3 Benefits of Making Role-Play a Part of Your Training

Jeff Cochran


Role-play has been a common training method amongst military branches, emergency response groups, and companies where quick decision making is highly valued. So, why not in the world of sales?

Over the last few years, we’ve noticed the use of role-play becoming even more common in business and sales training curriculums – and for good reason. Sales teams that continually engage in role-playing are more likely to outperform their non-role-playing competitors.


3 Benefits of Role-Play

Here are just a few of the benefits of making role-playing a part of your business training.

Build Confidence: When your team role-plays, they’ll have a number of situations thrown at them, from unhappy customers to customers who don’t know what they want to buy. Role-playing provides a safe environment to encounter these scenarios for the first time, which builds confidence in team members that can help them in the field.

Develop Listening Skills: Good role-playing requires good listening skills. In addition to understanding the words the other person is saying, it’s important to listen to body language and non-verbal clues (more on that here). Have your team develop those skills while role-playing – not when they’re trying to close a real sale.

Creative Problem-Solving: Over the years, we’ve found that no matter how outlandish a situation you create in a controlled environment, something even more bizarre is bound to happen in the real world. Role-playing will at least give your team the chance to get some experience in handling difficult situations and developing creative problem-solving skills.


How to Start Role-Playing

While we strongly encourage you to hire a professional facilitator for the most effective role-play, here are a few tips for doing it yourself:

Use actual locations. The best role-play is as realistic as possible. Put participants in the physical locations where they would actually experience the scenarios you’re trying to replicate, whether that’s the boardroom, warehouse, or an executive’s office.

  • Imitate sales calls. This is perhaps one of the easiest forms of role-play training to execute yourself. Give the “customers” a personality profile and list of objectives that the salesperson doesn’t know about. The goal isn’t to make the sale, but to determine the “customer’s” objectives.
  • Hire consultants and actors. Getting an authentic role-play experience from your team may be difficult to do on your own. Bring in consultants and professional actors to get the corporate sales training or negotiation training your team deserves!

Have you ever used role-play in training your sales team? How did it go?

Creating a Sales Team That Wins

Jeff Cochran


Recession, depression, or economic boom… it doesn’t matter. Creating a winning sales team isn’t just important. It’s possible no matter what economic conditions your business or industry might be facing. Winning sales teams aren’t “winners” because of any one, single thing that they do. Management alone or a great CRM system isn’t enough to push your team beyond the competition.

Then again, there’s no “magic formula,” but we do have some tips and tricks from our own experience for creating a dynamic sales team…

#1 Powerful Lead Tools

We have found that successful sales teams have powerful lead generation and lead tracking tools at their disposal. If you want your sales team to really hit their stride, then you need to give them the appropriate tools to do it.

On any given day, we all have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of clients that are riding the fence. Having the ability to know where each one of those clients sits is key. Start tagging leads (#7 on this list) with essential information.

#2 Unified Front

Furthermore, those powerful tools need to be housed in software programs that are used across the board. Mobile technology and high speed internet have made it possible to do business from just about anywhere. Chances are, you have people working outside of your main office(s).

It’s more important now than ever before to keep a unified front. One effective way to do this is by making sure all of your sales team is using the same CRM software in the sales process. This also makes things easier for you when you have to transfer accounts to new team members.

#3 Vital Signs = Vital Competition

Doctors are able to make effective decisions only when they know the patient’s vital signs. In the same way, your sales team must have a grip on its own vital signs:

  • How many leads convert?
  • Where are our leads coming from?
  • What’s the protocol for engaging a customer we haven’t heard from in 6 weeks?

These are a few of the countless questions that your sales team needs answers to. Hopefully, your CRM system will help provide those answers.

Once you have those vital signs available, leverage them to foster a competitive atmosphere, which is also vital to your team’s success. For example, if you know what your average conversion rate is, then you can incentivize individuals on the sales team to attain higher personal conversion rates.

#4 Grow or Get Out of the Way

Lastly, members of a winning sales team are growing individuals. Be intentional about inner-promotion and increasing responsibilities. Sales people are especially focused on growth, numbers, and promotion.

If members of your sales team aren’t growing and improving, it’s time they step aside, and move out of the way.

What makes a winning sales team in your opinion?

Social Selling: How Being Social Affects Your Prospects

Jeff Cochran


Think that social media isn’t for B2B companies like yours? Think again. IBM did it. In fact, IBM reports “one-third of its B2B buyers were already using social media of various kinds.”

Sure, the 54-year-old executive that you negotiate with might not be using Twitter, but the 37-year-old one level below him (who has significant influencing power) is on Twitter… Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, too.

The Lesson? Start Getting Social

It’s time to start getting social.

