Guest Post By Brad Terrell
Here’s a secret few will admit: your firm’s sales playbook is wrong.
It’s wrong because the world changes faster than your playbook. The market is constantly shifting, which means adjusting your sales process annually or even every six months is not enough to keep up with the pace of change.
Sales playbooks are a vital resource for your organization. However, top performing reps know when to deviate from the sales playbook and call their own plays.
The ideal playbook
The goal of a sales playbook is to define a repeatable process, arming reps with information and sales tactics to sell effectively. It offers guidance on exactly what reps need to know and do at each stage in a complex, multi-stage buying process. When done right, a sales playbook can help sales reps get in front of the right prospect, with the right message, at the right time.
For sales managers, the playbook lends a structure of predictability to the sales process, allowing for more accurate revenue forecasting. It’s particularly useful for onboarding new reps, since sales managers can tell them: “If you follow this sales playbook, you will close business. Follow it closely because it is proven to work.” It also provides a framework for sales coaching: analyzing choke points in deals, eliminating ineffective sales tactics, etc.
The problem? Rigid sales playbooks are inherently inaccurate
Unfortunately, your sales playbook may not be fully achieving this ideal. If you haven’t re-thought it recently, your playbook could be targeting inaccurate buyer personas, advising reps to use the wrong sales collateral in your newest market, or promising benefits that your current product no longer offers. This does not help reps close deals. Even worse, it makes your company and team look sloppy, unprofessional, and unprepared to engage with buyers.
The problem with playbooks is they become inaccurate almost the moment they’re published. The world changes every day, making it impossible for a static document to keep up:
- Competitors launch new products
- Your firm’s reference customer list grows
- Analysts release new reports on your market
- Budgets change
- Your company enters new verticals
- The influence of different buyer personas and stakeholders shift
- Sales tactics get stale
The complexity of every sale in reality will always exceed that of the “typical sale” described in your sales playbook. The buyer personas and sales plays in your firm’s playbook exist to help your firm systematically scale, but guess what? Sales reps should do things that don’t scale. I’m not suggesting you ignore sales processes that are proven to work, but reps absolutely must personalize them for every buyer.
Your firm employs human beings – sales professionals – to execute against their sales playbook with the expectation that each rep will exercise good judgment to decide when tactics should diverge from it. Buyers are humans. Humans are messy and unique. They don’t buy according to a linear path. And thanks to the Internet, today’s buyers are savvier than ever and are often already educated at the point they begin speaking with a sales rep. Your buyers want the right information at the right time and they expect it to be accurate and relevant. If your sales playbook can’t deliver, prospects will know it right away.
Continual shifts in buying behavior make rigid compliance with stale sales playbooks cause erratic sales performance and unreliable forecasts – the exact opposite of why sales managers create them. Rigid playbooks create constraints. Constraints eliminate choices. Eliminating choices restricts the freedom sales reps require in order to achieve outsized outcomes. It’s called regression to the mean, and top performing reps avoid it.
Adapt or die
“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin
The very best sales reps create their own playbooks. There is no simple set of rules that can accurately reflect the complex, dynamic human interactions involved in each sales pursuit. Great reps exercise judgment and creativity in dealing with highly knowledgeable prospects. Rather than holding them back, sales organizations should enable reps to use their best judgement in when and where to create their own path to success. The solution is to:
- Adapt your business processes
- Under-engineering your playbook leaves reps without the guidance they require and the firm without the data it needs to continually improve. Over-engineering (requiring reps to navigate countless rigid CRM rules) creates friction that reduces sales efficiency.
- Rather than relying on the playbook alone, examine the behaviors that correlate with success. Start by looking at your most recent closed-won deals. How did their path to close differ from the path laid out in your sales playbook? How many interactions were required to move from each stage to the next? How frequent were the interactions? What information (sales collateral) was shared?
- Adapt your sales tactics to each unique prospect
- If perfect adherence to your firm’s sales playbook were all that were required to succeed, a robot could do your job.
- Top performers are the quickest to identify sales tactic fatigue and most likely to pioneer the new sales tactics that win.
- When does it make sense to ignore the playbook? When you know more than the playbook. In other words, when your conversations with a prospect give you the insights required to construct an account plan that describes your win strategy in enough detail to defend your deviations from the playbook.
- Adapt how you use technology
- If you rely solely on anecdotal success stories when constructing your playbook, you risk missing out on key insights and essential plays that contribute to sales success. There is too much information to analyze without help from technology.
- Measure what works best. Revenue metrics beat hunches! This is where the huge investments being made now in artificial intelligence technology promise to create the most value for sales professionals. By going beyond mere enablement or acceleration, AI can unlock new opportunities through adaptive sales orchestration that help reps connect more closely with their prospects and deliver the simple, personal buying experiences they demand.
Deviating from the playbook is always a risk. But following it too precisely can be even riskier. Top reps manage sales risk by pursuing a diversified portfolio of opportunities in parallel. Sometimes you’ll play it safe, other times you’ll swing for the fences. Adapting to change – innovating how you sell – is the key to success.
About the Author:
Brad Terrell is co-founder and CEO at Zensight, the artificial intelligence app that helps sales professionals discover the sales messaging and collateral most likely to advance their sales opportunities. His previous leadership experience includes Netezza (acq. by IBM), Endeca (acq. by Oracle), Spyglass (acq. by OpenTV), and FlightSafety (acq. by Berkshire Hathaway). Follow Brad on Twitter.