supplier?’” This feedback is so much more helpful than a simple "You should ask more open-ended questions.”

Finally, if time allows, do a quick re-do so that the salesperson can try to implement some of the suggestions. Having the opportunity to fine-tune and make adjustments feels good to the person practicing something difficult, and more importantly, repetition is important part of the learning process.
Sales Managers interested in helping their salespeople improve pre-call planning skills visit the Sales Meeting Kits: Pre-Call Planning page.