How to create a sales playbook – the ultimate guide

How to create a sales playbook – the ultimate guide

by Rob Keogh | 6 January 2020

Defining the game
The challenge for sales management is that some people like to create fifty shades of grey when sales performance is discussed. Shifting goalposts, involvement in other projects or activities, lack of support or resources, industry or market changes, the list goes on and on.

The reason sport is able to accurately measure and review scores and performance, or even implement a DRS (Decision Review System) is because games have black and white rules and boundaries.

When everyone is playing by the same rules, professional sports managers can then devise winning strategies to accumulate points and beat the opposition. There is no better example than the U.S. NFL competition. Coaches are awarded multi-million-dollar contracts, even by college teams, based on the performance of their playbook.

To summarise the analogy, we have set rules that define the game and the boundaries; against which strategies and processes are detailed in a playbook designed to achieve success. Success is then a matter of execution of the plays and the effectiveness of the playbook strategies. Players make the team based on their ability to execute the defined plays. Playbooks get refined as the season progresses, based on new data and results. In modern professional sport, you will hear individual players called out for a bad performance in a game, but the coach is in the firing line for the performance of the team. There is no room for fifty shades of grey. Same in business.

Why create a sales playbook?
If it is not documented in an easily accessible format, where does this information exist? How is it accessed and disseminated? Is it in the head of certain staff, passed on like Chinese whispers? How long does it take to induct and train a new salesperson? Does your current environment ensure you can attract and retain the best people?

The initial benefit of a sales playbook is that it defines the plays as well as the scoring process (KPI’s). What success looks like. Done or not done, won or not won. The sales playbook helps to form the knowledge base for the whole business. It is the ultimate reference for any sales question. It sets the brand voice of the company and the standards for the customer experience.

In addition to supporting consistency, the content, messages, emails and scripts contained in a playbook frees up more time for selling. A playbook sets down the sales techniques that have proven to be most effective in each situation. The success of one rep can be shared and replicated by the entire team, by putting it in the playbook.

These are compelling benefits, but the most important benefit of having a sales playbook is that it is the essential foundation for sales automation and growth. Sales automation is not a future concept. It is already in place and viable. It is fast becoming common practice globally, among larger enterprises. Automated processes are infinitely scale-able. They increase revenue efficiency, reduce cost and build-in the capacity for growth.

Before you start your sales playbook
We all have experienced the Gideons’ Bible of company documents. Wise words, written years ago, sitting in the drawer and rarely touched.

As part of the company knowledge-base, the sales playbook must be a living document. Imagine your company knowledge-base as an online “wiki” publication, where all staff, even customers and Google might search key terms and access permission-based content or information.

Regardless of the priority sections and scope of the sales playbook, the information base you are creating is ultimately capable of enhancing SEO rankings and providing frictionless customer service.

You need to consider the tone and brand voice of the writing style to ensure messaging is appropriate to who might end up reading it. A sales playbook is an internal document, but much of the information might live within blog articles that also self-serve to resolve front end enquiries. You’ll have a mix of Articles, Info-graphics, FAQ’s, Templates, KPI’s etc. as well as script suggestions to answer a sales question or wording for a specific email response.

Make sure you have the right tools for hosting and managing your sales playbook. Everything from the frequency and process for content updates, to how staff and customers might typically interact with your information should be part of your decision. How can people ask questions, make comments or suggestions? Who is responsible to respond, maintain and curate each section?

Start with your minimum viable content
The smart way to develop a sales playbook is to start with a single part of the sales process, perhaps an area of current weakness. It’s also less overwhelming to tackle your playbook in sections rather than all at once.

It requires team collaboration, with multiple people contributing from the strengths of their expertise and role. So once you assign tasks, headings or sections to the appropriate person, ask them to spend just one hour to craft the minimum viable version of the script or content they need to produce. Start with that, then iterate and evolve the material consistently every week, for just one hour or even half an hour. You will never be able to create the ultimate playbook as a one-off single project.

To get started, you will already have plenty of content. Initial steps simply require the review and reformatting of the best existing communications, presentations and documents.

Make it easy and keep it that way.
In some cases, developing your playbook may require soul searching and team discussion to define the standards you represent and require, for each section of the business.

Once it’s up and running, ensure that your sales playbook works. You’ll need to make sure it is easy to navigate and easy to use. Allow contributors to track changes and use templates to upload data. Use labels, tags and search terms to categorise information and make articles easier to find. Organise the content to fit your organisation and then be careful to maintain it.

