Oh no! Not a role play!

Do you ever get this reaction when suggesting a role play? After a classroom training pilot, we asked sales reps what was their least favorite part of the training. The answer came back quickly and decisively: role plays! Next, we asked which part of training would help them most in the field. This answer came back slowly and reluctantly: role plays.  I have found that changing role plays from a “medicine that is good for you” experience requires excellent needs analysis that uncovers true-to-life scenarios.

We recently completed a needs analysis for new-hire surgical sales training on a specific medical device. Our analysis identified that basic programming and troubleshooting of the device was being taught in the classroom. However, the critical conversation with the surgeon, and subsequent translation of that information into adjustments to the device settings, was not being trained or practiced. In the end, this was the critical skill that the reps needed to be successful. Basic programming and troubleshooting was a building block toward this critical skill. Our goal was to create role plays in which the sales reps would be put into real-life operating room scenarios where they could ask questions, respond to surgeons’ requests and concerns, and then program the device.

Our Solution
Since classroom time was limited, we recommended moving training for basic programming and troubleshooting to self-paced prework. This freed up time for more nuanced role plays in class. The sales reps were provided real-life questions and concerns, and practiced their conversations with “surgeons” at different times during a surgery, including pre- and post-op. They were then provided an opportunity to interpret the conversation and adjust the settings on the machine, based on the conversations. After the role play was completed and settings were changed, the class reviewed the results and the facilitator provided feedback. The classroom training is now full of real-life scenarios where sales reps can practice and become confident in their ability to respond to operating room situations.

Participants’ Reactions                                                                                                                     After this pilot, sales reps commented that they felt ready and confident to complete their product demonstrations. One sales rep reported that he walked into an evaluation the very next week, and it went well!

Better yet, no one complained about being forced to do role plays. I believe this is because the scenarios were so true-to-life and immersive that there was an obvious and effective link to their on-the-job performance. (Or maybe because we called them scenarios instead!)