What Coaching Cycling Classes Taught Me About Sales Coaching, Role-Play, and Vulnerability

Effective sales training comes in all shapes and sizes, but one component seems to span all sales coaching models: The role-play. If you’ve been a sales rep, managed a sales rep, or even simply watched a sales rep-in-training, you’ve likely encountered and/or participated in a role-play scenario. It’s one of those sales coaching tools that has cemented its place across many industries, and is particularly utilized in software sales training.

Depending on the scenario, role-plays can be amazing, daunting, awkward, or all of the above. But the question you’ve likely asked yourself as a sales leader is, “How useful are role-plays in sales training?” I’m happy to report that you’ve come to the right blog post. 

Does practice really make perfect?

Here’s the thing, “Practice makes perfect” is a perennially respected adage for two reasons: It’s undeniably catchy, and it’s pretty much a universal truth. From athletes to surgeons, performers rehearse their craft over and over again until it becomes second nature. Top sales training programs recognize that facilitating productive practice—the kind that leaves reps amped to take on real-life scenarios—is how sales magic is made. But not all role-plays are created equal. To that effect, I’ve got a few tips for you if you think your sales training curriculum could use a little fine-tuning:

1. Acknowledge the vulnerability involved in 1:1 sales coaching.

Role-plays can be intimidating for some reps to participate in, and if their guard is up, the coaching won’t really permeate or stick. As a primer for coaching for sales performance, take a moment to set expectations. I used to teach a 5am cycling class, and one thing I always said at the beginning of the class was, “This is your workout—you’re competing with yourself. Make sure when you leave today, you got what you came for.” 

In sales, it may sound more like this: “This is your practice, and the entire point of this time is to make sure you’re comfortable with X. Let’s make sure you leave today having accomplished that.” Set the stage clearly, and make sure your rep knows that the time you’re spending on this role-play is intended to make them better at their job. That’s something every sales rep can get behind. 

2. Flip it and reverse it.

One excellent way to bring down the walls and foster a vulnerable, coachable environment is to lead by example. Let’s head back to my 5am cycling class to see this in action: You’re on your bike, you’ve added your tension, and now I tell you we’re going to come out of the saddle (stand) and climb a hill. If this is your first cycling class, or if you simply haven’t done hills on a stationary bike in a while, you may need a little bit of guidance. Enter: The reverse-role play. I hop on my bike, show you what a hill looks like, and now you’re off to the races. This two-way practice will not only allow your reps to see and hear what great sounds like, but it will also help to establish that open, practice-oriented culture sought after by all sales training programs. Whether you’re reversing it live or recording and sharing with your reps via a sales training module in Lessonly, your reps will appreciate the clarity your example will provide them. 

3. When it sounds good, do it again. 

You wouldn’t expect a professional dancer to learn choreography once and perform on Broadway, and you can’t expect that your reps will nail that sales pitch after one round of role-playing. A crystal-clear pitch, proper objection handling, negotiation, etc., are absolutely vital to your reps sales toolkit, and thus warrant some focused, repeated attention. Like we talk about on our podcast, Practice First, practice literally always leads to progress. As your sales coaching techniques evolve and improve over time, so too will your rep’s sales processes, and everyone will be better for the opportunity to rehearse and refine their skills. If you were hoping for a cycling analogy for this one, here’s the bottom line: Your physical & mental health improves every time you get on the bike. 

Calling all sales coaches! You need Lessonly in your playbook. ⚾

Sales teams across the globe use Lessonly’s modern sales training software to offer training and coaching, deliver detailed feedback, and identify areas for improvement. Lessonly’s powerfully simple training platform helps sales reps learn, practice, and do Better Work. For more information on the elements that may belong in your sales playbook, check out Major League Sales Coaching.

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