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Learning by Doing: the Magic Behind the Richardson Sales Performance Experience

Salespeople and managers who go through a Richardson Sales Performance program often comment that it is different from any other training that they have ever experienced.  We pride ourselves in being experts in adult learning, in addition to being technical experts in sales process and dialogue.

For participants, it is a transformational experience in their careers.  Together we roll up our sleeves, work incredibly hard, get broken down (a bit) and put back together, and leave with a very different mindset and skill set than when they entered.

Two key aspects of our success are the degree to which the program materials are customized to our client’s business and the incredible skill and expertise of our facilitators.  During training, our facilitators help participants build on, develop, and polish their current selling skills and strategies.  Because adults most effectively learn skills “by doing,” we have structured the seminar with a learning by doing methodology; therefore, the training is interactive.

We use role play and a special coaching process, which we call redirect, to provide “on-the-spot” feedback to participants.  Our training philosophy is based on the premise that the participants are not blank slates.  Participants come to the seminar with various levels of knowledge and experience in communications and selling.  Our goals are to build on that base and help them reach their next level of sales excellence.

Our seminars are highly interactive for maximum impact.  The learning process is influenced by the Socratic approach of questioning and building on what people think and know.  It also models the consultative approach, as our facilitators use the very skills they teaching, such as questioning and checking.

Our facilitators guide the dialogue and build the concepts by leveraging what the participants contribute.  Facilitators get input from the group and frame the learning by teaching the frameworks, models, skills, and key learning points.

The seminar gives participants an environment in which they can gain insight into their current sales and communication approach through practice and feedback from facilitators and their peers and learn new skills and strategies.

Role Plays, Redirect, and Feedback Skills

Role plays are one of the most important elements in the seminar because they provide participants with an opportunity to practice applying the frameworks and skills and receive feedback on how they apply the skills and strategies. All of our role plays are fully customized as we know a one size fits all approach to sales training will not drive true behavior change.

It is through the role plays that participants are learning by doing, translating concepts into action, and beginning to change behavior.  Because sales training cannot be held during actual sales situations, and because real clients usually cannot and should not be brought into the training, we simulate the sales experience through role play in the seminar room.  This is very much like the thinking behind scrimmaging for football teams, which provides a real-life practice session with coaching.

A role play is the acting out of a sales situation.  It provides the participants the opportunity to:

  • Practice
  • Receive coaching from leaders
  • Get feedback from peers
  • Learn by observing colleagues in their role plays

Full sales call role plays are based on cases, which go from the Opening to the Close.

Focus role plays are based on exercises and zero in on one part of the framework or a critical skill.  For example, a focus role play can be centered around resolving an objection.  The focus role plays are much shorter and give participants an opportunity to work on a skill that they feel is important to them.  Strategy sessions are not conducted before focus role plays.

Kinds of Role Plays

We typically use two kinds of role plays:

In Fishbowl role plays, the roleplay is observed by the full group.  The Salesperson and the Client role-play the situation in front of the group, and the facilitator redirects and coaches.  At the end of the role play, the Observers give feedback to the Salesperson.  When the Salesperson and Client role play in front of the room, everyone benefits from the coaching, but most importantly, redirect coaching given by the facilitator during the role play enriches the learning significantly.  This is a very powerful training methodology.

In Peer role plays, the participants form teams of three and fill the following roles:  Salesperson, Client, and Observer coach.  All teams role play simultaneously.  After each role play, the participants rotate and switch roles so that each person plays the sales role.

Cases and exercises are based on scenarios that have been fully customized to the client’s business and reflect their strategies, priorities, solutions, and issues.

We also use drills ( customized as well).  Drills are a list of challenging issues which the facilitator presents to the group using a round robin process in order of seating.

After each role play, our facilitators ask for volunteers to give feedback to the person in the Salesperson role based on notes they have taken on critique forms.  There is one critique form for the full sales cases, and there are special critique forms for each exercise.

In the critique/feedback for the role play, to save time and to not overload the “Salesperson,” we limit the feedback to about five participant observers, who will give feedback to the person in the role of the Salesperson by giving one strength and one area for improvement.

All feedback is specific and based on an incident or particular example.  Our facilitators, as the coach, are the last observers to give feedback.  At the end of all feedback, the participant who played the role of Salesperson can comment on all the feedback he/she has gotten, i.e., what he/she agrees or disagrees with.

Feedback is a “sacred” time, and we don’t permit participants to open up discussions while the role play participant is waiting for his/her feedback.  Each observer should simply give his/her own view without discussion or debate until after feedback is over.  Then, if there is a question, address it.

Learning Points

At the end of each role play feedback session or other activity, we summarize key learning/teaching points at the flip chart based on the teaching segments and other examples/issues from the roleplay itself.  We also address any elements from the framework or the critical skills relevant to the roleplay.  We wrap up each learning point by asking the question, “What can we take forward from this role play to increase our sales effectiveness?”  Our role is to check for and then summarize key learning points.

Questioning as a Learning Technique

As we ask questions, our goal is to stimulate discussion and thinking and then drive key learning points.  When we ask a question, we are not looking for the “right” answer, but we are doing three things:

  1. Getting participants to think so we can build on what they know
  2. Assessing the knowledge of the group
  3. Reinforcing, redirecting, introducing, or teaching the concepts of the program

As we ask questions, often we will ask each question several times (two to three) to stimulate discussion.  If a participant’s response is truly on the mark, we reinforce it strongly; if participants all have bits and pieces of the answer, we tie it together; and if a participant is off the mark, we neutrally acknowledge.  Our role as facilitators is to use their input as the basis to build upon as we make key learning points.

For example:

  • Facilitator:  What do we mean by a Consultative approach to selling?
  • Participant #1:  “Tailoring” what you say.
  • Facilitator:  Great, tailoring what you say.  What else do you think of?
  • Participant #2:  Understanding what the client needs.
  • Facilitator:  Yes.  Being client-need focused.
  • Facilitator:  Our experience shows that while it is very logical and common sense in sales to focus on needs, it is not common practice.  It can be challenging to focus on the client vs. the product in the heat of the sales moment.  (Then, the facilitator would transition to module on Sales Styles.)

The facilitator’s role is not only to repeat what the group says but to shape the information and take it to the next level.  This Socratic method of teaching helps get buy-in, and it also fosters accelerated learning, lets us assess where the participants are, and helps us take participants to the next level.  A great teacher once said about reaching students:  “You go in their door and take them out yours.”  That is the basis for interactive learning.

About the Author

Richardson Sales Performance is a global sales training and performance improvement company. Our goal is to transform every buyer experience by empowering sellers with critical skills so they can create value to buyers and drive meaningful conversations. Our methodology combines a market proven sales and coaching curriculum with an innovative and customizable approach to learning that ensures your sales teams learn, master, and apply those behaviors where and when it matters most — in front of your customers. It’s our job to anticipate change in your industry so that your sales team can focus on fostering long-term relationships, becoming indispensable partners for their buyers.

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