Mastering Role-Playing Interviews: A Key to Identifying Top Sales Performers

Written by
Lucas Price
August 9, 2023
5 min

As long as there have been job interviews there have been questionable interview questions that are not helpful for understanding who will succeed in the role. Now that we know we should avoid asking candidates for sales roles pointless questions like, “What piece of furniture best represents you as a seller?” or “How many ping pong balls can fit inside the Washington Monument?”, what should we replace these questions with that will be helpful?  

Work samples are crucial for evaluating candidates, and role-playing mock sales scenarios is the most effective type of work sample for most sales roles. In fact, they are the best predictor of how someone will perform in a job. They can help you predict as much as 29% of the candidate’s future success in the role.

So these work samples can be a critical way to identify future success. But for sales roles, they need to include how well the candidate can think creatively or listen well. The best way to get samples of their performance is by including role-playing as one of your four interviews with the candidate.

When well conceived, role-playing interviews become an invaluable tool in distinguishing the top sales performers from the rest. However, if not executed effectively, these mock scenarios can become a wasted opportunity.

Want to get an idea of how to set up these mock scenarios? Let’s consider why you should include mock scenarios as part of your hiring process and how to set those up.

Scenarios for Roles with Prospecting

Some of these scenarios will obviously apply to specific jobs more than others. For example, a cold call scenario will be critical for evaluating business development reps (BDR). But also consider using this for most of your new sales hires.

While it’s true that evaluating prospecting skills is important for roles where prospecting is the main function, many sales roles are becoming full-cycle sales roles where the account executives (AE) are sourcing their own pipeline in order to meet quota. So, if your organization is considering a shift or if you want to see how AEs can perform the basics if the need arises, keep these mock scenarios in your back pocket for all sales roles.

Cold Call Role Play

For sales roles where prospecting plays a significant part, conducting a cold call role play is a good tool. This exercise helps assess the candidate's ability and willingness to cold call, thereby weeding out call reluctance. Moreover, it allows you to gauge their openness to coaching and capacity to adapt.

Here's a step-by-step guide to conducting an effective cold call role play:

  1. Preparation: Provide the candidate with an information sheet ahead of the interview containing basic details about your company's offerings, target accounts, prospect persona, buyer's pain points, and common objections and rebuttals. You also need to provide them with a recording of a skilled call.
  2. Role-Playing: Assume the role of a prospect and have the candidate attempt to prospect you over the phone. Pay close attention to their pitch and presentation. Offer a couple of reasonable objections to test their responses, but be reasonable; the point isn’t to be the meanest prospect. Regardless of their skill, try to let them end with successfully booking the meeting.
  3. Coaching: After the initial role-play, offer constructive feedback and coaching to the candidate. Observe how receptive they are to the feedback and their enthusiasm to improve.
  4. Re-Run: Give the candidate another opportunity to conduct the cold call, incorporating the feedback provided. Focus on their adaptability and willingness to implement coaching.

Remember, perfection isn't the goal; you're looking for adequate abilities and a willingness to learn and grow.

Discovery Call Role Play

As another tool to evaluate candidates, especially for sales positions that rely on understanding customer needs, consider conducting a discovery call role play. While many orgs might choose to use a demo at this stage of the interview process, there are a lot of advantages to using discovery call role play instead. To be effective, demos need to be tailored to the customer’s needs, so having an effective discovery call is the only way to set up effective demos in sales. Plus, learning the ins and outs of the product during the interview process is too much to expect from candidates.

Instead, test them on how well they can uncover prospects' pain points and demonstrate how the company's product can address those needs effectively. Skilled sellers can understand a prospect’s problems and how a product can solve those problems quite quickly.

Here's how to conduct a successful discovery call role play:

  1. Preparation: Share a video recording of an exceptional discovery call from your company with the candidate in advance. You also need to share an information sheet with details about the mock prospect with the same level of detail they’d find on a LinkedIn profile. Allow them time to study and prepare.
  2. Role-Playing: During the interview, have the candidate conduct a discovery call, responding similarly to the video but introducing slight variations. This approach evaluates their ability to adapt and handle real-time scenarios. You are not trying to make them fail. You are trying to see if they can do well enough that, with practice and more knowledge, they can be successful.
  3. Assessment: Focus on whether the candidate can follow your company's process. Analyze how well they prepared. See if they display openness to feedback and a willingness to improve.

Scenarios for Sales Manager Candidates

Role-playing and mock scenarios shouldn’t stop with entry-level roles or customer-facing jobs. When hiring sales leaders, it’s important to see how they’ll fit into the team and culture and if they can adapt to common problems your organization will face. Using mock scenarios specific to sales leadership roles can be really helpful in evaluating higher-level positions as well.

Coaching Role Play

For candidates applying for Sales Manager positions, the coaching role play is an excellent evaluation tool. This exercise tests their coaching and leadership abilities, which are vital for guiding their sales team to success.

Conducting a coaching role play:

  1. Setting the Scenario: Let the candidate know that you'll act as a seller facing a common performance issue at your company. These could be: not creating enough pipeline, helping AEs manage a full-cycle sales process, delivering better conversion rates, or addressing small deal sizes.
  2. Role-playing: Ask them to address the problem and establish action items to correct it. Try to answer their questions as close to a real scenario at your company as possible so that each candidate is dealing with the same scenario.
  3. Assessment: Observe how well the manager candidate truly understands the scenario and guides the seller on a journey of self-discovery. Evaluate their ability to craft a realistic action plan owned by the seller with a communication strategy that will effectively communicate the results of that strategy.

Role-playing interviews are not designed to trip up candidates or seek perfection; they aim to identify potential, willingness to learn, and a match with your company's values and sales processes.

Mastering role-playing interviews in the hiring process is a powerful way to separate top sales performers from the rest. By assessing candidates' ability to prospect, understand customer needs, and demonstrate coaching skills, you can make informed hiring decisions that lead to a dynamic and successful sales team.

Spot A-players early by building a systematic interview process today.

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