Playbooks That "Got Game"

By Wayne Cerullo, B2P Partners

Got a playbook that your sales team really uses? Research shows most don’t. In fact, many don’t have a sales playbook at all.

But perhaps worse — very few of the sales teams at companies who took the effort to create playbook actually run “sales plays” from them! If salespeople don’t run their plays based on them, can they really be called “playbooks”?

The problem is that the tomes that are labeled as “playbooks” are usually glorified repositories of existing marketing materials. They represent all the company wants to say, but they have little relationship to how sellers sell or how buyers want to buy.

Why don’t playbooks run sales plays?

Let’s face it — creating playbooks can be a lot of work! But it can be worth it — research shows that sales teams with them outperform those without playbooks on almost every dimension.

So why do so many playbooks fall short of their potential? There are three reasons. Most playbooks are focused on…

  1. Orchestrating marketing content vs. orchestrating sales conversations

  2. Demonstrating product knowledge vs. demonstrating prospect understanding

  3. Annual sales training sales vs. daily sales practice

Here’s what we have found to get the most game out of your sales playbooks.

Manage the conversation, not the content

The point of a sales play is to create a productive interaction with buyers. The playbook should equip the SDR or AM to engage the prospect in a compelling manner and to orchestrate a series of engagements towards a purchase decision.

Content is subservient to the conversation. It’s the fuel that makes it possible.

Playbooks need to be organized by persona or ICP (ideal customer profile), so the sales team can incorporate just the right content created for that prospect at that point in the journey.

Then they take the buyer and seller through each step of the consideration journey — the alternatives that need to be considered, the questions that need to be answered, and the obstacles that need to be overcome.

All this in short, smart, simple, action-oriented language that helps the prospect solve their problem. Now we’re on our way!

Focus on the prospect, not the product

Next — there’s lots of great training about your product, but that should not be the focus of your sales playbook. That’s like expecting a football team to play better by spending their practice time studying how footballs are made rather than running plays!

The focus of the playbook needs to be on the prospect — who are they (there are several distinct personas in almost all B2B purchases), what are their concerns, how does your solution meet their needs, what are the obstacles to overcome, etc. All good playbooks give the sales team a good perspective on the people they will be (or have been) talking to. NOW they are on their way to engaging with prospects, not just products.

So now we’re talking ABOUT the prospect. Great! But there’s only one playbook that takes the next logical step… talking WITH the prospect! Talking with REAL prospects — those you won and those you did not — and finding out why THEY made their decisions.

Think about it — companies spend billions of dollars and hours preparing what they THINK their prospects want… but never actually FINDING OUT if they are right!

With win rates as low as 5% or as high as 45%, MOST of the time we find we are NOT providing the buyer experience (BX) that most of our qualified prospects are looking for! And that doesn’t even address the finding from Gartner that 60% of all B2B engagements end without a purchase decision… for anyone!

What we have found that catapults playbooks to the next level of effectiveness is to incorporate learning from independent, objective research with prospects who you won, lost, or stalled. As a senior sales leader at Dolby recently observed,

“The inclusion of independent buyer insights from win-loss research is a powerful and valuable element that sets this apart from other playbooks and provides the ability to create big changes.”

By find insights about why prospects choose us or not, playbooks can more accurately guide salespeople to provide what their prospects are seeking — and what their competitors aren’t doing.

It also makes the marketing task clearer by identifying what content is most valuable, what can be improved, and perhaps best of all — what content can be dropped!

The reasons we win are critical and lead to improvements in process and discussions of increasing customer lifetime value.

Previously, the input from these stalls disappeared into the ether, never to illuminate a sales playbook. Data analysis will not provide these insights.

Separately and together they made every dollar invested in marketing and sales more profitable.

Daily sales practice is the ultimate test

Creation of a sales playbook is a significant product marketing task, but it’s the beginning of a journey, not the end. And it’s a journey most sales teams never take. That’s because the playbook is, well, a book. When’s the last time a salesperson you know enthusiastically sought out a book?

That’s not meant to be a snide personal comment — salespeople are hired (and fired) for their ability to engage in conversion conversations every hour. Every hour they spend reading the playbook is an hour they could have been talking with a prospect.

What we have seen work is focusing the sales team on the “play” (action) more than the “book” (content) aspect of the playbook. The key is to engage the top-performing sales performers in two specific ways.

  • First, interview them about how they engage prospects, pose questions, introduce new ideas, and overcome objections. Find out what’s working for the top producers. Then codify their best sales plays into behavior the rest of the team can replicate. Break their “magic” into repeatable steps for the rest of the team. Just think of the sales impact of bringing everyone up closer to their performance. But wait — there’s more!

  • Second, leverage the top-performers as advocates for the new playbook… after all, they think if it as theirs! Buy-in has been greatly advanced by working with the very people who have the credibility to drive adoption.

The “last mile” problem

But we’re still not quite ready to implement. There’s still a gap between “potential” and “actual”…

First, sales plays need to be practiced to be enacted. You cannot simply write a playbook and “drop it off”. That won’t turn it into behavior. You need to train the sales team — and train sales management — on how the plays work and practice them. Role plays. Repetition. You know — just like learning your part in a school play.

But training and practice don’t turn into daily behavior until you put the plays in front of sales people… daily. That means it has to be integrated with the way they interact with prospects — through their CRM, which often is Salesforce.

Completing the “last mile” means turning playbook plays into a dynamic routine that welcomes salespeople every morning on their Salesforce screens that identify who to contact and what to pursue.

How this works for us… and you

The way we have seen teams adopt new behaviors that are

  • Consistent, repeated, and orchestrated

  • Reflect the way each buyer persona wants to buy and

  • Embodies the best practices of the best performers…

… is through the next generation of playbook development and practice that we call PlaybooksPlus™. We’d love to see your sales team making book and playing more. Product marketing has the power to make it happen. Contact us for a conversation. Let’s do it together.

PlaybooksPlus got game. Do you?


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