The enemy of a repeatable, scalable sales engine is variability.
This Fall we have had many conversations on the topic of sales playbooks. For the benefit of everyone, we decided to “blog-itize” key aspects of these discussions.
In a nutshell, our experience with clients of all shapes and sizes reveals the best way to improve productivity across your sales team, share best practices, reduce ramp-up time, and generally make your salespeople more independent is adopting a sales playbook.
By the way, we’ve also noticed that not having a playbook can keep a sales organization stuck in first gear.
Why have a Sales Playbook?
Training new salespeople is faster and easier when there are clear, explicit explanations of who your customers are, how they buy, their pain points, and what to say to them. You get the idea.
A playbook frees up time for selling because reps don’t have to create content. Now they can leverage existing content for messaging, questions, and resources to use with prospects.
A playbook helps your team share best practices. If one rep is having success with a specific outreach method or conversation starter, then sharing with the entire team becomes easy.
What is a Sales Playbook?
Much like connective tissue connects, supports, and binds other tissues or organs in the human body, the sales playbook brings together people, process, and technology around a proven approach, refined over time, to winning new customers.
More advanced playbooks will include guidance for expansion within a base of existing customers, as well as marketing-led approaches like lead scoring.
Our suggested outline for a winning sales playbook is:
1. Overview of Your Company
Get new hires up to speed with the basic facts about the company.
Summarize the company’s history, high-level goals, and organization structure. Dive into the details of the sales organization, who leads each team, team targets, territory assignments, and where reps should go with questions and requests.
2. Your Product or Service
Identify the product or service your salespeople are responsible for selling.
This is stuff like price points, use cases, and related industries or verticals. Some companies create one sales playbook per product if the products are fairly different, or the buying processes are radically separate.
3. The Sales Process
Explain each step of your sales process, from first connect to close.
Overstating the importance of this exercise is impossible.
Define each stage, and key activities in each. For example, who owns it, who is involved like the rep, sales manager, or the prospect? Inventory sales aids that exist to support the advancement of deals, like collateral, whitepapers, price list, and proposal templates. Identify gaps, then prioritize so that the deliverable can become a quick win.
4. Ideal Customer Profile
Profile the ideal customer so you can prospect from the get-go for the most qualified leads.
Common attributes are job titles, reporting structure, key performance indicators, common challenges, and how much authority they have in the organization. Understand where and how they intersect with the buying process; for example, the CISO probably won’t get involved until her team has narrowed the list down to two vendors, while the tech team lead may be communicating with the rep from day one.
Identify “red flags” that signal when a prospect isn’t a good fit. This could be the number of employees below a certain threshold, or a highly decentralized decision-making process. Whatever they are, make them relevant to you.
5. Qualification Criteria
Determine if a prospect is likely a good “fit” using a list of key questions.
Often, affirmatively answering a few questions will trigger conversion of a prospect from a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) to a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). More than one or two exchanges may be necessary.
Common questions are ability to buy within six months, or does the project have sufficient budget.
6. Multi-touch Cadence
Formulate a rhythm for outreach, paired with conditions for “breaking up.”
Your outreach cadence will fall somewhere on a continuum. For instance, the more transactional the sale, the more likely salespeople will follow a prescribed cadence. The more complex your deals are, the more autonomy salespeople should have.
Lots of information is available on type and mix of outreach like email or voice, as well as how often. We’re fans of having a 10-day window for execution.
The playbook should include guidelines for when to pursue opportunities and when to disengage. For example, if a prospect is opening the rep’s emails, continue to pursue the lead. But if the prospect hasn’t looked at your messages, that’s a trigger to send a “breakup” mail.
Why waste time with a prospect who isn’t interested, when others might be?
This section is typically one of the largest and most comprehensive … don’t skimp.
It covers proven “hooks” that pique interest and draw the prospect into an engaging conversation. Sample messaging includes email templates, positioning statements, calling and voicemail scripts, handling common objections, presentation decks, and any other at-the-ready resources your team uses.
The best playbooks link to recordings or screencasts of high-quality meetings. Strive for at least one example for each stage like one connect call recording, two discovery call recordings, three solution presentation recordings, and so on.
8. CRM Tips
Keep things simple … complexity is the enemy of adoption.
Guidance should cover moving opportunities from one stage to the next. It is important to identify fields that are optional versus mandatory; how to create and analyze reports; how to look at the dashboard; how to use tasks and activities. You get the idea.
9. Compensation Plan
Communicate commission structure … reps are more likely to embrace it once widely understood.
In as few words as possible, describe what the plan is, including the type of plan like salary only, commission only, base plus bonus, and so forth. If you’re doing a traditional base plus bonus plan, then this is the percentage base versus bonus. Note any accelerators or decelerators.
By way of illustration, show how much a rep would make if she hit 75%, 100%, and 125% of quota.
10. Key Performance Indicators
Highlight metrics that are watched more closely.
This is a key way to reinforce focus because you, as a CEO or sales leader, are most likely to “get” what you “measure.” For example, which metrics do your company’s sales managers track most closely? Which ones should the salesperson be paying attention to?
The results can lead to big insight. For example, maybe you’ve found reps who make 50-plus calls per day are twice as likely to hit quota.
List tools sales reps can quickly access to be successful in their role.
Reps are always looking for sales aids like relevant case studies, testimonials, and customer references. Your sales playbooks should link to these types of resources.
Having on-demand, easily accessible material makes it easy for reps to fold into their sales process. Besides improving close rates, this reduces the likelihood they’ll “wander off the reservation” by using content they’ve created on their own.
How to use the Sales Playbook
Make your playbook a work-in-progress.
Update your sales playbook as your sales process changes and improves, your product line expands or shrinks, your ideal customer shifts, your strategy evolves, and your sales compensation plan is tweaked.
When you make a major change, give your team the heads up. Announce the update in your team meeting, or in an email.
A best practice we suggest is updating the sales playbook either once a month or a quarter. The more your organization experiences process immaturity or sales rep variability, then the more frequently you should be iterating the playbook.
Start in the part of the sales process where there is the most friction.
Your reps are likelier to adopt a short, focused playbook over a long, complex one. So pick a single part of the sales process.
If reps are struggling to identify qualified buyers, then start with a playbook on qualification. This should include an easy-to-use framework, qualifying questions, and other indicators of “fit.”
On the other hand, if your priority is improving a solution discussion, then your first playbook should cover presentation strategies and structure, value proposition, and sample messaging.
Your existing content needs an audit. Your salespeople are already using templates like email, calling and voicemail scripts, presentation decks, and so on. Tap into these. Reps are much more likely to adopt content adapted from what they are already comfortable using.
Above all, don’t wait to begin this process. Start small, and build from there. The pay off is moving you that much closer to a repeatable, scalable sales engine.
So roll up your sleeves, dig in, and have fun!
Chris Preston is a business advisor and sales leader who helps turn emerging companies into market leaders. A former Microsoft executive, two-time startup veteran, and board member, he is founder of True Partners Advisory. If you’d like a little help, contact us.