What Good Are Sales “Playbooks”?

I’m a marketing guy. But in my consulting days and in various other roles I have both sold and trained people to sell. My most recent in-house role, director of product marketing, had a strong sales enablement component, including attending the daily sales stand up and delivering training, content, competitive intel, tools, and strategy to my sales team.

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So you won’t be too surprised to learn that I’m a member of my local chapter of the AA-ISP (“American Association of Inside Sales Professionals”). Earlier this week at our quarterly meeting I participated in an excellent interactive discussion about sales playbooks led by Jodi Maxson from the Bridge Group, a highly regarded sales consulting organization headlined by Trish Bertuzzi. Here’s a little about what we covered, not really an overview, more like my thin slice of it.

Experienced sales reps are valuable but expensive. Entry level salespeople like Sales Development Representatives (aka “SDRs”) are an affordable alternative, if and only if they can get the job done correctly. A good playbook helps keep the cost of sales down and quality up.

Sales playbooks contain reusable lessons learned. They provide best practices for sales teams that are collected, compiled, and distributed to sales reps. Playbooks are frequently customized for SDRs or for “closers” (account reps).

Playbooks should include both company (product) specific information and more general sales guidance. Salespeople, particularly entry level personnel and new hires, need a playbook to help them have productive conversations with potential customers rather than just talking about product and features (boring! and often misses the mark), or winging it (never a good idea for newbies). Why reinvent the wheel for every customer, when you can perfect your approach and put your best foot forward every time?

For example, a sales playbook should cover objection handling. Sooner or later a prospect is likely to push back and express concerns or reservations. An inexperienced sales rep’s first instinct will be to argue the point. Not good. In the playbook, under objection handling, step one should advise sales reps to acknowledge objections, perhaps saying something like “you know, many customers have told me this,” rather than arguing with them. Valuable takeaways from listening to objections may include learning that the prospective customer isn’t qualified (for example, they have no use for your product or can’t afford it), or, possibly the person being spoken to doesn’t have any influence over buying decisions, or, perhaps this person simply wanted to find out if the sales rep is listening to them.

Importantly, the playbook also lays the groundwork for sales coaching. In the example above, when a sales manager discovers that a rep is arguing with a prospect instead of acknowledging their objections, the sales manager can refer the rep back to the playbook to help the rep learn proper technique.

More playbook pointers:

  • A playbook shouldn’t be huge and cumbersome. If a playbook isn’t usable, it won’t be used. Then what’s the point?
  • Playbooks are guidelines which can be adapted to fit specific cases, not a rigid one-size-fits-all script. They can start out bare bones, particularly for startups still learning what works, then grow as learning accumulates. Even when fully developed, playbooks are living documents that change as an organization learns and evolves.
  • Sales managers should take ownership of the playbook, although someone from training or sales enablement (rather than a sales manager) may make a better scribe / editor for the actual document.
  • Playbooks can be digitally stored and managed, with sections printed out for individuals who prefer to use it that way.
  • Marketing shouldn’t own the playbook. Sales people participating in our discussion even laughed at the idea of giving Marketing-created personas to Sales. (I would observe that marketing typically focuses on putting customers into buckets for digital advertising and email automation. These are not optimized for SDRs.)
  • Playbooks are essential for scaling up a sales team. They’re useful for training, coaching, and potentially as cookbooks to assist reps while on calls with prospects.

For expert assistance building a high performance sales playbook, you could start by reaching out to Jodi. She really knows this territory and is an excellent communicator.

Special thanks to the event’s host, Outreach, which (as it happens) provides a tool for scheduling and monitoring sequences of SDR activities, such as activities that would be defined by a sales playbook. I especially like Outreach’s Sales Intelligence Tiles, which are akin to the social listening functionality offered by my former employer, Trapit, providing up-to-date information about customers and prospects.

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