In praise of the Sales Playbook

There have been a lot of posts recently on the need to have a well-defined sales process: something I heartily endorse, by the way. The challenge often in smaller companies is that they are resource constrained and so putting thoughts down on how sales should be approached tends to rank way down on the priority list. This is a mistake. 

Call it what you want but a documented approach that talks about what your company is about, who the target is, and how you sell to them, is not only critical, but I would argue, the only thing between you and extinction. I know, at this point you are saying, “Yeah, yeah, we know this and we do something very similar”. The problem I have found is that even in successful companies, this successful formula/approach is locked inside the head of the star performers and the founders. A small company can’t afford to rely on a handful of resources; everybody needs to be on board.

If you can’t afford to spend the time or money to have somebody like me come and help you with developing a sales playbook and a process, what I recommend is you take a DIY approach to it and follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) philosophy. Just make sure it at least, has the following 

What is the business problem?  – Everybody, especially the sales folks, need to know where their solution fits in. Knowing about your product’s bells and whistles, won’t let them relate to buyer pain. They will be unable to articulate how your solution will help the buyer unless they understand the context of the business pain.

Who is the buyer? – An understanding of both the class of companies as well as the buyer profile will let your sales team figure out the best approach to reach them with. Instead of a generic message, just think of how much better a targeted outreach would be once you understand who you are selling to.

What is the competition? –  Other vendors, internal development or third party IT services companies, will all be likely vying for the business. Think through what your story is against each of them. There will always be situations where you have to defend yourself or create doubt for your competition in the buyers’ mind. Unless you have thought about the competition, you can’t do it effectively.

The three levels of pitches – At a minimum, your sales people need to be prepared for three pitches – the elevator pitch, the short pitch and a full-blown presentation. An elevator pitch, so called because it alludes to catching somebody in an elevator and having the length of the ride to get them interested, is a critical tool to have. Think conferences and chance meetings.  That’s where you will use this. If the prospect has a little more time, you can get into the short pitch. Lastly, the full-blown presentation is used when the prospect has given you time to come and pitch to them. In any/all of these pitches, you have to be careful to talk the language of the customer (don’t use technical gobbledygook, or clichéd phrases like “best-in-class”, “value-added” or “scalable”).

If you are going to cold call, you  need a call script – Cold calls have a notoriously low success rate but they do work. I can attest to that since one of the biggest deals I ever closed came from a cold call I made. The reason that call worked for me, and why good cold calls work is that you have thought through what you are going to say on the call and are not winging it. Make sure you have a clear understanding of why the call is being made and what the action items are expected to be at the end of the call. 

What happens next aka the sales workflow  – Everybody’s time is precious. Nobody knows this more than the overworked folks in a small company. Make sure the sales process is widely understood and followed so that you are bringing in folks at the right time for the right reasons and not burning them out.  The sales qualification is ideally done by sales folks. Product folks/presales should come in on qualified opportunities. This can happen only if you have an educated sales force.

There are many ways to implement this approach. A document called a Sales Playbook is one way. Another way is to have lots of informal sessions where folks share war stories and learn from each other. What I have found is that putting thoughts on paper i.e. creating a sales playbook, forces you to think, which is never a bad thing. It also allows for easy transfer of knowledge and can be used for on boarding new resources. Just remember though that this is a living, breathing document that will frequently need to be updated as more information comes in.

Agree. Disagree. Or have another viewpoint. Would love to hear your thoughts.