I’m often asked how do you build an effective sales playbook. All too often, my company is brought in after the client has spent considerable time and dollars on a failed sales playbook project. Sometimes the client tries to do it themselves. Other times they engage an outside consulting firm to build a sales playbook and deliver the associated sales training.

The common denominator is that little over a year later, they find that the sales playbook is collecting dust on a shelf and no one is using it. The sales team has fallen back to selling like they used to…complete with all their old bad habits. Some of this is absolutely attributable to bad sales coaching. Sometimes it’s attributable to the sales playbook itself completely missing the mark. Or it fails due to a combination of the above.

A lot of people grossly underestimate the work required to build a great sales playbook. So, whether you are planning on building your sales playbook yourself or hiring an outside consultancy to build it, here are some questions that you should consider:

  • Why should we build a sales playbook?
  • What are your qualifications for building a sales playbook?
  • What is the right architecture for building your sales playbook? (i.e., the blueprint)
  • How many sales playbooks have you built?
  • How do you abstract the key sales capabilities into learning modules and actual sales training?
  • Why are you the best person to help us build our sales playbook and develop/deliver the associated sales training?

The answer to the first question should be incredibly straightforward…if done properly, an effective sales playbook can be transformational in ramping up new sales reps and sales managers expeditiously. It also can help develop key sales capabilities in your laggard sales reps that improve their selling effectiveness.

How do I go about the process of building a kick sales playbook? It starts with a deep dive discovery process designed to capture and codify your tribal field sales knowledge around selling best practices and worst practices (i.e., common mistakes that new reps keep making that drive sales leadership crazy). The mistake that commonly occurs in this process is that the discovery focus is exclusively with your top performing sales reps. You need to capture a well rounded 360-degree view of your customer’s buying journey coupled with your aligned sales process.

That means interviewing a diverse cross section of your customers, top sales performers, bottom sales performers, new sales reps and middle performing sales reps through your discovery efforts to truly capture your sales playbook “kernel of truth”. The discovery process should yield several foundational components that comprise an effective sales playbook. Here are some of those components:

  • Your Customer’s Buying Journey (aka- how your customer evaluates and makes purchasing decisions)
  • Key Stakeholder Personas (aka – who do we need to engage and sell to and what is important to them)
  • Discovery & Discernment Framework (aka- what do we need to learn from key stakeholders and what questions should we ask)
  • Our Teaching Conversation (aka- how do we lead an effective teaching convo that challenges their thinking about the biz problem they are trying to solve)
  • Our Value Prop & Unique Differentiators (aka – what should resonate about our solution?)
  • Competitive Positioning
  • Customer Case Stories
  • Objection Handling
  • MEDDIC (aka – oppty mgmt. framework)
  • Closure Plan
  • Negotiating Strategy & Tactics

An effective sales playbook is all about how we best engage, position and sell our solution to our customers. It needs to be highly customized and should not be yet another generic selling methodology that will collect dust on the shelf after the training. A sales playbook is not product training. Product training is very important, but should be separate and distinct.

It should be focused on sales pattern recognition and matching. There are typically 3-5 sales plays that your sales team should run using the football metaphor. Any more than 5 sales plays and I’d submit you are over analyzing things. Your 3-5 sales plays should capture approximately 80% of your customer’s situations out there. There will always be outliers and that is when you call upon your sales coaches and your most experienced top performing sales reps for advice and strategy.

The first step is learning how to recognize the situation through effective sales discovery and discernment. And then knowing which of your sales plays to run that closely matches that customer situation. Think of this as sales situational awareness. The more you practice this and develop this sales muscle group, the more natural and faster you can respond by running the winning sales play.

With respect to the actual sales training, I typically recommend a sales bootcamp for new sales reps and managers. It should be 2-3 days in length with a mandatory homework assignment. All sales bootcamp participants must read the sales playbook in advance of the sales bootcamp and take a 10-question quiz testing for comprehension on key concepts. Then you break the new sales reps and managers into teams that compete against each other during the bootcamp.

The bootcamp itself is a simulated sales cycle where the sales teams practice and learn by selling to mock customers against a mock customer scenario. When you consider a mock customer scenario…think of an amalgamation of real world customers complete with common twists and curveballs that your sales team has had to navigate to win deals.

You then simulate and break down the 3-4 most important steps in your sales cycle and your buyer’s journey and the sales teams have to apply the sales playbook best practices guidance and sales coaching. Think of a sales bootcamp as a safe place to fail.

These sales bootcamps organically become highly competitive and at the end of the 2-3 days, you have a highly revved up group of new sales reps chomping at the bit to go sell. In short, this exercise helps to build and reinforce the new sales muscle groups that your new sales reps need to execute with customers to be effective.

A sales playbook has to be written in your sales organization’s vernacular and tone. It should be written in plain English that everyone can understand. It has to be highly tailored to the people that you sell to and compete against. A sales playbook is an organic living breathing thing that has to be updated due to all the dynamic changes in your marketplace.

Your field sales organization should constantly be learning new things that work and things that don’t…all of that needs to be shared with the rest of the sales team so everyone learns and gets better. Hoarding of sales best practices should never be tolerated! Sharing and collaborating needs to become the fabric of your sales team’s culture.

Two real world anecdotes reinforcing the principles espoused above:

  • The #1 sales rep at a client of mine walked out of day one sales playbook training being delivered by a prestigious sales consultancy. That project failed and we were engaged a little over a year later to get it right. My first discovery question to that #1 sales rep was: “Why did you walk out of sales training at last year’s annual sales kickoff (SKO)?” His response” “All of the examples that the sales trainer used were based on an industry that is totally different from ours. It didn’t make any sense at all to me. I didn’t feel like anything he had to say over the next 1.5 days was going to help me sell better.”
  • Similar scenario in that a well regarded sales consultancy was engaged to build a sales playbook and build/deliver the associated sales training over multiple days at their SKO. Fast forward a little over a year later and the sales playbook was collecting dust on the shelf and no one was using the sales training concepts. We were engaged to bring a fresh approach to building a new sales playbook and building/delivering experiential sales bootcamp style training at their SKO. I queried their sales leadership team and asked them why they thought the prior sales playbook and sales training effort failed. No one spoke for a minute or two. Then finally one of their Regional VP of Sales spoke up and said: “They had a bunch of really sophisticated frameworks and methodologies they built into their sales playbook and sales training. The problem was that they didn’t bother translating their content into the sales vocabulary that we use and understand. It was almost like we were asking our sales team to learn Chinese to be able to understand the new sales capabilities. That was unfair to our sales team and a big mistake.”

Good selling to all!