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The Interchange: Kelly Dowd

In this episode we speak with Kelly Dowd about role playing, and sales as it pertains to learning and development.


Kelly is a learning and development consultant from onespan. And she describes herself as being curiouser and curiouser.


Her ideal future is less about achieving certain milestones, than it is about finding new ways to spark creativity, and use her imagination.


She strives to be a lifelong learner, amused to others, and never be bored or settle.


Her top three achievements are surviving and thriving after open heart surgery at a young age, having the guts to pursue acting fearlessly, and the judgment to quit when it no longer brought her joy. And being the only woman in a male improv troupe.


If you are a learning and development professional and are interested in being interviewed for our show, you can sign up at calendly.com/maximyz/inteview.


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Link to Podcast



Transcript:

(edited for clarity and grammar)



Matt

Hello everyone and welcome to the interchange with me, your host, Matthew Heinecke. And today's guest is Kelly Dowd.

She's a learning and development consultant from onespan. And she describes herself as being curiouser and curiouser. Her ideal future is less about achieving certain milestones, than it is about finding new ways to spark creativity, and use her imagination.

She strives to be a lifelong learner, amused to others, and never be bored or settled. Her top three achievements are surviving and thriving after open heart surgery at a young age, having the guts to pursue acting fearlessly, and the judgment to quit when it no longer brought her joy. And being the only woman in a male improv troupe. So welcome, Kelly,


Kelly

Thank you so much for having me. That was a very nice intro.


Matt

Thank you. So today's topics, we're going to talk about role playing, and sales as it pertains to learning and development.


Kelly

Yes, indeed. So I have, I have worked with salespeople for most of my career. And actually, my father is a salesman, a lifelong salesman. And if you've ever trained salespeople, you know that they are a unique learning audience, and they don't tend to love trainers.


So I have found new approaches to training them and supporting them. And particularly, I've found a methodology to roleplay and roleplay coaching that I find to be very effective, and works really well over zoom, which with our remote environment, so it's an interesting beast.

My dad wonders why I've chosen to work with salespeople. And I must admit, I sometimes ask that question, but I have a deep respect and love for what they do and helping them to get better at it.


Matt

Yeah, that's interesting. I think. I'm happy to hear more about the challenges and the differences working with salespeople. My father was actually a salesman, their salesperson himself. For many years, he worked for the Yellow Pages.


Kelly

The ads in the Yellow Pages, maybe some younger viewers out there don’t know the Yellow Pages. So it's a book that has phone numbers. You used to have to memorize phone numbers. Now, if someone asked me someone's number, I don't know. Unless it's mine, which I, you know, is questionable sometimes.


Matt

Yeah, you had to look up the phone number. The book had the pages yellow. That's why it's called the Yellow Pages. And they had advertisements for all the different businesses. So, I'm from Utah. So he traveled around like Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, etc.


Kelly

Like a door to door salesman. Yeah. Wow. Similar to my dad, he's with Empire carpet. And I always say when I'm talking to salesmen that my earliest memories of him in sales is when I'm at the breakfast table, and he's on the phone complaining about his crappy leads. And, you know, for salespeople, it's not a good lead, unless you are writing the check and in the room with them, so I can relate.


Matt

And it's interesting, my dad, he was a very outgoing, personable guy. You know, I guess you have to be to be a salesperson, yeah, myself, I was very introverted. But now later in life, I'm realizing that you need to get out there and meet new people and kind of put yourself out there. So hopefully, some of that rubbed off on me a little bit.


Kelly

I think so in my experience of you so far, it's interesting that you mentioned, you know, how outgoing you need to be. I think with salespeople, one of the misconceptions that is made is, you know, we're all trying to get away from this idea of the used car salesman and the checkered coat.


Salespeople today can be highly emotionally intelligent, because they're constantly interpreting behavior. And I think part of the reason that I was so drawn to working with salespeople in particular, because of my background, as you mentioned, in acting, which is you also mentioned, I am no longer doing very happy to have left, but it gave me a lot of skills that I discovered were very similar to what a salesperson does. So for example, in acting, you have an objective that your character is playing, there's something they want out of someone else or that they want to achieve.