Here’s what that doesn’t mean: creating a Facebook, Twitter, and other social media profiles just for the sake of having them.

When we say, “get social,” we want to encourage you to learn more about the power of social media in terms of sales. According to a 2012 study by the Aberdeen Group, 56% of sales representatives that used sales intelligence were able to meet or surpass their quotas. Compare that to the mere 26% of sales reps who did the same, but without using sales intelligence.

The sales people using intelligence aren’t necessarily working harder; they’re working smarter.

Of course, we don’t want to confuse “sales intelligence” with “social media” because they’re certainly not one and the same. However, as social media platforms continue to grow, the wealth of information available on these networks is becoming a bigger piece of the “sales intelligence” pie.

Here’s one last impressive fact before we cover how you can get started with social selling: According to another commentary on the Aberdeen Group study, sales reps that use social selling “are 79% more likely to attain their quota than ones who don’t.”

How Your Sales Team Can Be More Social

Here are a few ideas for encouraging social selling that are – at the very least – worth experimenting with:

  • Ask employees to perform “social research” on the buyers and decision-makers they’re targeting.
  • Offer interested employees the chance to spend the first 15-20 minutes of their day building their own professional social network and reaching out to prospective clients through social media channels.
  • Encourage company leaders and employees at all levels to contribute to a company blog. This is a great way to demonstrate thought leadership and have something to share with your online professional community.

Is your sales team using any “social selling” techniques?

Ron Shapiro: A 2013 Champion by Sports Business Journal

Jeff Cochran


Ron Shapiro, co-founder and Chairman of Shapiro Negotiations Institute (SNI), was recently featured as one of the Sports Business Journal’s 2013 class of The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business. The article details Shapiro’s accomplishments, experience, and expertise in both the sports and corporate world.   To read the full article, click the link below.


Along with the article above, the Sports Business Journal also featured the story of his first contract with Brooks Robinson. The story can be found here: Some of the valuable lessons he learned from this contract are still applicable in teaching training sessions today.

How Important Is Client Satisfaction?

Jeff Cochran



No matter what field your business is in, there’s no such thing as a one-time customer. Even if you’re in the business of selling caskets, you know that a one-time client can become a repeat client with the right amount of work.

What exactly is “the right amount of work” you need to get repeat clients? It all starts with high client satisfaction rates. As a performance improvement firm, we’re in the business of helping our clients make the most of their clients and employees.

We’ve come to the conclusion that the old business adage is true: 80% of your revenues come from just 20% of your clients (the Pareto Principle). While you obviously want to satisfy every single client that your business serves, it’s especially important that you satisfy that top 20%.

Achieving Perfect Client Satisfaction…

… is virtually impossible. And that’s okay. Over the years we have worked with some incredible business leaders and business models. Despite impeccable customer service, even the very best businesses were unable to make 100% of their clients happy 100% of the time. In some instances, a good business leader will make the decision to cut loose those clients that can never be satisfied.

There’s no sense in wasting energy on those clients who will not be satisfied despite your best efforts. So what can you do to improve client satisfaction where it is possible?


  • Respond to dissatisfied customers in real-time. There are numerous reputation management software programs and systems that can alert you immediately about dissatisfied customers.
  • Let the client know that you understand their issue by repeating it back to them.
  • Use a personal tone to deal with clients who are dissatisfied.
  • Never make a promise that can’t be kept – even when you feel under pressure to recover a bad situation.
  • Go over and above what you deem “satisfactory” in resolving a customer’s bad experience.
  • Keep a regularly updated database of your client’s satisfaction history. Good or bad, you need to know how a client has felt about your company’s treatment of them in the past.

Remember, you can’t please everyone. But, of the clients you can please, anything you can do to keep the account is worth it. Good “client satisfaction practices” don’t just keep the client you’re dealing with. They also bring in additional clients through referrals and recommendations!

How important is client satisfaction to your business? What strategies do you use to satisfy your clients?



How to Maintain Your Business Relationships

Jeff Cochran


We recently wrote a blog post about building and developing strong business relationships. We covered some strategies for reaching out to people, and turning ‘contacts’ into ‘relationships’. Now, as we step into 2013, let’s take a closer look at some strategies for maintaining those business relationships.

