Millions of dollars have been poured into building sales playbooks but despite the time, effort, and money many of them remain unused, abandoned or forgotten, so let’s take a look into the reasons why and dig deeper to see if we really need them.
The simple art of sales and selling has become more and more complicated (yes, it is simple) and I see sales trainers, coaches, and other no-doubt well-meaning people producing endless streams of content designed to increase revenues and profits…at first glance.
But the result remains that we are short of high-quality, profitable, and consistent revenue-producing salespeople.
That last sentence is quite a mouthful, but nevertheless true…can you imagine the complexity in building a playbook, just to talk about those qualities alone?
Yet playbooks are all the rage and I am going to give you my views, which essentially is that they overcomplicate the process and actually take the focus away from real selling, which of course leads to the “complex” elements in my sentence above.
Over my forty-year career in sales, I have come across all of the theories, strategies, “rights and wrongs” regarding sales and selling and I hate to tell you this, but over the years, nothing has changed.
Sure, we have advanced in the technical sense and it is a lot easier to operate a business in today’s economic climate from a tech point of view…but when it comes down to the actual “selling” part, we are no further forward.
What Exactly Is A Sales Playbook?
A sales playbook is a document that sales teams use to employ best practices, tactics, and strategies during different stages of the selling process.
It outlines what a rep should do in a specific selling situation, such as prospecting, nurturing, or pitching a specific product.
The above definition is taken from this article on marketo.com.
So it looks good, right?
Well, I will go into more detail a bit later on this, but for now, you cannot argue with anything that will help a salesperson understand exactly what they are selling, to whom they are selling, and the systems, procedures, and processes involved.
The article goes on to talk about a playbook not being a substitute for comprehensive training (I definitely agree here) and that it provides a valuable resource, which I also agree with.
The problem comes when sales VP,s, directors, managers, and trainers rely on the playbook to teach their salespeople that it’s what they need to close deals.
A couple of months ago I commented on a post where the author was talking about the effectiveness of sales playbooks in precisely this matter — he had produced a course on helping companies to increase their revenue generation through his system, which included the development of a playbook.
I ended up having a one-to-one conversation with him a little later and we basically had to “agree to disagree.”
I had no problem with the template of the playbook or the content that I could see filling it when he customized it to a company…but I had a huge problem with the level of personnel he was targeting in the initial prospecting phase and this is where we parted company.
All of the procedures, processes, and systems in the world are rendered useless if you are aiming the gun at the wrong target and at best, you will burn the precious time of your salespeople and your own organization’s management time.
And what’s even more important, is that many of these playbooks lack one vital component — deep and detailed market and industry research, which gives you the framework for your entire sales approach.
Take a look at this article, in which I explain how you should look to stop selling and start influencing your customers, with an explanation as to how to conduct the right research.
Sales Playbooks: The Bad And The Ugly
I’ll start with the simple one — they take countless hours to produce.
This is itself detracts from selling time as the only people who can really produce the playbook will be salespeople, first and foremost.
Depending on how good marketing teams are when it comes down to understanding the real dynamics of selling, they can have a positive input…but you will be reliant on your own perception of how and what to produce and the real danger here is that you may have the wrong perception!
There is nothing worse than salespeople, managers VP,s and even CEOs being “married to their own ideas,” which will only serve to shape their organization and thinking in the wrong way.
You need an outside influence…a different perspective and most importantly, an impartial one.
The next problem is what exactly do you put in it?
It’s a sales playbook, so you would think it should be filled with information related to selling…but many are filled with product information and this, in my opinion, can turn your salespeople into “product scientists” and not better salespeople.
I once consulted for a large multinational, where the management team was happy to have their salespeople regularly occupying hotels and conference rooms, where they would work systematically through their sales pipeline and then get the latest product information from the product teams.
What’s wrong with that, you may ask, but the problem for me was that these meetings regularly took from one to a few days in the middle of the week — with the CEO complaining that sales targets were not being hit.
I had a huge problem with my organization when we introduced our first customized CRM back in the day and I found that many of my top salespeople were now on track to becoming CRM experts.
This is becoming more and more the norm today…now if I had also added a sales playbook to contend with…
Finally, business is dynamic and liable to change for the worse more often than not, so how do you keep your salespeople ahead of the curve and help them to understand the business of your customers, to such a degree that they can start to predict future trends?
This is the key!