And to get that objective. They're leveraging what we call tactics. So you know, one of the examples I always give is like Romeo and Juliet, if you're Romeo, your objective is to kiss Juliet, your tactics are to climb a bait, you know, climb about me to say lovely things to her to dress a certain way. So as a salesperson, they have objectives and they use tactics. And so so many of the, you know, vocabulary learned in acting and improv. I've used it in sales, and I've discovered that over the years, it's become more acceptable to do so.


So when I first started in my career, a recruiter told me never tell anyone that you used to be an actor or that your degrees are in musical theater. And now it's absolutely my competitive edge. And you'll see in many cities there are, you know, second cities that will have a corporate focused improv training or sales focused in practice. So it's become like an acceptable thing now, which is nice.


Matt

No, I, I've seen that yet. There was a lady here who used to run an organization called like, fearless women or something like that, but she would teach for business women. And it's really for anybody. But yeah, I think that's about that.


Kelly

Yes. And it's interesting. You mention that, because I have friends who, you know, we're college friends from theater that have now transitioned into using theater in their careers. Most of us are not in the theater anymore. Sorry, Illinois Wesleyan for the bad advertisement there. They do have some that are like Broadway stars, but the vast majority are corporate trainers and the like. So it's really a reasonable transition. Yeah.


Matt

Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, you know, when you're acting, I guess you're using those skills, especially improv, you have to kind of improv as you're speaking with the customer, you don't know how that customer is going to react or what kind of personality they have. Their emotional state. So that's very interesting. So tell me more about this. roleplay? How do you use role playing?


Kelly

So most salespeople, I always say roleplay is a bit like kale. It's disgusting, but you have to do it to get better. And I think part of the reason role play is so painful is because it's awkward, it feels uncomfortable. And generally, you know, you have a less tenured person working with a more tenured person, it's intimidating for them.


So what I tried to do is really put some rules and framework in place with the roleplay. So rather than just, hey, let's get together and talk about this scenario, we have a focus, and we discover that focus by identifying patterns of opportunity from salespeople. So ideally, what you would do is you would meet with, so I work a lot with sales development reps, where you know, the front of the funnel focused members of the team, and I'll meet with their manager, he will, we'll talk through what is so and so working on. What are three areas of opportunity we see?


And then when we do the roleplay, I'll meet with the person playing the decision maker first as well. So these debriefs are really essential, you don't want to just hop into a roleplay cold, even if you email back and forth with different scenarios. Look, we don't read emails, so you have to get a 15 minute call, I usually sneak attack it, you know, I don't put it on the books because salespeople have no time for anyone. But if you call them they're gonna pick up their phone. And we talked through, hey, you're going to be role playing with Matt next week.


And the focus of this call is relationship building. I'm going to instruct Matt that what I want you to do is get this caller to like and trust you, I don't care if you get into features and functions, I don't care if you do a pitch. Your main objective here is to get them to like you. So the salesperson has an objective, the decision maker has an objective. And usually I also use a theater technique where the decision maker has some sort of subtext.


So it might be that we've done an RFP and your third vendor, we've already made a selection, you know, it might be that they're actually, you know, have already put in their notice, and they're not really the decision maker anymore, but they're just taking this call something to give them something to work with, make them feel like this is more realistic. And that way when they come into the call, it's just a richer experience. It's more real, it doesn't feel as silly. The other thing that I find is such an obvious tip but seldom gets done, you know, on a zoom call.


If you and I are coming into a zoom call to roleplay and we start out by having small talk for a while and then switch into banana phone mode. It feels very weird. So I instruct them that you know when I usually come in so I'm the moderator and you know as soon as the sales person joins the decision maker joins We're not we're not starting with small talk, we're going into the scene as we call it. And then you know, they have a certain amount of time for the call.


And then we do coaching. And the coaching always starts with the same question, which is to the role player who's, you know, the one that is being coached? How did you feel that went? And then we let them talk about it. Because generally people are pretty self aware. And coaching is so much more impactful if you can.


Let them come to their own conclusions about what might be better to do. And generally they get it right. And then we talk through how they might have done better. And then the improv rules that we use, are that when you coach an improv, you don't want to say to an improviser? Well, it would have been funny if you said this. Okay, but you didn't say it's improv, you know, what we want to say to them instead is, you had an opportunity where you could have picked up on XYZ, you need to listen more for what your counterpart is things that you can build off of them, you want them and this is like Sandler method training as well, if you're familiar with that, but it's, it's why you stand them up, it's all about the why.


