After the generation and hand-off of leads, there may be no higher-contact area between sales and marketing than the sales playbook. Marketing develops this tool, primarily, and sales uses it on a daily basis, making it critical to both ends of the relationship. Sales needs it to win deals, and marketing needs it to work to justify its existence.

Great Sales PlaybookCreating a good playbook is easy; creating a great one is hard. And you need a great one if you expect to drive higher revenue, shrink your sales cycle, and ensure consistent branding and messaging.

The good news is that many of the parts needed for a great playbook may already exist in your organization. The bad news is that they’re probably scattered, difficult to find, and thus poorly managed in terms of updates and improvements.
How do you go from good to great?

1. Audit what you have today

Unless your company just opened its doors, you should not have to start from scratch. Make a concerted effort to understand what assets you have already created – get product marketing and content marketing involved (this would also be a great time to do a content marketing audit as well).  And don’t forget sales; find out what parts of the existing playbook work for them and which ones are coming up short. This will give you a roadmap and a set of priorities for the content you need to create and how they fit into the playbook structure. Also, most sales reps will have created some content along the way; with some work, and perhaps a bit of re-tuning of this content to the current messaging, this content can be integrated into the playbook as well.

2. Analyze what’s working

With the advent of analytics and big data, you don’t have to build a playbook based on guesses.  Evaluate which pieces of content your customers are searching for at each stage in the buying process. This can help you decide which content is worth including in the sales playbook and at which point to include it. Doing so will allow you to mirror the types of content that are most important to moving the sales process along.

3. Identify the customer

You should have a set of personae developed that outlines the characteristics of your ideal prospects. Include this in the playbook – even as an appendix in the back of the playbook – if only to ensure that sales and marketing are pursuing the same potential customers. You must also include a summary of the context in which those customers exist, by explaining the market, the important trends, the potential influencers in different customer organizations, the customers’ pain points and the critical business issues that ideal customers are trying to solve. In other words, set the stage for sales so they have a good understanding of the lay of the land even before engaging with the customer.

4. Think like the customer

All businesses like to consider themselves “customer centric.” Perversely, the sales playbook may be the most important area for your company to adopt that credo; creating a set of recommended actions for your sales reps based around customer needs, motivations and desires is critical for success.

The playbook should give sales reps the ability to understand the customer’s thinking – not just about buying from your company but about buying in general. You’re probably not the only vendor being considered, so the playbook must give the rep an understanding of how your competitors position themselves in the market relative to your business, their selling processes, their reactions during the sales process and your proscribed counters to those actions.

Take into account the events that trigger consideration, evaluation and purchase among your existing customers, and include this information in the playbook.

While competitive intelligence is valuable, the most frequent alternative for many customers is no purchase at all. To fend off this possibility, the playbook must include specific instructions for addressing common objections sales might face. Think like the customer: what are his concerns, and what issues might your sales process raise in his or her mind? Be complete about this – the thoroughness of the answers you provide in the playbook will have a direct impact on the number of deals sales is able to close.

5. Map Out Your Methodology

This is the most elemental part of the playbook: how do you proceed through the sales process? What are the stages, and who in the sales organization has what responsibilities at each stage?

This section should recommend standard methods and tools to help determine where prospects are in the buying process and to use that knowledge to determine what actions sales reps take next. It should also outline the information that the reps should be collecting – and when – and suggest potential players in each step.

The sales methodology should also include content to help reps enter and exit an opportunity, including an explanation of how to return leads that are not ready to buy to marketing for further development. And, as a reality check, this section should serve as a repository for best practices: what worked, what hasn’t worked, and some real-world validation of the methodology.

6. Don’t skimp on the details

The playbook should collect all tools that will help reps move the customer through the decision cycle, and that means the more tools and detailed information you can provide, the more options your reps have and the more responsive they can be to customers. Tools like ROI calculators, case studies, customer videos, and analyst reports can help your reps. Make sure that the most useful of these are included in the playbook.

7. One book is not enough

The rule of thumb is to have a different playbook for each product. Some organizations have different playbooks per product based on the vertical markets they sell to. No matter how you build out your playbooks, make sure you also have a master playbook which tells your whole story, highlighting bundling possibilities, increased efficiencies, and cost savings.

8. No playbook works if no one uses it

The sales playbook does not work by the “if you build it, they will come” principle. Sales needs to know what’s in the book, why using it benefits them and where to find it. When you introduce new playbooks, make sure that sale management is part of that launch; their recommendation can help get reps’ attention. A published list of the contents, a guide for using the playbook, and its location on your portal will attract reps and get them to interact with the content. Send updates when content is added or modified, and create a playbook “leader board” showing how many times content assets have been downloaded. Provide an avenue for feedback and ratings; this will keep reps involved, and it’ll also help you manage the playbook’s quality over time.

Creating a great playbook takes time, thought and effort – but it can result in improved result, higher commissions for your sales reps and increased status for marketing. It’s a process whose secrets can truly pay off.

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