Your Customers Don’t Actually Know What They Want
Wouldn’t that statement put a huge dent in the most well-produced sales playbook?
Many sales organizations always believe that the customer is always right and they know what they want.
There are endless prospecting scripts designed to ask potential customers open-ended, probing questions, but these are usually directed at the wrong person, who has their own agenda, based on firstly keeping their job, in these tough, economic times and that job has a limited level of responsibility…and budget if they have any at all!
The best salespeople give their customers what they need…and that may not necessarily be what they want.
Let’s start at the C-Level — the leadership team that has only one objective and that is to increase stockholder value.
They will listen to anyone who can help them and that is where the best salespeople are initially engaged.
But…you have to get their attention, which is not easy…plus their time, which is even harder.
They are the ones with the real headaches and problems and who are also crying out for solutions — they spend most of their time fire-fighting and will always solve the most pressing problem, which for a salesperson working at a much lower level can prove an absolute nightmare.
I was once working on a large staffing project with a major international tech company and I was engaged in what I thought was the right level, which was an executive VP…but I was not working with a division that was supporting and directly working with their own end-user customer at the sharp end.
The budget was approved, but at the last minute rescinded — due to an “emergency” re-allocation of funds to a more pressing division.
A huge amount of hard work and effort was lost, and I made sure to engage with executive leaders who had a direct responsibility to their end-user customers, as a start!
Now, let’s get back to the issue of giving the customer exactly what they want…or more importantly, what they need.
The late Steve Jobs said it at Apple — and it went along the lines of customers not knowing what they want until you show it to them!
So you have to abandon customer research and look more at your market and start to predict what it is going to need.
Your customers will follow…but it’s your job to be ahead of them!
I haven’t come across a sales playbook that takes care of this aspect…yet.
Sales Playbooks: Start & Build Gradually
Teach your salespeople to become commercially aware — get them to understand the aspects and dynamics of business in general and to understand the responsibility of each business function.
Next get them to understand the dynamics and trends of your industry, so that they can start to predict what is going to happen — you will be amazed at the amount of creativity you can uncover within your sales team.
Teach them to think like investors and to find services, products, and solutions that will be needed in the future.
Now you can see where your customers, both existing and target are, in relation to the dynamics of the industry…are they top players, or are they looking to move up a division?
Conduct customer research, but limit it to where they are in the market and identify their key competitors — in this way you are looking at facts…and getting your salespeople to provide opinions.
You can now look at seeing how your products can benefit customers — in relation to their end-user customer experience, as well as their own internal efficiency.
Build a “pitch framework” to help your salespeople design their own individual approaches, based on their personalities and to contact the executive leadership level of your customers.
Design clear “proof points” and case studies that clearly and concisely articulate the value and benefits of your solutions to your customers.
Build a customer services charter to hold everyone accountable and make sure you train your salespeople regularly on this critical point.
I could go on…but you get the idea.
Lastly, hire a coach to work directly with your team on a real-time basis — there is no time for pointless sales training days and workshops that take up too much valuable selling time.
You need coaches who are experienced in dealing with executive leaders, to help your sales team understand and overcome the challenges when dealing with them.
And to connect with them in the first place.
Real coaching is real-time — it is a continuous process and one that operates 24/7 — just ask the coach of any football or soccer team.
You can build a workable sales playbook for sure…but don’t rush it and you want to make sure it is simple, concise, and easy to apply.
Sales playbooks are just one…and a very important part of the overall sales business function.
But you have to connect the dots and make sure that your salespeople are not over-focussing on the playbook and concentrating on what they are there to do — sell!
Most customers do not know what they want…that’s why your sales team has been engaged and it’s up to you to make sure your salespeople are able to educate your customers as to what exactly they need and why, plus on how to buy from your organization.
There is a vast difference between having to sell to someone rather than compelling them to buy from you.
Most importantly, you need to coach your salespeople through the entire process…each and every day.
And that coaching will invariably be unrelated to sales, but more in helping your sales team to gain confidence through conducting the right research, communicating and engaging with the executive leadership level with your clients…and actually applying the information in your playbook effectively and profitably.
I had much better results with all of the sales teams that I have and still coach by focussing on commercial awareness in conjunction with market and industry research…not customer research
Given that most customers don’t know what they want, there would be little point in conducting research with them!
Contact me about real sales coaching and I guarantee that you will have a more profitable experience.
Last modified: March 31, 2022