5 Tips for Maintaining Relationships in 2013

  • Do yourself a huge favor. Write down the name of every business relationship you want to maintain in 2013. We can guarantee you that if you don’t write down names, you’ll get to the end of 2013 and have completely forgotten several people on the list.
  • Be a listener. In November, we covered the importance of listening to other people. It turns out that it’s a great way to maintain business relationships, too. recommends listening as a key strategy to maintaining business relationships. When you listen, you know the right questions to ask a person, which everyone appreciates.
  • Create an ‘Editorial Calendar’ for sending out emails, making phone calls, and touching base with the contacts on your list. When you plan out time for calling a business contact, it’s much more likely to happen. Also, you’ll avoid that awkward feeling of calling up for a favor when you haven’t even spoken to the person in 11 months.
  • Though the editorial calendar is important, you don’t want to be robotic (which won’t happen anyways if you’re following the tip about listening). Make your correspondence unique. It’s fine to send out a monthly newsletter – just don’t assume that it takes the place of maintaining a relationship. When it comes to relationships with the customers and colleagues that are important to you, form letters and mass emails won’t cut it. Reach out on a personal level to the people on your list this year.
  • Lastly, don’t be objective-oriented. If you’re always thinking, “What am I getting out of this relationship?” then you’ll give up on half of them before the year is out. You might invest yourself in a relationship for 8 months – or years – before it’s of any practical “business use” to you. Don’t give up. The payoff will come with time – often in the most unexpected way. And, if not? Well… sometimes a relationship is its own reward!

What do you plan on doing to maintain your business relationships in 2013?

Is Your Sales Team Too Soft to Close the Deal?

Jeff Cochran


We’ve seen it time and time again: a sales team that’s overly careful not to be seen as “sharks” fails to close the deal. The excuses go on and on, but usually sound something like this:

  •  “We didn’t want to pressure the client.”
  • “We thought we would leave the ball in their court for a week.”
  • “They said they needed time to think about it.”
  • “The client loves their current provider.”

At the end of the day, it boils down to the fact that a sale has been lost. If your team is losing sales, then it might be time to step in with some negotiation tactics. Here are some strong approaches you can employ to get your sales team closing deals again.

4 Assertive Sales-Closing Techniques

1. Geoffrey James of MoneyWatch wrote an interesting piece for CBS News a couple years ago, titled How to Close a Sale in 6 Easy Steps. The title leads you to believe it’s too good to be true (it is). The steps to closing a sale are never easy. However, James does start off with a strong first piece of advice: “Ignore the ABC Strategy.” You probably know this strategy: Always Be Closing. The fact is, the sales game doesn’t work that way, but your salespeople may not know it yet. Let them know that they don’t have to Always Be Closing. Instead, encourage them to focus on developing relationships and setting your company apart from the competition. It’s all in the little details… which later lead to assertive sales-closing!

2. Ray Silverstein, writing for, hits the nail on the head when it comes to picking up on details. Silverstein suggests that when you go into a sales call, you think about what the person you’re pitching to wants. This may sound like standard sales advice, but it’s not. Focus on unique emotional wants, advises Silverstein. He draws upon the example of an entrepreneur, whom he believes doesn’t want to make big profits. Rather, “Entrepreneurs are in business for themselves because they want to call the shots. Their true wants including being the boss, ensuring the company’s security and perhaps passing the company along to a successor.” Have your sales team think about how they will meet these unique emotional wants.

3. At least 8 of the 12 Commandments for Closing a Sale by Grant Cardone involve body language and communication. If your sales team isn’t practiced in clear communication and effective body language, then a little bit of sales training can go a long way in affecting your bottom line. Eye contact and a smile is just the beginning.

4. Lastly, how well does your sales team know your product? Jay Delahousay, writing for the Small Business Chronicle, believes that sales teams who are comfortable with their product can be much more assertive and effective in closing sales. He also makes a great closing point: being assertive is different from being aggressive.

Where do you see ‘assertive’ sales crossing over into ‘aggressive’ sales territory?


Small Companies are Increasing Their Budgets for Training

Jeff Cochran


In our last blog post, we shared some information from the latest Training Magazine, which reported that 65% of organizations had decreased their budget or experienced no budget change in 2012 from the year before. Of course, the converse of that fact is that 35% of organizations increased their training budgets in 2012. Let’s take a look at how small companies (100-999 employees) increased their training budgets this year.

According to the Training Magazine report, small companies grew their training budgets in the following ways:

  • Growth of more than 25%: 17%
  • Growth of 16% to 25%: 13%
  • Growth of 6% to 15%: 37%
  • Growth of 1% to 5%: 33%

The majority of training budget growth in 2012 was small, but even a 6% to 17% growth is significant in the world of training. A survey of all size businesses reveals that the vast majority of budgetary growth was in:

  • Increasing Scope of Training (56%)
  • Increasing Numbers of Learners Served (52%)
  • Adding Training Staff (49%)

 Below, you’ll find some effective ways that your small company can grow in 2013…

Increase the scope of your training to get ahead of your competitors in 2013. Training may be stagnant for some industries in 2013. So, while your competitors are cutting corners, know that now is the time for you to push your employees ahead. Look into online training options if your company doesn’t have the time or resources for weekend seminars or month-long courses.

