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Mastering the seven sales roles

Salespeople occasionally get uncomfortable when I suggest they are playing a role, but if you think about it, we play dozens of roles every day:  employee, spouse, parent, yoga student. We bring specific parts of ourselves to the role at hand and leave other less appropriate parts out.  For example, we don’t greet our boss like we do our dog and we don’t talk to a prospect like we do our mother (hopefully).   

Making a conscious choice about what qualities or characteristics are best suited to facing a challenge or achieving a goal are skills shared by great actors and great salespeople.  We all have within us the ability to play many roles with authenticity.  Johnny Depp--who has played some pretty out there roles--said it best:   “With any part you play, there is a certain amount of yourself in it. There has to be, otherwise it's just not acting. It's lying.”  To paraphrase JD, if there’s not a part of you in your sales role, it’s just not selling.  It’s lying. 

Like an actor in a one-person show, there are actually several “mini-roles” within the primary role of salesperson.  I’ve identified seven, though you may have a few others specific to your industry:

  • Cold caller
  • Interviewer
  • Presenter
  • Entertainer
  • Negotiator
  • Persuader
  • Closer

If you are not performing to the best of your ability in each role you are limiting your sales potential.  It’s like driving a car with a flat tire (I know.  I’ve done it.)   Identifying the roles that are holding you back and applying the steps an actor uses to take on a role will help ensure that you are firing on all cylinders and increase your chances for success. Here are my five steps to sales role development::

1) Identify uncomfortable roles:

This step is easy.  Maybe you get a sick feeling in your stomach when it comes time to perform one of these roles, a tightness in your chest or an unavoidable urge to run out for a mocha frappucino.  Most salespeople are uncomfortable with at least one or more of the seven roles, but cold-calling, negotiating and closing tend to gain top billing.

2) Examine compensating behaviors:

Pay attention to what behaviors you engage in to alleviate the discomfort of the role.   Typically they are unproductive time-wasting activities designed to protect you and keep you in your comfort zone.  At their worst they are self-sabotaging behaviors that create additional problems and keep your goals forever out of reach.  For example, an aversion to cold calling may result in procrastination, calling only people you know or corresponding entirely by email.  It may also grow into lying on call reports, feeling guilty and eventually just not showing up.

3) Determine what qualities you need to be more successful in your role:
Looking at the situation objectively, what would it take for you to be a successful cold-caller?  Persistence?  Sure.  A positive attitude?  Absolutely.  What qualities would you need to be a better closer? Resilience?  A greater willingness to face rejection?  List as many qualities as you can until you find a few that really resonate with you.

4)  Discover where you exhibit these qualities in other areas of your life:

We all possess at least a seed of most of these qualities within us.  Perhaps we simply haven’t accessed them in awhile and like an unexercised muscle, they’ve become weak and forgotten.   But we can locate them by asking ourselves the right questions, like:  Where in my life have I shown great persistence?  When I was trying to get that first job?  Where did I exhibit the willingness to endure discomfort in order to achieve a goal?  Studying for a degree?  Training for a marathon? 

5) Apply these qualities to your sales role:
Realizing that you already have these necessary qualities should come as a relief.  Now how do you channel them into your sales role?  This step requires more explanation than space allows, but it can be summed up in three words that are an actor’s best friend:  “Act as if.”  Act AS IF you were persistent.  Act AS IF you had great resilience.  What would that look like?  What actions would you take?   Perhaps it would require setting the timer for sixty minutes each morning and making cold calls until it goes off.   Maybe it would mean accepting each rejection with a smile and quickly moving on to the next call. 

It may not feel comfortable at first, but with repeated action you will experience positive results, and like a great actor, you will own your role with ease and confidence.

Join me at the Sales Association’s National Sales Conference on May 23 in Denver, where I’ll be speaking on Mastering the 7 Sales Roles.  Hope to see you there!


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Julie Hansen

Julie Hansen, author of Sales Presentations for Dummies, helps sales and business executives craft and deliver winning presentations and demos by applying today’s best practices from business, acting, improv, and storytelling. Julie’s techniques for leveraging proven performance skills in presentations have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM and Oracle, as well as local Colorado companies. Learn more about sales workshops and keynotes at  PerformanceSalesandTraining.com, start a sales conversation at Julie@actingforsales.com  or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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