Want to improve productivity across your sales team, standardize best practices, reduce ramp-up time, and make your salespeople more autonomous?
Create a sales playbook. One study found best-performing companies are nearly twice as likely to have sales playbooks than “laggards.”
What is a sales playbook?
A sales playbook is a document outlining your sales process; buyer personas; call scripts and agendas; sample emails; discovery, qualification, demo, and negotiation questions; proposal guidelines; and/or competitive intelligence guidelines.
In other words, your sales playbook arms your reps with all the content and strategies they need to close a deal.
The benefits of a sales playbook
Although crafting a sales playbook takes a lot of time, you’ll start seeing the results almost instantly.
First, training new salespeople is far quicker and easier when you have clear, explicit explanations of who your customers are, how they buy your products, their pain points, what to say to them, and more. Without a sales playbook, your reps are forced to learn this information ad hoc -- usually by shadowing other reps, who may be making mistakes.
Second, a playbook frees up time for selling. According to Docurated’s State of Sales Productivity 2015, salespeople spend roughly one-third of their day creating content.
Rather than having each rep develop their own messaging, questions, and resources to use with prospects, give them ready-made content. This lets them focus on selling.
Third, a playbook helps you disseminate the most effective techniques. If you notice one rep having success with a specific outreach method, you can share it easily with the entire team by putting it in the playbook.
How to write a sales playbook
The first step is figuring out who should be involved.
Representatives from Sales are critical -- ideally, the VP or Director along with several top-performing reps.
Product Marketing needs a seat at the table too, since their team is well-versed in your buyer personas, product messaging, position in the market, etc.
Bring in subject matter experts as well. These people will give you the insights you need to create winning sales collateral.
If you have dedicated sales enablement, sales operations, and marketing operations teams, they should also be at these discussions.
Many experts recommend naming one person as the project manager. The PM is responsible for the timeline, content submissions, and content approval.
Next, outline your goals. Are you creating a brand-new template, expanding an existing one, or editing and updating one?
If you’re starting from scratch, we recommend picking a single part of the sales process. Your reps are likelier to adopt a short, focused playbook over a long, complex, mult-faceted one. It’s also less overwhelming to tackle your playbook in sections rather than all at once.
Maybe your reps are struggling to identify qualified buyers. You might start with a playbook on qualification, including an easy-to-use framework, qualifying questions, and common indicators of fit.
On the other hand, if your biggest priority is improving demo quality, your first playbook should cover presentation strategies and structure, various value propositions linked to your product’s features, and sample messaging.
The third step is auditing your existing content. Your salespeople are already using email templates and sequences, calling and voicemail scripts, meeting agendas and presentation decks, customizable questions, and so on. Don’t let these go to waste: Not only do they require less work than creating content from scratch, reps are far likelier to adopt content adapted from what they’re already comfortable with.
Categorize content by the stage of the sales process it’s meant for, i.e. a testimonial might belong in the “Present Value” stage, while a sample contract would belong in “Close.”
Sales playbook template
Overview of the company: This section summarizes the company’s history, corporate philosophy, high-level goals, and organization structure and hierarchy. It should also dive into the details of the sales organization: How the sales function is split (if applicable), who leads each team, which targets each team is held to, how territories are assigned, where to go with questions and requests, and so on.
Does your company have a documented and well-designed career path for salespeople? Spell it out here: Which milestones you have to hit in every role to get a promotion, how long it takes on average to go from one stage to the next, the requisite skills or experience, and what the pay is at each level.
Unlike the majority of the sales playbook, which should guide reps’ interactions with buyers, the overview’s purpose is getting new hires up to speed and familiarizing them with the basic facts about the company.
Products: This section should cover every product or service your salespeople are responsible for selling -- their price points, use cases and/or core value offerings, buyers and end users, and related industries or verticals. Some companies create one sales playbook per product; take this route if your products are fairly different, require radically separate buying processes, and/or are sold by different members of your sales team.
The sales process: This section is absolutely critical. Explain each step of your sales process from first connect to close. What are the key activities that define each stage? Who is involved (the rep, their manager, the prospect, the buying authority, etc.)? What are the deliverables?
Buyer personas (a.k.a. “Ideal Customer Profile”): Whether you use the term “buyer personas” or “ICPs,” sketching out your optimal customer will help your salespeople quickly and efficiently hone in on the most qualified leads. Include potential job titles, who they typically report to, their key performance indicators, common challenges, and how much power they have. In addition, note where they come into play in the buying process; for example, the CTO probably won’t get involved until her team has narrowed the list down to two vendors, while the tech team lead may be communicating with the rep from day one.