Increase the number of learners served by bringing in a professional training group to deliver a series of brown bag lunch seminars. In order to maximize the effectiveness of these seminars, require employees to get into breakout groups to discuss the topic in terms of their own roles in the company.

Lastly, increase your training budget in 2013. Reduced training budgets may save money in 2013, but will hurt companies in the long run. Without training, employees fall behind in their skill sets, which results in overall depreciation of a company.

How will you train your employees in 2013? Are you increasing your budget or decreasing it?

Training Expenditures are Decreasing

Jeff Cochran


Training Magazine has just released their annual “Salary Survey,” and the figures are a little disheartening for the training industry. According to the report, “Total 2012 U.S. training expenditures – including payroll and spending on external products and services – fell 6.5 percent to $55.8 billion.” The report also mentions that 65% of organizations either decreased their training budget or kept 2011’s budget.

While the current trend is going against training, many business owners are coming to realize the impressive ROI of professional training services. If you are one of the companies in that 65%, consider these affordable options:


“Learning Teams”

Donna Flagg, writing for the Huffington Post, advises that employers encourage “Learning Teams” in the workplace. A “Learning Team” can take on the form of a business book club or an arranged weekly lunch. Essentially, diverse groups of employees in your organization get together to discuss an idea or share experiences. This is a great way to supplement your current training curriculum.

We believe that this strategy works best in a mature organization that employs leaders who are willing to take charge in discussion. Otherwise, these “Learning Teams” can turn out to be nothing but wasted man-hours. If you choose to start “Learning Teams” within your organization, encourage younger employees to share new strategies with top leadership, in addition to having top leadership share about their experiences.


Formal Mentoring Opportunities

Mary K. Pratt, a Verizon employee writing for Computer World, suggests that employers set up in-house mentoring programs. Pratt cites an example in which a Prudential executive selected 10 of her best leaders and 10 of her best new employees, and paired them together for nine months. The process was entirely voluntary (a huge factor in its success), and took place off-site, outside of office hours. The mentored employees were encouraged to share their goals and objectives, while senior leadership provided guidance and made suggestions.

This is a great way for the senior leadership on your team to share formal training experience with newer, younger members.


Online Training & Blended Solutions

Even if your budget is down, that doesn’t mean you can’t afford professional training. Many companies (SNI included) offer blended training solutions with strong online components. If you want your employees to have the best training experience possible, without breaking the bank, consider exploring one of these blended training options.

Training your employees doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. All it takes is a little bit of creativity and strategy!

Have training ideas of your own? Share them in the comments section below.

Negotiation in Different Cultures

Jeff Cochran


In our increasingly globalized world, many businesses that used to be 100% local are outsourcing their needs to foreign firms and agencies. You probably have at least one or two suppliers, distributors, or customers overseas for whom English is not a first language. Then again, you could be negotiating with someone in your own city that doesn’t speak English as a first language.

 Getting Past Language Barriers

If clear communication is a challenge for you and one of your business contacts, here are a few words of advice to help you get on track with your language…

  • Avoid euphemisms and idioms. “The cat’s out of the bag” can be a very confusing way of letting a business contact know that one of your secrets has been made public knowledge. Avoid phrases like these when communicating with someone of a different cultural or ethnic background.
  • In Basic English, there are 850 words, only 18 of which are verbs. Don’t use big or impressive words – especially if they’re not particularly relevant to the line of work you and your business contact are in.
  • Keep your written and oral communication brief and to the point – even at the risk of overstating/oversimplifying.


The Negotiation Phase

Once you’re comfortable with communicating clearly, you can turn your attention to negotiating with the contact of a different background. In negotiating, body language goes a long way. Different cultures use body language in different ways. Understanding how your culture and how another person’s culture uses body language can eliminate the risk of offense and achieve results.


Here are a few examples of how body language varies from culture to culture:

  • In Asia, it’s common to avoid eye contact, as looking down is a sign of respect.
  • In Middle Eastern cultures, people of the same gender are likely to stand quite close to one another.
  • Crossing your legs while negotiating with someone of Islamic culture can be perceived as offensive.
  • Handshaking and touching is common in North America, France, and Italy, but these practices are much less common in Asia and northern Europe.

 We can’t highlight all of the body language differences between cultures in this post. Rather, the point is to give you some insight into a few types of body language you might not be aware of. Before negotiating with someone of a different culture or ethnic background, you should always do some preliminary research on body language.

As for the negotiation part, don’t be afraid of making your needs and desires known. However, express yourself with sensitivity to the other person’s cultural background. A little bit of willingness to learn about someone else can take you a long way!