In my many years of mentoring, I have to admit I can only recall being involved in a role playing activity once! But it was extremely effective! After the entrepreneur spent considerable time failing to articulate his value proposition to potential customers the lead mentor said, “Ok, let’s try some role playing. Steve, you are going to be the customer, “John Doe”, you are going to try to sell Steve your product. Ok? Let’s go.”
So with no more preparation than that off we went. Well I have to say, having been on the selling side of the buy/sell equation many times and experiencing all kinds of objections and rejections it eventually became fun to parry poor John Doe’s attempts to sell me with the standard set of objections, “Gee, sorry but all software purchases have to be approved by our IT guy. He’s on vacation. But can you explain to me why we need your product?” or “We already have MiracleX, it does the job. Why is your product better?” “Will your product work with our legacy software?” “Do you have APIs to your product that our developers can use?” “Why is your pricing so much higher than the competition?” And so on.
The role play was sort of like a tennis match and eventually the entrepreneur started sharpening up his answers and returning my volleys. After about 10 minutes of this the lead mentor mercifully put a stop to our role playing. It was clear that the entrepreneur realized he needed to work on defining his value proposition and overcoming typical objections.
I’m not sure why organizations that provide mentoring don’t make use of role playing – it enables mentors to provide real time feedback on how entrepreneurs not only pitch their product, but handle objections, and explain why their product is better than the competition. All without PowerPoint or any other visual aids. There are myriad situations that could be role played, from the obvious customer/salesman, to job candidate/hiring manager, to strategic partner/startup company. I can imagine an entire video series – John Cleese are you reading this? – on these role playing interactions.
IMHO, mentors should receive role playing training and also be taught under what situations to use it, what types of roles they should play, and how they should provide feedback to the entrepreneur on his or her role playing.