So rather than saying, here's a talk track that you should have said, that's me delivering you a line, I want you to learn why you should have said it. So we really focus on that in our coaching. And it's really impactful when it's also a little bit less condescending, and works better for the roleplayers personality style. Because, you know, one of the flaws in the way many more senior salespeople train is they just say, here's what I would have said, here's what I would have done, you know, use this script that I created. Well, if I'm using a script from a middle aged white man, it's gonna sound a little different coming from me.


So maybe that isn't exactly right for me, I need to understand why he says that, and adapt it to my language. So those are a couple of things we do. And we record the call. So we can, you know, have them go back and listen, I can play it for their manager. And then the other key is the moderator, you know, the person playing the decision maker should be focused on their role as the decision maker not taking down coaching comments.


So when you have a moderator, either a sales trainer or manager, or another sales person, that person can just focus on the coaching, so you have three people. So like top tips, have a moderator prep beforehand, and make sure that as soon as you get into the zoom, you start the roleplay, and it'll be a lot less painful.


Matt

No, that sounds, that sounds really cool. And those are great tips. So when you have this, this colleague said you have a moderator or a coach, somebody watching the call, or listening to the call, and then the person who's on the other one who's playing the decision maker, is that another employee?


Kelly

Yes. So you want to use and this is a big part of where I see sales training as a little bit different than when I've worked in more of an operations or HR function. You know, as I said, salespeople, they don't really want to listen to a sales trainer. And there was a time when I bought against that and tried to still be the one facilitating in charge. And now I have learned that if the same message that I'm going to give comes from a senior sales person, the junior salesperson is just going to resonate more because they're currently walking the walk.


But where I can lend a hand is guiding that conversation. Because, you know, I can use my knowledge of adult learning to steer things in the right direction. But we always use another employee. And we actually at our company have created what we call our bench. So our coaches go through training with me on kind of like a train, the trainer, but we call it a coach, the coach. And we talk through effective roleplay techniques. So we basically have like a little improv class kind of where they go through techniques that are appreciated to focus on the types of questions we want them to ask.


We give them okay, here's the type of objections we want you to be using for a very junior new person. Here's for someone who's been here for six months that we want to challenge a little bit. And we really take it very seriously. We work on these role plays to make them effective. And generally, I find that the decision maker gets something out of it as well because it's a sneaky way for me to give them training.

So that if I were just to say let me give you my top tips. They would be rolling their eyes and checking their email. But if I'm coaching a sales development rep who's playing, you know, the themselves and the regional sales managers in the call, they're gonna learn something and they won't feel like I'm condescending to them. So it's like stealthy learning.


Matt

No, it makes sense. I think, you know, you're putting them in a situation that's as real as it can get. And like, yeah, that's really the only way that you learn, you don't learn by somebody standing and talking to you for eight hours. I mean, you might learn a little bit of information to jam inside of your head, and then, you know, wake up the next day and start using it.


Kelly

Right.


Matt

You should just practice what you're doing just like a professional athlete, you know, a professional athlete practices the same basic skills over and over again, it sounds like that's kind of what you're doing.


Kelly

Absolutely. And, you know, the question that will come up is, if we have call recording software, which many companies now do, and you can just pull calls, why would you still do role plays? Why wouldn't you just coach based on calls, you should do both. And the reason is, with the roleplay, you can create a focus for exactly what you want to improve upon. in your day to day calls, first of all, 90% of them are going to be leaving voicemails, or one to two minute conversations, you know, getting those meaty discovery calls to really dig into, it's hard to find honestly.


So role plays our opportunity to say, hey, you've never had the opportunity to come up against someone on pricing, let's really just focus on that. And we all know that the most frightening thing about being a salesperson is when you get asked a question you don't know the answer to or you feel like you don't know your knowledge, you know, your product knowledge very well. This also just gives you confidence, because to your point you're practicing, it's like batting practice.


