How to Achieve Improvements in Sales Performance Quickly through Role Playing – by Dr. Dawn Deeter-Schmelz

On May 13th Bob Terson published a great blog post on the importance of sales role plays. I couldn’t agree more!  As Bob notes, it is a great way to polish your presentation and gain experience.

At the National Strategic Selling Institute at Kansas State University we take it one step further: we record the role plays and subsequently review the video with the students. In my experience, recording role plays offers three advantages over simply doing the role plays.

1.  Feedback is more meaningful.

Providing feedback on performance can sometimes be tricky, in my experience. Some individuals respond positively and take your words to heart.  Others may not understand your comments; in some cases, the trainee might even deny an offending behavior occurred. In these cases, feedback may not result in the desired change in performance.

Recorded role plays facilitate elimination of these communication breakdowns.  When you watch the recording with the trainee present, you can both see and discuss the behavior in question (good and bad).  Sometimes trainees will be completely unaware of certain behaviors; for example, I once had a student clap his hands under the table throughout his role play. It was a manifestation of nerves, of course, but he had no idea he was clapping.  When we watched the video together he was amazed! After a good laugh, we talked about ways to avoid this behavior.  Likewise, I was able to point out things he had done very well.  Often my discussions with students revolve around a certain response, or a certain way of presenting material, and how that could have been done more effectively. Importantly, this is not a one-way discussion; the student trainee is engaged in the feedback process. Nothing beats a view of the real deal when giving feedback.

2.  Performance improves more rapidly.

This advantage follows from point 1; that is, performance improves more rapidly because the feedback is more meaningful. I have had some students who, after one viewing and feedback session, completely overcome a certain problem. Likewise, they capitalize on things they have done well. For other students, the process may take a few sessions. Nevertheless, I see marked improvement at each session.

A great example comes from our K-State Sales Cat Sales Team, which competes at sales competitions at universities across the country.  One of our students, when preparing for the National Collegiate Sales Competition (the collegiate sales version of the Final Four), role played with me once or twice a week leading up to the competition.  We recorded each role play; she would watch the video on her own and then discuss with me later.  Each time we role played, she had improved tremendously. Her skills went from good to excellent in a matter of a few weeks.

3.  The trainee can see performance improvements over time.

This last point is critical to motivation and attitude. Often I work with students who have no sales experience; many of these students are fearful of sales. As we do the role plays and they see the improvements in their own performance, their attitudes change. They become motivated and they start to believe in themselves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read on my end-of-the-semester teaching evaluations something along the lines of “I never thought I would go into sales, but after taking this class I realize I can do this!” Witnessing their performance improvements on video is a powerful way to build the trainees’ confidence in their own skills.

Clearly I am a big fan of recorded role plays! What happens at your firm? Do you do role plays as part of your training process, and if so do you record them? Please share your experiences in the comment box below.


Dr. Dawn Deeter-Schmelz is the Director of the National Strategic Selling Institute at Kansas State University and the J.J. Vanier Distinguished Professor of Relational Selling and Marketing. She teaches great K-State students how to become outstanding professional salespeople! You can reach Dawn via e-mail at or find her on Twitter or at Sold on Sales, the blog of the National Strategic Selling Institute.


Get your free Preview of Selling Fearlessly’s Chapter 1 here.