If you had to guess how much time your sales team actually spent selling, would you guess it was only a third of their day? Your sales team likely spends a significant portion of their day on tasks that could be supported by software or standardized processes, like manually entering data that could be automated or writing emails that could be templated.
How can you improve your sales team’s productivity, streamline onboarding to quickly scale, promote autonomy among your team, and standardize best practices and resources? One way is to create a sales playbook.
What is a Sales Playbook?
A sales playbook is a guide that outlines your organization’s sales process and methodology. It provides your sales team with a standardized framework, resources, and best practices for specific activities, outcomes, and goals for common sales scenarios.
If you want to help free up your reps’ time to focus on selling, invest in a sales playbook. In this guide, we’ll review:
- When to use a sales playbook and why it benefits your team
- How to build your sales playbook with key stakeholders across your organization
- What to include in your sales playbook for the greatest utility
- How to ensure your sales playbook stays relevant
The Benefits of a Sales Playbook
In today’s data-driven sales environment, the fundamental principles and ultimate goals of sales teams remain the same, but the resources and tools are getting a tech update – including your sales playbook. AI-driven software is helping sales teams to create new sales playbooks or amend their old ones.
Before we dive into how to create a sales playbook, let’s review when they are most commonly utilized. There are several scenarios where a sales playbook can benefit multiple roles within your organization.
Streamline New Hire Training and Onboarding
While it does not completely replace training and onboarding new hires, a sales playbook complements a robust, holistic training program. Having explicit expectations and clear customer profiles readily available to your new hires to reference as a resource throughout their onboarding ensures consistency in training while promoting autonomy.
It also benefits sales managers; rather than waiting for each sales play to happen organically and training reps on the spot, sales managers can proactively review common (and not so common) sales plays. Another benefit to your reps and their managers is that standardized training and a single source of truth sales playbook helps prevent misinformation and even bad habits.
HP has a brilliant example of this playbook strategy in action with their VR sales playbook. In it, HP outlines some of their target markets, use cases, and tips for pitching prospects.
Gives Reps and Managers Resources and Guidelines
Similar to providing clear cut expectations for new hires, a sales playbook also provides guidelines as well as resources to your seasoned reps and managers. This not only promotes standardization across the sales team, it also saves everyone time.
When you provide standardized processes and ready made sales enablement content, you free up your reps’ time so they don’t have to constantly recreate the wheel with their own messaging, content, and resources. Managers also spend less time coaching on repetitive scenarios – they can simply direct their rep to the playbook– and instead can focus their time on complex and unique sales plays.
Rackspace has a good example of this type of resource with their guide for IT directors to modernize their application infrastructure. The playbook walks through the common signals of a growing need and the benefits of implementing modern best practices.
Guidelines and standardized processes are especially important when managing remote sales teams.
Circulate Best Practices of Your Top Performers to Raise the Middle
Circulating best practices illustrated by real anecdotes and real data in your sales playbook helps highlight what separates the top performers from the rest of the pack – ultimately helping to improve performance and move the middle of the pack up.
Moving your average performers – the middle 60-70% of your sales teams – is best done by focusing on the activity level data. Pinpoint the activities of your top performers and dissect not only the data metrics, but concrete examples to help illustrate best practices to the rest of your team.
Launch a New Product or Test a New Sales Process
If you are launching a new product or service, a sales playbook can help sales managers and reps get up to speed quickly on key elements like the audience personas of your ideal customer profiles, existing resources and sales enablement content, and the KPIs they’ll be measured against.
Similarly, if you are testing a new sales process, leadership can quickly disseminate the nuances of the new process along with standardized sales plays and expected KPIs.
How to Build your Sales Playbook
Now that we’ve enticed you with the benefits a sales playbook can bring to your team, let’s dive into how to actually build one. While it may be a time investment and certainly can’t be built overnight, your team’s efforts will pay out in dividends.
Recruit Your Champions and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
Your leadership team should not be creating your sales playbook in a silo, nor should a single person be creating it for the entire organization. You will, however, need a small, core group of individuals to oversee the playbook’s creation and maintenance – these folks will be your champions, making sure the playbook is created in a timely manner, circulated to the appropriate teams, and updated periodically.
In addition to your champions, input from various departments and folks in different tenures should also be included, but from exactly who will depend on your organization. To consider all areas of expertise, you will likely want to include a subject matter expert representative from the sales floor, sales leadership, product development, marketing, and operations teams.
In smaller organizations, multiple areas of expertise may be held by the same person, whereas in larger organizations, you may have multiple individuals that could speak to a single area of expertise.
Review (And Refine) Your Sales Process and Resources
New sales reps need clarity on each step in the sales process, while your entire sales team will benefit from specific direction on particular plays. Before you define your sales process and the essential activities that align with each stage, review what is working well and what needs to be refined. At this stage, you should solicit and gain alignment across your SMEs.
This stage will also include an audit and refinement of your sales enablement content, current buyer personas, and existing sales tools your organization utilizes throughout the sales process.
You may be eager (or overwhelmed) to write from scratch all of the sections within your playbook, but it’s likely that various SMEs and stakeholders already have the content elsewhere. For example, your marketing team likely has already conducted extensive research on your customer profiles, while your top inside sales reps have a cold calling script that works every time.
