I just stumbled across a collection of old sales playbooks and noticed how they were covered in dust. Obviously, it was a long time since someone consulted them and I wonder if the sales team members ever used them after getting trained at the sales kick-off. What a contrast with the continuous referencing to our new online playbook during our recent sales and marketing meetings!
Sales team members suddenly were asking for quicker updates to new vertical messaging, and were volunteering to share success stories and newly discovered best practices. That proved to me that sales people can actually value processes when relevant, effective and easy to use. As I once heard a sales leader say: “good process doesn’t suck, bad process does”.
A drastic change happened in the past couple of years, enabled by easier-to-use, cloud-based technologies and much stronger collaboration among the various corporate functions, starting with sales and marketing. I will try to outline our lessons learned in this blog, as they could be helpful to other B2B companies as they reach the expansion stage.
Purpose of a Sales Playbook
Companies create sales playbooks to get salespeople to learn from and consistently leverage best practices and turn them into high performing ‘sales machines’. They describe what the salesperson should do in different situations he or she may encounter, when to do it and how to do it.
I found that putting together a sales playbook is very beneficial as it forces a thorough review of existing or new assumptions by the sales, marketing and delivery organizations. Plus, it helps in aligning them along the common pursuit of improving the customer acquisition process.
The Old Way: “The Playbook Binder”
We used the annual sales kick-off meeting as the opportunity to provide a new version of our sales playbook that initially took the form of a thick and heavy binder that was also used as training material, soon accompanied by CDs containing the most relevant files. The playbook was a comprehensive collection of pdf, powerpoint, excel documents and included many references to materials stored in disparate repositories such as departmental intranet pages, salesforce records, etc.
There were two major problems with this approach. The first one was that salespeople found that the search for the right information was complicated. They rapidly grew tired of it, reverting to email and calling people throughout the company when they needed help. The second problem was that as the market evolved and we opened new fronts, the information quickly became outdated. This meant that in between version updates, new materials were flying around outside of the playbook binder, as email attachments or as entries in departmental repositories. ‘Static’ playbook binders were not passing the test of time.
The New Way: “The Online Playbook”
What changed the game for us was the company-wide decision to adopt a cloud-based team collaboration software that could store all of our corporate knowledge in one place. Key decision criteria were ease of access (anytime on any device), ease of use (similar to many social media apps), ease of update (configurable by non-tech users across corporate functions).
The setting and the adoption of the playbook in our internal cloud software was much quicker than anticipated. Uploading and categorizing the information was so much easier than before that it was actually fun! We stopped any other form of internal content delivery (incl. directives not to send new materials as email attachments), which forced the team to consult our online playbook.
As soon as they discovered how easy it was to access information, they were hooked and started demanding continuous and faster updates to the materials. We were dealing with complex B2B sales scenarios, with multiple buying personas and multiple vertical industries. The sales team needed messaging to communicate effectively in each scenario, which meant they wanted industry-specific pitches, testimonials and educational materials… and they were now able to get it fast in one same place.
Interestingly, the level of camaraderie and collaboration increased as well, as noted by the fact that the team members were more readily volunteering information on new wins, competition or best practices (as they expected the same from the other team members) and by the number of commentaries that they were leaving on the various electronic pages and the ensuing dialogue.
The team collaboration software also allowed us to more easily link additional materials from other departments to/from the sales playbook and better integrate our operational processes. Access to information such as upcoming product launches (product mgmt.), post-sales engagement model (PS), new SaaS license agreements (administration), …, were just 1 or 2 clicks away.
Content of Sales Playbook
The content for sales playbooks can vary, depending on the complexity of the solution and of the addressable market. In my latest company, it was quite rich, as we were selling a complex enterprise solution and combining an inside sales team with field-based account executives addressing multiple personas in multiple vertical markets. For more transactional products and a single, well-defined buyer, the sales playbook can be much more nimble.
My advice is to start putting a sales playbook together even if you have not yet reached the expansion stage as a company. You can start with simple 1-pagers for each tab. The exercise will force you to put a stake in the ground in terms of assumptions. With the right cloud repository, it will be easy for you to get the rest of your team involved and update the playbook as you go.
You should complete the following key preparation steps before assembling a sales playbook:
- Segment your market: list the possible needs your solution can fulfill; prioritize and select market(s) according to the best match between your strengths and the prospects’ needs.
- Identify the key qualification criteria: how does the ideal prospect look like? What type of company? What roles? Titles?
- Outline the sales process: what are the various steps and the related actions at each step? What tools and resources are needed at each step?
- Study the competition: how is competition approaching the market? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are your key differentiators?
- Understand possible obstacles: what are the main obstacles to selling? What are the main objections? How can you overcome both?
- List and categorize the needed sales support tools: what tools will the sales team need at every stage, for the various buyer personas? For various verticals?
Please share any experience you had in trying to improve the effectiveness and the adoption of sales playbooks in the comments section below, so we can continue to learn together.