What else should your sales playbook include?
Think about priorities and what actually needs to be included in your document. A list of headings will provide the backbone, to which others can add flesh and muscle.

Customer journey and sales process
This section is absolutely critical and should be the starting point for the sales playbook. I like to start with the customer journey and then map the sales process to cover all the touchpoints and communications that feed that journey from first interaction to close. What are the key activities that define each stage? Who is involved? What are the KPI’s and timing for lead follow-up and nurturing?

This section is gold for salespeople. It includes the best scripts, emails and answers for each stage of the sales process. It also defines the cadence of the salesperson’s day, week, month and year.

Lay out the ideal number, timing, and medium of touches. Also provide content, email templates, researched references, links, case studies and guidelines to ensure customers enjoy one common brand experience; one brand voice. Rather than having each salesperson develop their own day-plan, process, messaging and questions to use with prospects, give them ready-made content and a framework of resources. This lets them focus on selling.

Selling methodology
Do you use cold emails or account-based marketing tactics? What tools do you have available to hunt leads or find contact data? Which CRM do you use, how can they access it and what are the rules? List all sales tools and software together with a base how-to guide and rules.

This section should cover every product or service your salespeople are responsible for selling; their price points, use cases and/or core value offerings, buyers and end users, and related industries or verticals. Some companies create one sales playbook per product; take this route if your products are fairly different, require radically separate buying processes, and/or are sold by different members of your sales team.

Elevator pitch
In one sentence, why does your business exist? Every member of the company should be able to state this without hesitation.

Company info
Why did your company start? Mission, vision, values as well as some deeper background stories than those found on the website.

Company Structure
High-level goals, and organisation hierarchy. It should also dive into the details of the sales organisation. How targets are created, how leads, territories or customers are assigned, where to go with questions and requests, and so on.

Career Path, Opportunities, HR requirements
The growth plans of the business. Role descriptions and pre-requisites, which milestones or KPI’s you have to hit in every role, how long it might take to go from one stage to the next, the requisite skills or experience, and what the pay structure might be on offer at each level.

Buyer personas
What are the profiles of your typical customer groups? Who is it your team is talking to? Will it be a joint decision for the buyer/s, who do they report to, what are their KPI’s goals, needs and challenges? This section should also address the common lead scoring criteria “BANT”. That is, to qualify as an opportunity, a lead must have Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline for purchase.

Brand Voice
Is your company cheeky and personable, likely to use more casual and engaging dialogue, or is it serious, stable and professional? Define your brand voice and write your sales playbook and knowledge base with it.

Brand Style guide
Someone always needs to put together a branded presentation or communication. This section defines and provides clear rules, examples and templates of how the company logo, font/s and headings are to be used and when. It also provides access to different size and format of images for different backgrounds, perhaps also primary brand photos.

Brand offers and promotions
Define your promotions cycle. Are discounts or refunds available? Do you provide guarantees or warranties. What are the terms & conditions of every offer – highlight essential headlines or must-haves? When are offers likely to be made and why? Is there any leeway, discretion or exceptions? How might exceptions be determined? Who has authority?

Key Performance Indicators (KPI's)
How does a sales rep know they're performing well? How many contacts should they engage or speak to per day, how many sales are they expected to close per week? What does great, good, or low performance look like? What might be the benefits or consequences of this performance?

Commission or bonus structure
It is important to clearly define success as well as the rewards. What percentage does your sales team earn on deals they close? Do all sales generate commission? If not, what's the qualifying criteria?

Summary of benefits
Training new salespeople is far quicker and easier when you have clear, explicit explanations of who your customers are, how they buy your products, their pain points, what to say to them, and more.

Without a sales playbook, your reps are forced to learn this information ad hoc - usually by shadowing other staff, who may be making mistakes. Remember that a sales playbook is the "ultimate guide", not only for your sales team, but for all staff that interact with your market.

Too often I have found different staff in the one company give entirely different answers to the same question. Often the difference does not stem from specific points of fact, but points of bias around how services or products should be represented. Customers must experience only one version of your business. The brand voice must be the same day in, day out, every time your business is discussed by staff or customers. A sales playbook is essential to ensure the best possible version of your business is always front and centre.

Teams who reference an in-house sales playbook are always on the same page. They know what's expected of them and understand how to communicate without going against your brand values. Every staff member should be able to deliver the same version of the business elevator pitch.

Salespeople must stick to a sales processes that is proven. If everyone is using the same process, your KPI’s will have a common benchmark without excuses. Individual results may vary slightly, but the expectation of performance and quality of customer experience will be the same.

Further reading: "How to maximise sales performance with a sales playbook"

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