And we don't just use it in onboarding, we use it, you know, throughout, and we try to make it not a punishment either. So I think we're organizations can go wrong if so and so's on a performance improvement plan, let's make them do some role plays to sharpen their skills, at which point the process isn't a safe space anymore. And that sounds cheesy, but one of the reasons to have a trainer do this versus your manager is you want to be safe to fail, it's a safe environment to fail.


Matt

No, I agree. 100%. And, you know, for, for myself, you know, I've made that same kind of mistake you were talking about earlier, where I just would jump into the the sales part of it instead of just trying to create that rapport and and be a friend, you know, like you said, we get them to like you type of thing.

Yeah.


So I had to learn that. But I also like the idea of, you know, what you said where, when you're when you're in the job, you don't always get those same opportunities for those surprise situations that you're not prepared for, right? You're just doing the day to day stuff. So you're right, I think there's not a lot of opportunity for coaching. In that case, this forces you to be in that situation as close as possible as a real situation. So that makes a lot of sense. So now you're prepared for all those unexpected things, right? situations?


Kelly

Yeah, exactly. And it's funny, you know, one of the other things that I do is coaching for when someone's going to give a presentation or, you know, a demo or something like that. And I've really encouraged not just our junior sales people, but our more senior salespeople and our leaders that if you're about to present or speak, you know, it's not enough to just work on the deck and feel like that will teach you your material and just kind of silently read your deck, you have to practice out loud, it's it's a muscle memory thing. And so I always give the option of, Hey, are you you know, you're about to do a webcast?


Let me you know, let me hear your material, let's talk through it and give some coaching and I think it's one of those things, we coat on so many other skills, but communication, which is what all of us are doing an all of our jobs, whether we're good at it or not, we tend to give that kind of the backseat. And I think it's because of that whole soft skills or soft, hard skills are difficult. I mean, I hate even the term soft skills, but we've yet to come up with better, unless maybe some people you've interviewed have had better terminology I could use.


Matt

Well, I mean, sometimes they say people skills and the latest post on LinkedIn, they're calling it human skills. Okay. Human versus AI. So human skills, we need skills that humans can do that AI can't do. So, yes, the ways to phrase it,


Kelly

you know, and what that makes me think of is, these sales development reps are just the way most companies work. This tends to be someone who's just out of college, it might be their first job. And if you think about who that pool is, so your Gen Z ers, your millennials, in many cases, these are people who have not been on the phone in their life. So I think about my teenage years. I'm dating myself a little bit.


But talking on the phone for hours was a big part of it. So I'm a good talker. These guys are just texting. They were, you know, they're on Slack, they're on WhatsApp, and they don't have the natural communication skills from practice that some of their older peers do. So they're coming in at a deficit, I'm I had to, it was really a bit of a shock when, and this team is not like that.


But other teams that I've worked with, you know, they can barely leave a voicemail. And it's something that is so easy for Gen X, because they did it. So I think that's something to consider too. And human skills for this generation that's been in quarantine for them for a formative year, they're going to enter the workforce and not know how to share an update in a meeting or give their introduction. And yet we would never think to train them on that. It's very funny to me.


Matt

No, it's true. My daughter is 18. And she's actually very outgoing, and with her friends a lot and not really shy. But she applied for a job. And she was kind of going back and forth with the hiring manager. And I said, just drive up there and go talk to her. And she was like, Can I just text her? I'm like, No, don't text her. Appreciate you talking to her face to face. And she's like, okay, you know, so you're right. I mean, even someone who's an outgoing person, this younger generation, they still struggle.


They're so used to texting, like you said, yeah. So they need those skills. And I always thought that, you know, these, like you said, the people skills or soft skills, interacting and communicating with each other should be taught in schools, because you don't always have the skill to teach those skills to their children. But it was a great idea. kids wouldn't get along better, maybe there'd be less, you know, crime and issues because people can communicate and get their emotions off their chest, that type of thing.


Kelly

It's amazing. A friend of mine has a preteen kid, and they've been working on some behavioral issues, as I'm sure all preteens are for things, it gets better, I promise. And they had this like, kind of bingo card of emotions on there. And it's like, helping this kid to identify their emotions. That's another thing that, you know, we're not taught, you're feeling something. Why are you feeling it sit with that for a moment? What does that mean? How should you respond to that?


