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6 Tips to Modernize Sales Playbooks

| 11 min read


The term “sales playbooks” might conjure up images of a thick three-ring binder or hundreds of pages in a static PDF. But in today’s selling environment, playbooks delivered in this format are probably already outdated before it even reaches the rep.

The market landscape and buying process are evolving at lightning speed; new companies enter the scene daily, others grow and change, all while buyers have more information at their fingertips to help guide their decisions. They never remain static, and sales reps need to keep pace to remain competitive.

This steady rate of transformation necessitates a cohesive, streamlined, and efficient sales playbook that is as dynamic as the market itself.

Sales playbooks are a definitive guide for sellers on what to say, how to say it, and when to say it for common scenarios they will experience during the sales cycle. To revolutionize the sales playbook into a modern source of truth for sellers, it needs to evolve into a digital tool that puts the buyer first and allows for cross-functional influence. These changes take time and careful execution, so start small, work with stakeholders, and adapt the delivery methods salespeople already use in their daily operations.

Here are six tips for any size organization to consider in building modern sales playbooks.

Have a Buyer-Centric Focus

Effective playbooks are framed by buyer needs rather than by product. Today’s buyers crave empathy for the problems they experience day-to-day and want to find a solution to help them ease those pain-points. Playbooks should be built from the ground up with a buyer-first perspective to aid reps in providing a strong understanding of what the buyer needs and wants.

The modern sales playbook can no longer be a one-size-fits-all, stagnant view on the sales process. Rather, it adopts individual plays for each solution and then tailors it for each buyer persona. With this approach, the end result is a 360-degree view of who the buyer is, challenges they likely encounter, and how the solution is well-suited to their specific needs.

“A customer is not coming in saying, ‘I’m interested in this product,’” said Steve Goas, sales enablement leader at TD Ameritrade. “It’s, ‘I’m having this problem. I want to grow.’ So, making sure that it’s framed for the customer…It’s living, breathing pieces of content.”

Make it Dynamic and Accessible in Real-Time

Playbooks must also be designed to dynamically adapt to the buyer’s journey as it happens in real-time. While it may seem intuitive to have sections of the playbook mirror the sales stages, this creates a linear experience for the sales team. Since no two buyer’s journeys are identical, the modern playbook should instead be designed dynamically to take into consideration new data as engagements occur. The end result will be a uniquely tailored playbook that surfaces winning plays for reps based on the most current selling scenario.

“If you’re carrying that briefcase out in the field for us, there are 25 different products and there are a number of different services that we offer,” said Karin Egan, VP sales enablement for John Hancock Insurance. “So, how do you get a salesperson to just be able to retain that much information? This drives the need to really automate your playbook process.”

At John Hancock Insurance, digital playbooks are tied into other sales automation tools to create specifically tailored plays for each salesperson based on their current opportunities. For example, the process is so synchronized that the system will even tell them when and how to reach out to their prospects based on their history of responsiveness and dial the phone for them, knowing the days, times, and phone numbers that are the most likely to result in the buyer taking the call.

Without digitizing a sales playbook, the result is not only inefficient but ineffective as it is typically outdated and unengaging. No salesperson is realistically going to read a 90-page PDF, and it will be near impossible to prove any discernible impact from it. Digital playbooks, on the other hand, are interactive pieces of digestible content that are served automatically when they are most needed.

Embrace Digital Tools and Delivery

Deconstructing the playbook and delivering it on a need-by-need basis is how content comes alive. With proper data integrity, a digital process moves dynamically as the seller and buyer do, ready with specifically tailored moves at every step in the buyer’s journey.

Additionally, going digital opens up the playbook to implementing engaging multimedia, such as video content, that many sellers not only prefer to reference but can also access in the field and on-the-go.

Digitization will not only provide an easier sales experience but also aid any marketing processes thanks to the ease of editing and updating the content. Rather than having to review the entire playbook to determine what particular parts are in need of an overhaul, digital content allows for small changes to be rolled out continually as needed.

Finally, a fully digital process allows for collective knowledge across the organization to be brought back at the individual level as quickly as possible. This means that new, enlightening experiences and information can be shared automatically, ensuring that the latest, best practices are employed by every sales rep across a company.

Collaborate Cross-Functionally

An effective playbook is collaboratively designed across all of the departments that influence buyer interactions, rather than solely from a marketing or sales perspective.

“Start the conversation, because it’s about that content being customized just in time at the right moment,” said Evelyn Velasquez, sales and technical training manager at Hyster-Yale Group. “And you can’t do that alone as a sales enablement team.”

Early in the playbook planning stages, reach out to product engineers, customer services and all other departments involved in the creation or delivery of the product or service. By building bridges with cross-departmental teams in an organization and incorporating their input, it allows diverse perspectives from across the company to help shape future buyer conversations.

Cross-departmental voices can also help guide the playbook as the company grows. New developments can happen on the fly across a company, but without an established understanding of the sales playbook, these changes have the potential to not be incorporated back to the sales process.

Just as a salesperson must have a full understanding of the buyer, a truly enabled and prepared sales team must have a full understanding of the perspectives across the company that influence deals. The modern sales playbook is an opportunity to incorporate these influences, maximizing the use of all relevant information in every buyer interaction.

Start Small and Expand with Existing Resources

Constructing modern sales playbooks is no small undertaking. Rather than trying to build a massive playbook that covers every scenario possible, start small by focusing on a specific outcome or scenario that the reps are struggling with and then build a play leveraging existing assets proven to be successful.

“It’s one play, it’s one outcome, a specific action within a time frame, and what is the basic content that a salesperson would need,” said Tanner Mezel, principal at DSG. “It just makes it really actionable and it’s not nearly as overwhelming.”

Instead of creating the entire playbook from scratch, consider starting with an asset-mapping approach. Take inventory of the useful content that already exists across departmental silos. From there, it is easier to determine what can be reused, repurposed, or retired as well as what the gaps are in available content.

Actively Drive Adoption

One of the most common pitfalls of a sales playbook isn’t actually in the building process — it is in the initially underwhelming adoption rates as sales reps shift their processes. Often, this isn’t a result of the quality of the content. Rather, it may have to do with the actual delivery methods or systems involved. Salespeople can often get frustrated by having too many locations for information, multiple passwords, non-mobile systems, and other more convenience-based issues.

“I encourage you that if you’re not getting the utilization or the adoption to look at your process, look at your sales reps’ journey and how they consume your content, and identify barriers to that and fix it,” said Velasquez.

Adoption is essential to maintaining the quality of plays over time, as a playbook has to be bought by the salespeople rather than expecting them to conform to it. Ensuring acceptance can be as simple as providing it through the platforms sales reps are already comfortable with. Playbooks are meant to help reps be more efficient and effective in their buyer interactions, so meet reps where they are and make it easy to incorporate into their daily workflows.

Building the modern sales playbook doesn’t have to be a heavy lift, but it does need to be a priority. By fully embracing digital delivery, sales reps can stay up-to-date on the latest best practices that will help them win without interfering with what already works for them. Ultimately, incorporating buyer-centric framing and cross-functional influences can provide the holistic perspective required for a successful and efficient sales playbook. When rolled out on an ongoing basis, the modern sales playbook becomes an essential tool in the sales enablement toolbox.