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What Is a Sales Playbook? Hint: It’s Not a Sales Script

Memorizing lines is maybe 5% of what makes an actor great. Yes, it’s important to know what to say, but it’s more important to know how a character sees the world beyond the script. Where did they come from? What’s important to them? What do they want in every scene? Proper context not only helps in line delivery, but having a holistic view of the production prepares actors for moments of spontaneity and discovery that make their performances more convincing.

Now I don’t know of too many salespeople who are up for Tony Awards this year, but I do know a ton that are masters of reciting sales scripts. And that’s all well and good—if the customer plays their part in a way you’ve rehearsed—but how often does that really happen?

Invariably, conversations will go off-book. And when that happens, salespeople who have studied a true sales playbook won’t miss a beat. Good sales playbooks aren’t made up of go-to lines your reps can rattle off. They’re full of depth and understanding of the conditions of your customers and your business as a whole—the world that exists beyond the script.

Sales playbooks are invaluable resources, not last-ditch ones when you’re about to lose a customer or at contract renewal time. Stories matter in sales, and your teams need to be able to tell the right one in any given circumstance. Don’t send your sales soldiers into battle with no weapons.

If your playbook needs updating or if you need to start from scratch, make sure to include these pieces in your playbook.

The 40k Foot View:

This is your company’s mission, vision and strategy. If your reps aren’t aligning every conversation with the core of what your organization stands for, how can your customers know what to expect from you consistently?

It’s also critical to outline your business’ own business process. We continually work with organizations that have the high level pieces down, but the sales team literally has no idea how to manage their day-to-day and what that ideally looks like in the company’s structure.

Here are some process questions your sales playbook should answer about your own business:

  • Who is responsible for what and when?
  • What are the explicit stages in your own sales process?
  • What internal terminology/acronyms do you need to understand?
  • What tools are available at certain points in he process?
  • What is our high-value sales offer?
  • How are valuable insights recorded in a system that informs the larger team of the deal’s progress?

The Buying Process: 

How do you define key milestones and benchmark for success? When a rep engages with a customer, do they know where the customer stands without having to ask? This is where past behaviors and present language matters. Your team should be aligned on key indicators that communicate intent and interest so you can know exactly where to go next. Cross your T’s and dot your KPI’s so the same outcomes are bucketed in the same success category.

Market and Competitive Analysis:

Sales teams need to have a grasp on what their own competitors are doing, and what their customers’ competitors are doing. Nothing can help your product’s perception more in the eyes of a potential customer than a story about how you’ve changed one of their peer’s lives for the better.

Identifying Pain Points:

Similarly, your reps should be in a position to empathize with, not defend against, customer pain points. Without an in-depth customer analysis, including the all-important persona development, you’ll have no way of properly stepping into anyone else’s shoes.

This is where data is your best friend. You should have a model for what your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) looks like within your Total Addressable Market (TAM), but oftentimes organizations still generalize here. ICPs must take into account that every person you interact with has individual concerns that vary slightly (or a lot) from others in the same TAM. Which leads us to…

Understanding the Players:

Sales decisions are rarely made by one single individual anymore. It takes the sign-off from a buying committee, and that’s where things can get tricky for reps. Don’t make the common mistake of getting too locked in on selling to the first point of contact; their role may just be as gatekeeper for other decision-makers. Again, developing personas for everyone within a potential buying committee will keep you out of the one-size-fits-all mentality.

A good sales playbook informs sales reps of their own options in these types of situations. Perhaps, based on the players involved from the customer’s side, the rep should bring in some heavy hitters of their own for better alignment. Reps should never be off on an isolate island trying to do it all themselves.

Value Framework and Outcome Selling:

Smart buyers, which is pretty much all buyers today, aren’t going to be swayed on product features. Your salespeople must not only demonstrate values and outcomes, but must frame them in terms of (you guessed it) what the individual on the other end defines as value for themselves. One product may help increase customer loyalty, and drive more revenue, and help keep things organized—it’s up to your reps to match the outcome with the person who will benefit from it. If one member of the committee doesn’t see the value, they’re not going to pass you along.

Objection Handling:

Scripts can somewhat prepare you for dealing with uninterested, naive, or upset customers, but they may not go far enough in helping your reps understand the different nuances of customer objections. An objection is not a lost cause, nor is it an invitation for a fight. There are smart ways reps can get to the bottom of the real issue, and the more they’re armed with data-backed customer profiles, the more effectively they’ll turn that customer frown upside down.

Maximizing Lifetime Value:

Your best customers are your current customers. Sales teams can get caught up in the chase, but a playbook that emphasizes nurturing and loyalty will lead to more successful outcomes. How can you continue to educate your customers on the products they’ve already purchased from you? Better yet, how can you surprise them by anticipating needs that may come up in their day-to-day, and offering solutions? Don’t let the air out of the balloon and only try to put the helium back in when it’s renewal time.

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