You know, there's self awareness and self control, and being able to sit with your emotions and know, okay, I'm feeling anxious. Is it because I just had too much coffee or something worrying? How do I address that it seems so basic, but people don't know how to recognize their emotions or the emotions of others. And then we get into miscommunications.


And I always feel as well that men are at a deficit, because it's not socialized from a young age like it is with women, to be able to be in touch with your emotions to be able to communicate. So then we started dating. And that's where collisions happen, because you have one person who has been communicating their feelings from a young age, and you have another person who was told that that's bad, don't do that. And so of course, you know, we look at men and say, What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Because they don't know how to say it? And I'm generalizing, of course.


Matt

But no, it's true. Yeah, I think the, you know, myself growing up, the only emotion was, I'm going to punch you in the face. Because you watch all the movies. That's what the guy does. He just right in the face, he never cries, he never, you know, nothing else. But my, I think it's good that people are talking about this and learning more, because my son, he's seven.


And he's been kind of trying to help him understand his emotions and learn as a pitcher. Sometimes he'll just, you know, get upset or frustrated or cry and say, you know, do you know why you're why you're crying, you know? How do you feel? He's like, I don't know. He just doesn't know.


Kelly

Yeah, yeah.


Matt

No one ever taught me that, you know, there was no class on that. My teachers never taught me how to deal with my emotions. So I think that's super important. And, and one more point I was gonna make is, oh, so he has this thing. It's called mightier. It's pretty cool. He puts a little armband on and it measures his heart rate. And it's connected to a video game. He plays a video game and when he starts to get frustrated, or upset, it'll, his heart rate goes up, and it will flash on the screen. Alright, it's time to breathe now.


Kelly

Oh, man, what is this called?


Matt

It's called Mightier.


Kelly

Oh, my goodness. That sounds amazing.


Matt

So we've been trying it and it's been working because he will be playing the game and then all sudden he'll go, he'll stop and go


Kelly

Oh my goodness,


Matt

be aware of his emotions, but also helping him real. Here's what I can do to calm myself down in those situations.


Kelly

Yeah, I mean, you know, I think about it, so I used to work a lot with call center reps and again, God bless. It's the hardest hardest job, it's so maybe not the hardest job, but it's a very difficult job. And I can imagine how, if, you know, a customer service rep had something like that, as they're going through calls, that would be so effective. And I'm sure someone's listening, like we do what's called this. But, you know, because I would always say, if you've had three bad calls in a row, just, you know, by complete luck, you've just had three jerks.


How likely is that next call to be good. You know, it was something that was a bit controversial to say to managers who really want them to just be churning out the dials. But I would say that a five minute break, and that will reset them and get them in a more positive mindset is well worth it. Because the two calls they would have taken in those five minutes are not going to go well, if they just had three people in a row screaming at them. So, you know, for customer service reps, I think it's really important to be aware of where you're at, because you're taking in a lot of animosity. And it's hard to just like, brush that off. Like you have to because you know, no one's calling a call center to say, just want me to say I love your product, and everything's going great. You know, they're just getting yelled at all day.


Matt

The whole purpose is customer service. Right? And so, yeah, I think you know, they get focused, like you said, on this, this deal, next call, next goal, next goal, but you're defeating the whole purpose of having someone there to answer the phone in the first place.


Kelly

Right? Yeah, the human skills. It's such, I think you're really you're really into it, if they're, they should teach it much younger, in schools. And I think in corporations, there are stats tied to companies that have emotionally intelligent employees that make XYZ more revenue. But it's still really hard to prove out if you're trying to say to, you know, the head of sales, I want to do a four hour workshop on emotional intelligence or empathy, they're going to be like, okay, but how much money? Are we losing from them being away from being off the phones?


So it's tough, because you want to have really impactful and valuable training. But that's quick, that's digestible. But sometimes you do have to just take a step back and say, yes, it is worth those four hours, I am going to have you take the training so that getting the leadership screen light is so hard to do.


