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Tripartite Role Plays For Furniture Sales Associates

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By Peter A. Marino Many years ago at a seminar conducted by one of the furniture manufacturers in North Carolina, I witnessed an impromptu role play that left one of the women participants in tears. Moments later, a fellow salesperson and a friend of hers informed me she was the top salesperson in their store and much beloved by her customers. It was mortifying to see that woman shattered, broken, embarrassed. Here was an articulate, intelligent woman made to feel inept at selling because of that impromptu role play. Impromptu role plays stand as much chance of being productive as making one’s way toward a garden while carrying water in a sieve. Such role plays depend almost entirely on the salesperson’s somehow pulling the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. They lack the structure of tripartite role plays in which every role play has a skills user, participating partner, and an observer. The motto of such role playing is, “Practice, not performance.” Tripartite role playing demands no stage presence at all, since smoothness throughout the role play is not one of its goals, the goal being contained in the motto just mentioned, “Practice, not performance.” From beginning to end, the skills user is encouraged to call a timeout for help from either the participating partner or the observer. That collaborative approach ensures a successful role play. Many of the most productive role plays I have observed were anything but smooth. Yet they were successful because they were predicated on a specified skill or skills in which the participating partner and the observer had received written material that included in some detail what the customer was looking for. Meanwhile, the skills user had no such material. The only thing separating the skills user from getting to know the information known only to the participating partner and the observer was the very skill or set of skills required to conduct that role play successfully. Luck had nothing to do with the success of the role play; preparation had everything to do with its success. The best of yesteryear’s salespeople were well aware of that. That is the reason why they were fond of the saying that “luck is preparation meeting up with opportunity, a sentiment Shakespeare had expressed in his play Julius Caesar several centuries before: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at its flood leads on to glory. The same tide without the preparation leads to drowning. The following is a fictitious scenario designed to demonstrate how tripartite role playing might be used to practice the skill of transitioning from the greeting of a customer with a professional opening of the sale. The role play itself is to last fifteen minutes; followed by five minutes of collaborative critiquing of the role play, led by the observer. Each person in the role play is given five minutes in which to prepare for his or her role. The participating partner’s content: “You are a customer looking for a king size mattress, box spring, and frame for you and your spouse. You are a wide receiver on NFL football team You are six feet, six inches tall, and weigh two hundred forty pounds. Your partner, Mary, who is not with you, is five feet, ten inches tall. Suffice it to say, her weight is well matched to her stature. You and your partner have recently moved to a new city after you were traded to a new team. All this happened quite quickly, so that you had no time to purchase a new house. You have been staying at a plush hotel paid for by the organization. While the two of you have been staying in that hotel room, you have become accustomed to the luxurious king size mattress. Prior to that, both of you had considered a queen size bed more than adequate, even though your partner complained of a reoccurring night mare in which she dreamt of a line backer steam rolling her. Each time she awakened from that nightmare, she would find herself just about to be pushed off her edge of the bed by you. You consider yourself thrifty; your teammates, who say you allow quarters to pass through your fingers as though they were sewer covers, often refer to you as a miser. Some of them are fond of saying that you would have made a good “tight” End. Your partner is just the opposite. Every weekend she darts about from store to store like someone wanting to win a gold ribbon in shopping. Two days ago you purchased a new home with a large bedroom. You want to purchase a queen size bed that is not “too expensive.” She wants the best king size bed, regardless of price.” The Skill User’s Content: “You are an experienced salesperson. The purpose of this role play is to transition from a courteous greeting to a professional opening, the kind that lets the customers know that you are first and foremost interested in allowing the customers to tell you how to start the selling sequence. In short, your agenda must be his and yet be a mutually acceptable one. For that to happen, you require his acceptance of your proposed agenda. This is the sole purpose of this role play. The observer’s content: The observer possesses contents A and B. The observer’s role is twofold: First, to come to the aid of the skill user whenever he/she calls for a time out. Second, to conduct a collaborative briefing at the end of the role play by inviting both the skills user’s and the participating partner’s feedback. Salespeople should role play at least once a week. Without this kind of role playing, the probability of becoming proficient in the skills is slim to nonexistent. And doesn’t make a lot of sense to make your mistakes in role and fewer of them on the job? Mistakes made in role won’t cost you or your store or your customer a dime; mistakes made on the job do cost you, your store, and your customers a lot. Most sales present you with a tide. But if you want to become proficient at taking that tide at its flood, tripartite role playing can help you ride those waves to successful shores.

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