Talk about role plays and observe the cringe factor! Leaning back, arms crossed, disrupted eye contact, deep breath……..and there are the muttered words:  “That old chestnut. Well, we all know they don’t really work. Do they?”

Well, do they? If they are done well, they absolutely work. First things first: why do role plays fail in sales settings? Here are the top 3 reasons:

  1. Never use role plays to see if the candidate can close a deal. In complex b2b sales, getting the order is a result of managing the sales process well. Role playing the “can he ask for the order” situation becomes artificial, stilted and rather meaningless.
  2. Never do role plays unless you know what you want to see. Inviting candidates for a role play without clear objectives of what you want to see will deliver zero value.  Think about what your day to day challenges are: Do they have to deal with difficult buying personas? Do they need to be able to identify problems and develop client needs?  Or – do they need to be assertive and directive while negotiating with hardened procurement people.
  3. Never do role play if you don’t have a way to objectively evaluate the performance : If all you are going to see is if the candidate can build rapport or says something intelligent about your industry – the role play wasn’t worth it. The scenarios need to be crafted in such a way that it will “set the scene” for the candidate to show his/her skills  – or not.

The purpose of role plays for recruitment situations in sales  is to provide space and context in a way that shows if the candidate can not only talk the talk but actually walk the talk.

It also shows immediately if he/she can work under pressure and think on their feet. The top 5 things to do are:

  1. Make the role play scenario short and simple. It’s not about your products or industry. It’s about the behaviours and skills you want to observe. Be absolutely clear what the scenario:  Is it a first meeting?  What is the meeting objective? What would be a good meeting outcome?
  2. Put the work into the buyer personas. Selling in b2b is still a lot about interpersonal communication during meetings. What kind of buyers will the candidate encounter? What motivations and personality traits would the buyers have? Building different buyer personas into the role play will reveal very quickly if the candidate can adjust to different personalities, read the situation accurately and apply an appropriate style.
  3. Test the analytical and strategic thinking. The ability to analyse a situation, think strategically and preparing a meeting is a crucial skill you can test in a role play context. Prepare briefing material that describes the meeting situation, provides information and hints. This way you can see the candidate really in action, and observe how customer information is turned into selling strategy.
  4. Invite the candidate to assess the opportunity The role play debrief is important to test other skill sets. It presents a great opportunity to explore to what degree the candidate can objectively qualify a sales opportunity. Ask: If you had to update your CRM system now, how would you rate this opportunity and why? Based on this meeting – what would you do next? How would you forecast this deal? It also illuminates how self-aware the candidate is about his/her own performance.
  5. Use corporate actors: To bring about a sense of reality and repeatability, work with experienced corporate actors. They are trained to improvise in situation while staying “in the story”. They can also adjust easily between different roles and characteristics. Without any “baggage”, their posture is neutral and their feedback invaluable as they can point to specifics during the conversation.


If you want to know more, call Ursula Dauenhauer on 0401 147 493 or email