Matt

I've heard that a lot of learning and development professionals struggle with that. But, you know, there's so much evidence out there. I mean, I've been reading so much about it. There's reports and reports and reports that talk about, you know, like you said, motion intelligence and psychological safety and good communication skills and, you know, up to 30 to 40% increase in profitability. I mean, that's huge. So that's all you gotta do is invest in your people, and they'll be happier. Work harder for you. They will even work for less money. Oh,


Kelly

100%? Yes, you'll have less attrition. I mean, there's so many things to tie it to. But I think the challenge that learning development specialists find is, you know, behavioral and skill change, but especially behavioral change takes time. Yeah, you're not going to have one workshop and see that profitability increase. So there's kind of two problems there. Number one, leadership, especially in a sales organization, is used to seeing instant ROI. So I'm always getting asked like, what metrics are your training tied to, you know, and that's fair, but sometimes it takes time for that culture to shift and things to change. It also takes a follow up, which usually should be from their manager. So they meant, you know, they went to a workshop on conflict resolution.


Okay, great. But if they don't use any of it, or talk about it, then it's forgotten. And so what really should be happening is the manager should in their next one on one, what did you learn? Talk to me about that? How are you going to use that? What are three ways that you're going to be different as a result of that training? and be involved in that conversation that processes it but it's hard to get managers that are good managers and be willing to spend time coaching it's it something that always falls to the backseat? I find?


Matt

Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. I think changing your behavior is not easy. I mean, you know, on a diet or trying to go to the gym on a regular basis.


Kelly

Oh, my God. good analogy.


Matt

So, yeah, it takes a lot of time, a lot of time and effort and you have to be willing to change that behavior. You know, you can't ask for your employees. But hopefully, if you see the more and more employees that see the benefit of changing their behavior, they influence the other employees. They say, Oh, yeah, I'm doing great. You know, you should try this.


Kelly

Yeah. And I think there's a, you know, there's a misconception about training, especially, again, like I skill, human skills training, I'm going to use that instead of soft skills now, that it's that, you know, if you're at a senior level, you already must be great at this. And sometimes the opposite is true, you've been working primarily with people who report to you. So they're going to behave a certain way to you.


And you're going to have these blinders that it takes a professional coming in and working with you. I mean, that's why there's so many executive coaches, and there are some really good ones. I mean, it's important that leadership take a step back and say, I'm not going to just tell my employees to go to this workshop, I'm going to attend, I'm going to be vulnerable, I'm going to participate, that really makes your employees see, okay, well, then it's okay for me to do that, too.


Matt

Yeah, yeah, I completely agree. So, I'm gonna ask you one more question. But this has been really awesome. It's been


Kelly

such a great conversation.


Matt

So the last question is just kind of a summary of everything. So what do you think would be the key takeaways, or the key message we'd like to give to our viewers and listeners out there from this conversation?


Kelly

I would say it's to use the tools at your disposal, but make coaching a priority. And the best tools you have are your own employees, they just need the support of a trainer or a learning and development specialist to guide them in giving that focus. So it's used where you have and use your learning and development team in coaching conversations, not just training. Number two would be if you're coaching, the first question should always be to the person you're coaching, which is how do you feel it went? What do you think went well?


This not only allows them to take a moment to reflect and catch their breath, but it's showing that, you know, they're building their self awareness, you can tell if there's a problem if they don't share anything that you know, you've noticed. And then I guess the final thing would be roleplay is not just for onboarding, it's for practical training and tying concepts together. And I think it shouldn't just be for sales and customer service. I think you could use it for a lot of other things as well. And I would suggest looking up improv rules and embedding them into your roleplay. Practice.


Matt

I like that. I like that very much. So, you know, I like what you said about using your best tools and your best tools or your employees. And so, you know, keep those tools sharp. And using improv is a great way not only just for sales, but just for general communication skills.


Kelly

My God, take an improv class, it's life changing. It really is you should take anyone a general,


Matt

for sure, for sure. And the last point you made, I agree with 100%. As well as that, you know, you're not coaching the person, the person is really coaching themselves.


Kelly

Yes,


Matt

That's where you get the best outcome. And I truly believe that


Kelly

That's such a good way to put it, Matt, I think I'm going to use that because it makes it seem less. Like teachers coming down on you or you know, your manager, you're coaching yourself. I'm just there to guide that learning.


Matt

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you, Kelly. That was you today. That was really great.


Kelly

So much fun.


Matt

So that was Kelly, a learning and development consultant from onespan. And my name is Matthew again, this was the interchange.



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