How to Develop an Agile Sales Playbook

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Who uses Sales Playbooks?

Sales playbooks are common in US sales teams but are becoming more common in APAC and EMEA markets.

They are deployed in a variety of sales roles across B2C and B2B selling. These range from call center sales processes that are transactional and tightly scripted to enterprise selling sales cycles that run for months (or sometimes years!) and are highly complex.

This guide focuses on Sales Playbooks for B2B selling.

What is a Sales Playbook?

Your Own Sales Playbook

Managing opportunities and closing deals in B2B selling is a complex, and mission-critical business function.

Top executives who are serious about building a scalable and repeatable business need to develop a scalable and repeatable process for winning and retaining customers.

This process needs to incorporate the best practices for a winning sales team.

This is where the Sales Playbook fits in.

A study conducted by Vantage Point Performance and the Sales Management Association has found that companies who defined a formal sales process experienced 18% more revenue growth than those without.

Proven Sales Process

The Sales Playbook is the platform for driving a higher level of consistent and reliable performance across the sales force.

A Sales Playbook integrates three elements in a sales process that is proven to get deals qualified and closed.

A Sales Playbook consists of the Stages and Steps in your sales process. And finally, the playbook integrates the proven content, marketing messaging, assets, tools, tips, and templates behind each Step in the process. (Learn why B2B Sales Teams need a Sales Enablement Strategy)

Let’s look at these in more detail:

What are the components of a playbook?

Component ONE: Stages

What are the Key Stages in your sales process?

You should have a pretty good feel for these already. A process will typically consist of a sequence of five to seven stages such as:

Lead Generation, Qualification, Discovery, Proposal Development, Negotiation, Contract, and Close.

Your stages should provide clarity on the typical stages that a buyer must travel thru to get to a yes. Note that your process should be aligned with your customer’s buying process.

It’s important to point out that customers are not robots – nor are salespeople. A process is not a rigid, sequential exercise. The purpose is to provide the guard rails for success.

For example, if a salesperson jumps straight into “Stage 4 – Proposal” when a “hot lead” calls in … alarm bells should be sounding off, that the process is being fast-tracked for no good reason (i.e the customer says they are ‘hot’ but in fact, they are just price checking against competitors they have spent the last 4 months working with on an implementation proposal).

Component TWO: Steps

These are the crucial Steps to be actioned in each Stage. This is the level of detail that most companies fail to drill down into in a disciplined way. A Step in your process is an action that is proven to be one that contributes to the momentum and likely conversion of a sales opportunity.

For example, your Sales Playbook might specify that a “Presentation Rehearsal” Step is required in the “Proposal” Stage. This is because experience has shown that you win 32% more deals when the sales executive runs a 60 min rehearsal at least two days prior to the big presentation meeting with the client.

There might be occasions where a rehearsal is not necessary. The key call out in the Playbook is that this step should always be considered “mandatory” unless there is a good reason to skip it.

For example, the presentation is very similar to a recent proposal and the executive is experienced and renowned as one of the best presenters. Even then …. this author believes that the failure to rehearse for “high value presentation” meetings is the most common failing of sales teams).

What should go into a sales playbook?

Component THREE: Content

The proven Content behind each Step is the final ingredient in the Sales Playbook.

This is an area where organizations often lack a scalable and repeatable process for capturing and reviewing the most effective Content that will help deals progress and convert to an active customer.

For example, the Content for the “Presentation Rehearsal” Step could be a simple checklist that details the 6 key things to do in the Rehearsal process. For example, one key item might be to “Record the rehearsal meeting and share with the VP of Sales for comment”.

Consistently applying this discipline in preparation for a high-stakes presentation has a significant and positive impact on win rates.

Of course, a lot of experienced and successful sales professionals will know to do this. But how often do these crucial Steps get overlooked? How often do even the best producers take shortcuts because, well, it’s just human nature?

Why do you need a Sales Playbook?

Sales Cycle

B2B selling is complex. There are many steps to be navigated as well as many stakeholders to engage during the process. Sales cycles typically run for months and require a multitude of communications to be delivered.

Companies that don’t have a properly documented Sales Playbook suffer inferior results because salespeople are navigating this complex environment armed only with their own process map that lives in their heads.

Highly experienced and successful salespeople will know most of the key steps instinctively. But even for successful salespeople, the lack of a rigorous playbook presents other problems.

  • How do you know you are using the correct version of an important template?
  • How often do you find yourself looking for the correct sales or marketing assets?
  • How much time is spent wasted re-creating content because old content is hidden somewhere on the corporate network or on someone’s desktop?