Outline Your Sales Playbook’s Goals
To outline the best fit goals for your sales playbook in relation to your organizational goals, ask your champions and SMEs questions like:
- What knowledge gaps exist between new hires and seasoned reps?
- What specific areas of the sales process should have pre-specified sales plays?
- What is our sales team struggling with?
- Are we planning to launch a new product or test a new sales process?
- Has data uncovered any trends that run counter to how our team has been operating?
Answering these questions can help guide your creative process and ensure the most utility and benefit from your sales playbook.
Writing Your Sales Playbook: Seven Chapters to Include
You have recruited your team, reviewed your process, outlined your goals, and now you’re ready to write your sales playbook, but where to begin? We’ve outlined the seven chapters your playbook needs – we even include a template to help guide your team through the creative process.
Company Overview and Sales Strategy
Your introduction section includes a 10,000 foot view of the entire organization, including basic company information like your mission statement and core values. Illustrating your organizational structure and defining the sales team’s roles and responsibilities is also best included in this introductory section.
Finally, you’ll want to include the big picture sales strategy – especially what your company offers that addresses the motivators and pain points of your target market.
The next section should cover the ins and outs of all the products or services your reps are tasked with selling, including information like the pricing, unique selling points, use cases, and ideal customer profiles of the decision makers and end users.
If your organization’s products vary drastically from one product to another, then you may consider writing a separate playbook for each product or product line. This is especially true if your sales plays, sales process, and customer profiles differ between each product.
You have already outlined the overarching sales strategy, so now it’s time to detail the stages of your company’s sales process and the essential activities for each stage. Each stage of your sales process should be clearly stated, with details like messaging and cadence outlined for each stage’s essential activities.
You may include how your sales process overlaps with your target’s buying process to help tie the two together. This will give your sales team context on why your process is set up the way it is, as well as a deeper understanding of the buyer’s journey.
Customer Analysis and Ideal Customer Profiles
Your marketing and sales teams at some point have likely conducted a customer analysis and created ICPs to help inform awareness and lead generation marketing campaigns. This information is also helpful for your sales team when it comes to keeping leads warm and closing deals.
Ideal customer profiles help your reps focus on the most qualified leads based on factors like budget, company size, and industry – this is a great section to also outline lead qualification criteria, even if lead scoring is something your CRM has automated.
Common motivations and barriers should also be outlined for each of these profiles to help reps understand which product or service features to market towards specific roles – as well as what objections to expect. This is also why it’s helpful to delineate between researchers, decision makers, and end users in this section as well.
Common Sales Plays
As the step by step guides for common sales scenarios, sales plays will be a core portion of your sales playbook. Depending on the complexity of your product, buyer groups, and sales process, your sales playbook will likely have anywhere from 10 to 40 sales plays. Some sales plays will apply to several different scenarios, where others may be unique to one type of situation.
Each sales play should include the recommended steps, enablement content (more on that below), and timeline for the specific scenario. Including anecdotes to help illustrate some of the most common (or not so common) sales plays and what reps did to help win the deal will paint a better picture than simply outlining the activities for each sales play.
Content Resources and Sales Software
If you have invested in building out extensive resources and purchasing the latest sales tools, you want to make sure your team is actually using them. In this section, make sure those resources are easily accessible within your playbook. Creating a resource library and hyperlinking to the relevant documents, tools, and platforms will help keep your sales playbook streamlined.
Your resource library should not just include materials like case studies, product pages, or demos, but it should also explain the context in which specific pieces of sales enablement content should be used. You should also define the function or process of each tool, especially your CRM.
Gaining alignment between sales and marketing on content and the CRM process is especially important – marketing is the team helping to supply your sales reps content and are feeding sales MQLs through the CRM.
Your marketing team helps provide consistent messaging and supporting documents for your sales team to use in the field, so avoid siloing your two teams and instead encourage closed loop reporting to make best use of your content resources and shared software.
Measuring Sales Activities and Expected KPIs
Sales leadership needs to clearly state what sales activity metrics are being measured for each rep, and what sales productivity results are expected. This will vary drastically for every sales team based on variables within your sales strategy, so your sales playbook should include the most up to date focus for your organization.
For example, if your sales strategy is focused on expanding your footprint within existing accounts, then your leading indicators will be tailored specifically to that goal. If your strategy is focused on expanding market share into new territories, then your leading indicators would reflect a different set of sales activities.
AI-powered sales tracking tools can help your sales managers identify the best fit leading indicators for your organization based on historic activities and performance. These leading indicators can help managers predict results and proactively make adjustments to individual rep’s sales activities to influence sales productivity for individuals and the entire team.
Implement, Analyze, and Update Your Sales Playbook
Creating your sales playbook isn’t the last step in the process. Once your sales playbook is written, your champions now need to implement and circulate the playbook across the sales team.
Leadership should be monitoring and analyzing the impact of your sales playbook, looking to see if scenarios discussed above are seeing benefits. This could vary from reducing the time to onboard new hires to reducing performance related turnover to successfully launching a new sales strategy.
Your champions should also update the sales playbook when necessary, ideally on a quarterly basis. Soliciting feedback from your a-player sales reps on the floor on what is working well or asking managers to spot trends in what sales activities are leading to closed deals are some examples of ways to proactively update your sales playbook.
AI-driven sales software can help with sales performance analysis to better inform what in your playbook is working, and what may need to be updated the next quarter.