This is also a good section to include your qualification criteria, such as “Able to buy within four months” or “Has sufficient budget.”
Multi-touch cadence: Some salespeople have near-total control over the quantity, type, and schedule of their outreach, while others follow a prescribed cadence. The larger and more complex your deals are, the more autonomy salespeople likely have. In this section, lay out the ideal number, timing, and medium of touches, if you have them.
To give you an idea, here’s an example from Sales Hacker CEO Max Altschuler:
- Day 1: Email/InMail
- Day 3: Email in the morning, call in the afternoon
- Day 5: Call in the morning, call with a voicemail in the afternoon
- Day 7: Email in the morning, call in the afternoon with a voicemail
- Day 10: Email and call in the morning
Provide some guidelines around when to pursue opportunities and when to let them go. To illustrate, if the prospect is opening the rep’s emails, she should continue to pursue that lead. But if the prospect hasn’t looked at the last four messages, she should send a breakup email and then go after someone who’s more interested.
Messaging: In this section (typically one of the largest and most comprehensive), include your sample messaging. That means email templates, positioning statements, calling and voicemail scripts, common objections and how to handle them, meeting agendas, presentation decks, and any other prewritten resources your team uses.
Examples: Show your salespeople what a great call sounds like so they can incorporate the takeaways into their own process. In this section, upload or link to recordings or screencasts of high-quality meetings. Strive for at least one example for each stage, e.g. one connect call recording, two discovery call recordings, three demo recordings, and so on.
CRM tips: If you want uniform CRM usage, everyone needs to know the expectations. Use this section to standardize what each stage means; when to move opportunities from one stage to the next; which fields are optional versus mandatory; how to create and analyze reports; how to look at the dashboard; how to use tasks, activities, and so on; how to customize your own portal; which permissions they have; what they should be doing in the CRM on a daily, weekly, and/or monthly/quarterly basis; and any features they should be using (for instance, HubSpot encourages our sales reps to track their emails.)
Selling methodology: Most companies use at least one sales methodology, from the Challenger Sale to Account-Based Marketing. Describe yours here -- what it is, how salespeople should use it, where they can go to learn more, etc.
Compensation plan: The better your reps understand how your pay and commission structure work, the more likely they are to execute on it. Describe -- in as few words as possible -- what your plan is, including the type of plan (salary only, commission only, base plus bonus, so forth), if you’re doing a traditional base/bonus plan, the percentage base versus bonus; any accelerators/decelerators at play; if you use clawbacks; the quota-setting process; and approximately how often reps can expect sales contests and SPIFs.
To make this section even more comprehensible, consider showing how much a hypothetical rep would make if she hit 50%, 90%, 100%, 110%, and 120% of quota.
Key performance indicators (KPIs): Which metrics do your company’s sales managers track most closely? Which should the salesperson be paying attention to? Are there any baseline numbers they should know about? To give you an idea, maybe you’ve found reps who make 50-plus calls per day are significantly more likely to hit quota.
Resources: Reps are always looking for relevant case studies, testimonials, and customer references. Depending on how many of those resources you have -- and how tailored they are -- think about including them in your sales playbook.
Suppose you sell to two main customers: Individual teachers (spending their classroom budgets) and school districts (spending their district budgets). You’d want at least one case study directed specifically at teachers, like the story of how your product helped one classroom improve test scores by 30%. You’d want another directed at districts, such as the story of the district who implemented your product in all 10 of its schools and became one of the top-performing of its size in the state.
Having on-demand, easily accessible material means reps can easily incorporate it into their sales process, improving their close rates (and decreasing the likelihood they’ll go rogue and use content they’ve created on their own).
Your playbook is a work-in-progress
As your sales process changes and improves, your product line expands or shrinks, your ideal customer shifts, your strategy evolves, and your sales compensation plan is tweaked, update your sales playbook accordingly. Doing so is easiest if your playbook is online and accessible to your entire team at any time. You can use sales content software or a group Google doc -- whatever works for you and your budget.
When you make a major change, like adding or revamping a section, give your team the heads up. Announce the update in your team meeting, weekly or monthly email newsletter, and/or Slack channel.
Follow these guidelines to build a strong, executable sales playbook. Your reps will appreciate it … and so will your results.