A pilot lands a plane 100% safely every time because they refer to their landing checklist 100% of the time - even though they should be able to easily recall each step from memory. Why do salespeople try to land deals 'by memory' alone? It's dangerous for conversion rates!

Sales Goals

For a sales manager, achieving a sales quota can often feel like a roller coaster ride. One quarter, you smash quota with some big deals, and then the next quarter, it’s a famine with only a trickle of smaller deals closing and you finish well short of 100%.

Sales managers and the C Suite want more than just the occasional big wins to prop up their sales numbers, they want a consistent and reliable stream of new business revenue.

This reliability is important because it means they can formulate business plans and strategies with the confidence that the sales team can deliver the revenue and the cash to fund future growth.

Erratic sales numbers – even if they add up to quota in hindsight – don’t provide the confidence to invest aggressively in market expansion plans.

Developing and implementing effective sales enablement content as part of a market-tested process provides your sales organization with a blueprint for repeatable success.

Sale Tactics

Build a Winning Sales Strategy

A Sales Playbook is a simple but effective tool for articulating your sales strategy. Sales strategy is fundamentally about making choices on how to deploy your sales force to achieve the sales goals and quota.

For example:

  • What products and solutions to sell?
  • The ideal customers to be targeted? (Ideal customer profile and buyer personas)
  • The right pricing strategy to maximize quota and margin?
  • etc

A Sales Playbook can address these key strategic decisions with the key Steps in each Stage of the sales process map.

Contact Leads and Team Sells

Buying Process

Ultimately, your Sales playbook should be congruent with your customer’s buying process. This means that the Playbook provides guardrails for your sales team that are consistent with the way in which your buyer moves through their process.

There are times where you need to challenge the buyer’s process or understanding of how to procure the products and services in your domain. Hence, your sales process should be aligned to the buyer’s process but not slavishly following their process.

Buyer Personas

Organizational Chart

This is another great opportunity to capture rich content in your sales playbook.

Buyer personas are a buzzword. But few salespeople understand the details required to effectively target messages at different personas.

Buyer personas will help your salespeople move beyond simple categorizations of ‘job title and job role’ to a more sophisticated understanding of the different personas that can influence the sales process.

For a more in-depth understanding of buyer personas and buyer persona information, check out our buyer persona post.

What are Sales Plays?

A Sales Play can be described as a sales campaign that is defined by four key ingredients

  1. A prescribed set of activities for sales reps
  2. Designed to achieve a focused outcome
  3. Within a set timeframe.
  4. Using a toolkit of resources, sales tools, and content – this is often referred to as the “Playbook”.

For example, for a new product launch of “Solution X”, the sales play could look like

  1. Complete product knowledge training set customer appointments and run presentations meeting
  2. Present Solution X to all key decision-makers at our top 100 accounts
  3. By the end of Q2
  4. A shared folder containing the key assets for the Sales Play including training material, presentation decks, fact sheets, competitive battle cards, customer stories, pain points, appointment setting email templates and call scripts, etc

The Sales Play should be designed to provide the sales team with a specific and actionable campaign – they are helpful in providing clarity on the “how” for salespeople in their ultimate goal to achieve and exceed quota.

What's the difference between Sales Plays and Sales Playbooks?

A Sales Play defines a focused campaign of activity. The Sales Playbook is the tool kit to help salespeople execute.

Sales Enablement specialists and Sales leaders don’t always agree on the difference. For example, are sales playbooks a subset of the Sales Play?

We recommend that sales reps need to have a clear sales methodology to achieve the sales quota for the year.

This is best done through the use of a Sales Playbook template that covers the sales process methodology including all the related sales content and assets in the tool kit.

Sales plays can then be created throughout the year to leverage the assets of the main sales playbook. A sales playbook needs to be developed and evolved over time and should provide the platform for onboarding new sales reps.

Click at the bottom of this article for sales playbook examples.

Sales Activities Example Sales Calls

How do you create a sales play?

Sales plays need to be developed across the sales and marketing team as well as the product team. Each area of the business needs to contribute to the sales playbook.

The sales team will need to take the lead on how the defined outcomes of the sales play roll up to the total sales quota. The product and marketing teams will want to make sure that the sales plays are congruent with the marketing goals.

All teams will need to contribute to the development of the playbook content.

The sales department needs to take responsibility for ensuring the sales rep is clear on the goals, the timeframe, and the tools in what should be a great sales playbook.

