The idea of a sales playbook makes many salespeople cringe. A huge pile of paper on their desks, an unorganized folder on their desktops, or a 100-page PDF full of text are the images that typically come to mind when they think of a playbook. But salespeople typically agree that a sales playbook is essential. Why is this?
Salespeople may come across as confident and as though they have the answer to every question. This skill doesn’t usually come naturally, and it requires a significant investment of time. A sales playbook is one way of acquiring the skill. That’s why we asked technology entrepreneur Martin Heibel, cofounder of the virtual sales assistant company Ciara, to put together a helpful guide to creating an effective sales playbook.
At Ciara, they are revolutionizing what a sales playbook looks like and how it is used. Here is what he had to say:
Having a sales playbook is imperative if you want to ensure that your sales team is consistent and aligned on the overall team messaging, goals, and processes. One company found in a study that high-performing sales teams are twice as likely to have (and use!) a sales playbook. There are certain questions that must be answered when qualifying a prospect, and this information is usually found in a sales playbook. There are also certain talk tracks, email templates, and other helpful tools that can be found in a typical sales playbook. These elements all aim to help sales reps ultimately close more deals.
One example of how a sales playbook can be highly valuable to a sales team is when onboarding new team members. Here at Ciara, we discovered in a recent survey that it takes most sales teams more than three months to onboard a new employee. That is more than one quarter of the year dedicated only to onboarding one new team member! An explanation for this is that the company either doesn’t have a sales playbook or the playbook is so incomprehensible that it hurts more than it helps the new employee.
When a team has a succinct, effective sales playbook, the onboarding time is sure to decrease. But a sales playbook can take many forms and varies from company to company. Hubspot defines it as 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.”
That definition is a good one, but it is important to add that when a playbook includes so many elements, it can tend to get messy and hard to use. Sales reps make hundreds of calls per week, and if they aren’t able to quickly find the information they need in their playbook, they likely won’t use it. Or, in the case of new team members, they perhaps won’t be able to get started making calls until they feel they understand the sales playbook and can use it effectively.
In the same study, 56% of salespeople were not confident that they could access a certain piece of information during a sales call. This is why many companies are beginning to digitize their playbooks, allowing both new and seasoned sales reps to get on the phone faster and more efficiently.
History of the Sales Playbook
Before the internet, a sales playbook typically came in the form of a three-ring binder, labeled by section, and printed out for each new sales representative. The new reps were given a day of product training and the binder and then sent out into the wild to start making calls. This was back in the days before review websites when consumers were not as knowledgeable as they are today about products and about what is available.
With the development of the internet came a shift to PDFs or other static online formats. While this was a step forward, allowing for search, it still wasn’t ideal: If reps could not find what they were looking for right away, they jeopardized their chance to close a deal. The last thing anyone wants to say or hear is, “Wait a moment while I look that up.”
We have now reached the era of the digital playbook, be it web- or cloud-based, which can actively help sales representatives access the information they need, exactly when they need it. This allows the reps to focus on the call and supports them when they need to access a particular piece of content or a certain document on the spot. The issue here is that reps can still get bogged down by the large amount of information that can make it hard to find the information desired.
At Ciara, we are building the next era of the digital playbook, which we call a digital conversation assistant. Rather than presenting the sales rep with everything right away, Ciara works in the background. The digital assistant reminds the sales reps of points to cover and questions to ask, gives objection- handling responses, and allows the reps to update their CRM right from the playbook or conversation assistant.
Increasing the Number of Inside Sales Teams
An interesting dimension of the increase in the importance of digital sales playbooks is the parallel rise in the number of inside sales teams in recent years. Previously, field sales were common, and sales reps would use their own strategies and approaches to speaking with customers. A sales playbook would be issued to the sales reps, they’d familiarize themselves with it, and that was it.
Today, with the ability to make sales over the phone or via video conference calls, inside sales are growing, and thus, so is the importance of the sales playbook. Although individual representatives may use individual strategies, it is imperative that they all provide consistent information and relay uniform company messaging.
The advantages of insides sales teams over field sales teams are many. With a field team, it is difficult to continually update and modify a playbook. But inside sales teams using digital playbooks can stay on top of product updates and trends and utilize practice new methods. And in our globalized era, it is crucial to be able reach people across great distances. With field sales, it took time and money to approach clients abroad, or it wasn’t possible at all. The internet, along with cheaper international calling rates, allows sales reps to reach customers hundreds of thousands of miles away. Still, the complications of time zones and cultural barriers remain. Sales playbooks are helpful in reminding a sales rep of such details such as the optimal time to call, how to approach the customer, and what to keep in mind during the call. This allows the sales rep to be aware of specifics about the person with whom they’re speaking—where that person is located and what the expectations of someone from that culture might be.
In our digital age, in which everyone has access to almost everything online, it’s critical to be both transparent and up-to-date. A digital playbook can be tweaked immediately if and when something changes.
The Digital Conversation Assistant
At Ciara, we’ve gone beyond the digital sales playbook to create a digital conversation assistant, which is equipped with various playbooks and specifically designed for the workplace. The assistant can guide sales reps through conversation and handle real-time issues; allows reps to take notes within the phone call; organizes the administrative tasks that come with phone conversations, such as sending follow-up emails; and can even update a client profile just by listening to the conversation. The smart assistant learns from its users: what are the best responses to questions, what information sales reps need and when they need it.
The Future of Inside and SaaS Sales
This kind of digital assistance is bringing about a new era of inside and SaaS sales. Customers, technology, globalization, and digitization all affect the way a sales rep works day-to-day. A digital conversation assistant can tie into every aspect of these changes.
Customers’ expectations of what sales reps provide—and how quickly—are also changing, with ever-greater speed becoming more and more common. Calls using a digital conversation assistant, with a proven playbook, can help sales reps know exactly how to reply to clients’ questions and concerns, and to do so with lightning speed.
Technology is also advancing more quickly than ever, with the tools for inside sales multiplying daily. It’s important to not only find the playbooks that work for your team but also the best tool to make use of those playbooks. Everyone should be using the same tool to maintain consistency, and it’s especially important to remain consistent in SaaS sales as the sales reps must understand what their software does and be able to explain it with ease.
In addition, as companies increasingly go to a remote workplace model, it can become difficult to keep everyone on an inside sales team on the same page. A digital conversation assistant equipped with playbooks can help keep a team’s messaging consistent and can help provide correct information to customers. And a sales playbook can help managers teach their teams how to make more successful sales calls without having to hold in-person training sessions.
In today’s environment, salespeople must have new skill sets and understand new software. It’s important that they be able to implement modern sales call strategies on the fly. And they must have the best to tools to support them.