Mark Seich is VP of Marketing, Sales and Distribution at Berkley Fire & Marine Insurance

Everyone wants to position their sales team for success. If you look at highly optimized sales teams you can see the correlation of higher win rates with the importance and value of integrating a sales playbook into your business.

Here are 4 key takeaways to get started on building a successful sales playbook:

What really is a sales playbook?

A “sales playbook” is very different from a “sales handbook”

I often see sales playbooks that are really handbooks.

As an example, with football season upon us, a diagram on the quarterback’s steps, throwing motion, and mechanics are how to play the position.

A playbook in contrast is already assuming you know the foundation of the position, and is focused on the routes, pass options, expected yards to gain, and its success is measurable. In sales, it’s no different.

Oftentimes an organization’s playbook consists of how to do the sales role, foundational concepts, and processes that are geared towards how the sales rep should have been trained during onboarding to complete the tasks of the role effectively.

It’s really a handbook, and it isn’t clear enough to put them in a position to achieve their goals.

This misconception on what a playbook is can stunt the potential of the organization and frustrate high performing sales reps.

Looking at any one given sports play in a vacuum, how good is it? Even looking at a book of individual plays, how do you know if it’s the right play to use in that game, against that opponent, in that situation?

We don’t, not without having a game plan. But it’s not uncommon for organizations to put together a sales playbook, which is just a series of individual tasks that someone had previous success with.

Even if you explain the reasons why you would use that play, or how to measure its success, it likely isn’t connected to anything and is missing the foundation to tie it all together.

(click here for a free sales playbook template from SEC)

Creating the playbook is only part of the work

Before launching an effective sales playbook, you need to have a few things in place

You need an effective onboarding plan that educates and positions sales reps for success.

This onboarding plan is the guide to expose them to the right things at the right times to maximize their ramp-up time. You need to have a clearly defined sales process that incorporates a consistent coaching model.

The sales process is the foundation, the crucial moments along the sales cycle and how your clients and prospects are engaged with every step of the way. A crucial part of the sales process is a purposeful coaching model to teach and reinforce the behaviors needed to execute on the sales process.

With process and coaching clearly defined, you can avoid the handbook-like experience, and be in a position to build out a sales playbook to maximize the results of your high-octane sales team while coaching them to their fullest potential.

The overall sales process, and knowing when to use the available plays, are what makes or breaks a great sales playbook, and why it’s just one of the items needed for success. The onboarding and education on how to be successful in the role is the handbook, which is their guide to be great in your organization.

The playbook is planning ahead to know the how, when, and where to use those plays are what makes them effective. This is where the established coaching model is key to the continual improvement of your sales team as they learn.

What are the basics of a successful sales play?

Setting a game-plan for sales reps

When you are game-planning for your opponent (or client/prospect in this case), you need to determine what you can do to drive the result in that particular aspect.

This could be a repeatable business client, a new prospective client, or maybe your sales model is always a new sale of a set of widgets. This doesn’t matter as long as your sales process is clearly defined and you have organized plays for your sales rep to select from.

You should have best practice plays for each step of your sales process, and a handful of options to choose from for each challenge the rep may be presented with. Collectively, all of these plays make up your playbook.

They can work individually, some are related, or could be paired in sequence depending on your sales process. This is where the game-planning comes into play.

Now that the sales rep is ready to drive a particular result to support the sales process, they need to know the select set of actions they can take to make that result happen.

A well-structured sales play will have clearly defined steps, tasks, supporting marketing materials, email and talk track scripts, and a measurable outcome. Ideally these have been developed as best practice outcomes and have been refined through trial and error. In this situation the sales rep knows what to expect, what they need to do, and how to monitor results to determine success.

The sales manager or coach can also review and monitor the outcome easily because it’s all documented in your playbook. All of this is tracked via the organization’s CRM.

The account, the documents used, the interaction from the client, the steps the sales rep took, and the resulting outcome are clearly tracked and visible.

Leveraging system integrations for maximized results

Bringing your data analytics to mature levels

Robust and mature sales organizations take what we have talked about thus far even further, and leverage sales enablement software which is integrated into their CRM.

These tools leverage data and analytics to proactively suggest the plays for the rep to use, based on where the client or prospect is in your sales process. They even provide scoring and results-based info on past use of the play to know how effective they have been, as well as if other reps had success using them.

These teams have insights to adjust and pivot quickly to continually drive results proactively.

Those organizations are likely your competition. If you find yourself in this situation, you have to look internally and ask whether your organization puts its sales team in a position to win business against them? Does your organization have a basic handbook, calling it a playbook just telling them what to do, or worse, letting them figure it out on their own?

If that’s the case, you can see how your reps are at a severe disadvantage trying to compete, and your best reps won’t stay around if this is your model. This is why building a sales playbook is just one step of the work to maximize the results.

Taking steps to drive change

Invest in your team’s success

With a plan and a well-built sales playbook that works in conjunction with a robust sales process, your sales team can be extremely high performing. Don’t waste resources and time every year by continually just asking for better results from the sales team.

Invest in your team and give them the tools to succeed.

Build a sales process and coaching model if you don’t have one. Build a sales playbook to position them to execute for your organization, consider investing in sales enablement technologies, and coach them every step of the way.

You wouldn’t send a quarterback out onto the field expecting them to call a play based on the defensive alignment if you never built the proper playbook to begin with, would you? Don’t frustrate your sales reps by doing the same thing to them.

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