Note that with SalesGRID, your master playbook and sales knowledge base is ready to be tapped to build out the Sales Play.

How do you build a sales playbook?

The playbook creation process can be time-consuming and it can be daunting to incorporate best practices for sales and marketing teams.

Creating sales playbooks should be led by the sales leadership team and managed by Sales Operations.

Sales reps and marketing should be making contributions in terms of the sales and marketing assets.

Here are some practical tips for creating an effective sales playbook.

Sales playbook templates

To create a new sales playbook, be sure to first map out in a worksheet the key stages and steps in the sales process.

The number of stages in the sales cycle should be around 5 – 7 stages. You should aim to have approximately 3-6 Steps per Stage.

Think of Steps as the crucial actions that must be executed to successfully “land the deal’. Some examples of steps include:

  • Lead generation
  • Prospecting
  • Nurturing
  • Qualification
  • Discovery
  • Prototype
  • Proposal
  • Negotiation
  • etc

Indeed, the sales pilot analogy is a good one. Think of a checklist to “land the plane” – what is the checklist of things to do to ensure all i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Some examples of Steps include:

  • Know your Buyer Personas
  • Target these Types of Companies
  • Use this Call Script
  • Do Effective Research
  • Use these Email Templates
  • Ask these Qualification Questions
  • Present the Sales Presentation
  • Run a BANT Assessment
  • Complete the Meeting Checklist
  • Use Zoom Effectively
  • Run the Scoping call
  • Review the Competitive Environment
  • Preview the Solution with the Coach
  • Identify the Key Players
  • Make Sure the customer is “Proposal Ready”
  • Develop a Persuasive Proposal
  • Use Case Studies effectively
  • Present a Persuasive Sales Pitch Deck
  • Build a Compelling Business Case
  • Know your Negotiation Position and Tactics
  • Prepare all Commercial Documentation
  • Handle Objections Effectively
  • Closing techniques

Here is an example sales playbook that you can present to a sales rep when they start their new hire training.

Here are some specific tips for each team in the business.

Marketing Teams

How does the marketing team contribute to the Sales playbook?

Marketing is responsible for developing relevant content that can be used in the Playbook and added to the sales knowledge base.

They need to be focusing on content that prospective customers are looking for in their buying process.

The most common content to be generated by marketing should include:

  • Customer case studies
  • Product information that detail key features
  • Customer solution content that conveys key benefits
  • Implementation related content
  • Fact sheets on core value offerings
  • White papers

Highly qualified leads can be generated when your ideal target customers can self-service this content online. Salespeople can reinforce the marketing messages with repeat and targeted use of this content in the sales cycle.

As the brand owner, Marketing also needs to oversee the production of all branded content including sales enablement materials.

Sales Operations

Sales operations should be focused on producing sales enablement materials. This content category includes assets such as

  • Sales decks
  • Proposal templates
  • Commercial documents and legal
  • ROI calculators and business case templates

Sales Teams

Sales teams have tremendous potential to develop valuable intellectual property in how to sell the company’s products and services. Yet, this IP is developed in an ad hoc way and is rarely tapped to its full potential.

Any sales rep in a sales team has their own IP on the most effective selling techniques that have worked in their time at their current employer. They have successfully used steps that keep moving deals forward in the pipeline.

An effective program for capturing this IP in your sales knowledge base will deliver immediate benefits in terms of sales consistency and conversion. It will also deliver long-term benefits as a valuable corporate asset.

The sales team understands best the customer challenges that can be solved by the company’s products and services. Therefore, the sales team has a key role to play in ensuring the playbook is finely attuned to the buyer’s needs.

Sales Managers

Sales managers should be accountable for making sure there is an ongoing investment in the sales knowledge base and ongoing utilization of the playbook to drive more sales.

Here are three things to consider:

  • ensure that new reps are trained on how to use the playbook
  • ensure that new reps are trained on how to contribute to the knowledge base
  • ensure that best practices are being promoted across the sales team
  • ensure sales efficiency through a high level of compliance with the playbook across the sales team

What makes a Great Sales Playbook?

Let’s wrap with some key points.

  • An effective playbook gets everyone in the sales org on the same page.
  • An up to date master playbook provides the capability to execute multiple sales plays across the sales year
  • A sales team will enjoy sales performance benefits from a long-term investment in the Sales Stages and Steps and the sales knowledge base that make up a great sales playbook. You can download our sales playbook template below.

Download Sales Playbook Template

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