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Revolutionizing Sales Playbooks

The following is a transcription from DSG’s recent webinar "Revolutionizing Sales Playbooks" featuring Sharon Little, Sales Enablement Analyst at SiriusDecisions and Tanner Mezel, VP of Strategy & Marketing at DSG.

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Tanner Mezel: This is Tanner Mezel with DSG. I'm the head of Strategy and Marketing for the firm, been here for the past 16 years. I spend most of my time working with marketing and product leaders, sales enablement executives, sales trainers, and sales operations that are focused on enabling sales people to implement big ideas for growth. All of our clients are B2B companies changing strategies, doing new things to grow the company, and looking for every possible way to align their sales team with those strategies for growth. We'll be talking a lot today about Sales Playbooks and what we're seeing, and what Sharon Little is seeing around how companies are revolutionizing the whole approach to Playbooks.

Sharon Little is an analyst within the Sales Enablement Strategies Practice of SiriusDecisions, completely focused on B2B sales enablement. Some of the areas in which I've learned a lot from Sharon have been around sales onboarding. She's seen a lot around sales transformation, sales enablement technology. In particular today, we're interested in her perspectives on the Playbook area. Sales Playbooks mean a lot of different things to different organizations and different individuals. It means everything from apps to PDFs to PowerPoints and probably a lot of different things in between.

I think for those of us on the webinar today, some of us have seen Playbooks get traction. Some of us have been really frustrated when they're not used or they get outdated or it's hard to update and change those Playbooks. For today’s conversation we’ll dig into two things: number one is getting into the concept of Playbooks being mobile, Playbooks being interactive, and Playbooks being video based, and how different organizations are moving forward in those areas. Secondly, we'll get into specific steps that we're seeing organizations and how Sharon's seeing organizations make Playbooks more friendly for salespeople, more engaging, how they're creating and updating Playbooks, how they're driving at option, and most importantly, how we measure the impact.

Big Ideas

Big Ideas: New Products, Acquisition, Solutions, New Message, Scalability, New Buyer, Insight Selling, Vertical Selling, Partner Selling

The first topic is Big Ideas. What I wanted to do was really couch this whole webinar around the concept of what's your big idea, for your company, for your organization? What's the big idea for growth? That really is the right starting point is, is the growth around new product? Is the strategy around moving the solutions? Is it a new message? Is it leading more insightful conversations? Is it working with partners? Which of these big ideas are really going to grow your business? The question I had for Sharon was just what does it look like in a B2B environment for an organization to implement their next big initiative? What does it take? That's a topic you've thought a lot about.

Sharon Little: Thanks, Tanner, and hi, everybody. I'm real excited to be here today and excited to be talking about this whole area of Playbooks. Playbooks are very much the bread and butter for a sales enablement team. It's really about making sure that your sales reps have everything that they need to execute flawlessly when they're talking to customers. I think where we often miss the opportunity of taking Playbooks from more of an executable or deliverable to something that's truly strategic is not doing our homework on the front end and making sure that we are tied to that big initiative, that we do understand what's strategic for the business, and fundamentally making sure that we have our Playbook tethered to revenue.

The Sales Conversation Divide

The Sales Conversation Divide between sales and marketing

Tanner Mezel: I think that's critical. I think that notion of tying it to revenue is really the most important way that Playbooks gain momentum. One of the concepts that we've seen really many of our client organizations rally around is this notion of the conversation divide. For DSG we'll see companies in high tech, business services, manufacturing, healthcare, would be some of the manufacturing, the big industries, but the conversation divide would just say that, think about the “Big Ideas.” We have these strategies; we have these marketing campaigns; sometimes we're changing our sales approach, and a Playbook approach is what's supposed to bridge that divide.

How can a Playbook bridge that divide? How would you measure if you bridge that divide and that it was really turning into salespeople having the right conversations, they're telling the right story, they really mastered your message, and whether it's a product story or an enterprise story, or a specific solution or vertical, they're on message?

Sharon Little: It's interesting, looking at the graphic that you have up here, that's quite the chasm between those two groups. It looks like a potentially very dangerous place to be. I can't imagine anyone who's joined us today on this call hasn't been through a scenario where they've gone through a product launch, put significant effort and some real dollars behind a Playbook, and just literally have seen it go nowhere. You take a look back 12 months later, 18 months later, and really end up scratching your head as to why this didn't work. We're going to spend a little bit of time on that today, but making all this work, you oftentimes will see parts of the organization coming at this with their own agenda. 

Certainly, the Product Team representing a set of products that maybe isn't the core product to gain mindshare with Sales. Enablement is trying to please a number of different audiences, so maybe throwing work after something that's not necessarily ever going to bear fruit. I will tell you that a couple of places where we see clients missing the mark is not understanding, A, what the revenue contribution is for a particular executable Playbook. You need to really understand that you're aligning your Playbooks and your deliverables to the numbers that are expected within your organization. Once you have that tethering taking place, it can make a significant difference. 

The other challenges that we see are not having strong processes in place. There needs to be a standardized process within the organization to really pull all of these elements together. Then finally, one of the other mistakes that we'll see is not including Sales as part of the process.There's nothing like having Sales wisdom woven into your Playbook to make sure that not only are you creating a deliverable that can be used by the Sales team, but those little extra elements of knowledge that only come from being in front of the customer and going through a sales cycle, having those woven into your deliverable, it makes all the difference in the world in terms of the impact that you're going to have with that Playbook. 

Tanner Mezel: Couldn't agree more. I think one thing that would be good to do at this point would be to go a little bit deeper and just talk about the specific types of, "selling motions" would be a term that we hear, "selling plays," "sales plays," "key plays"…

Sharon Little: There is a lot of verbiage around this, and people will use them interchangeably. It's, candidly, one of the things that companies struggle with. 

Types of Sales Messaging: from comprehensive to At-A-Glance

Tanner Mezel: They do. I definitely don't know that we've found the perfect term, so today we'll just say "types." There's a range. There are very comprehensive sales strategies; there are very narrowly focused. Sometimes it's an enterprise story. Sometimes it's a specific selling strategy like this vertical or that buyer or persona or this solution or that partner. Sometimes it's more of a very narrow at-a-glance. It could be a product area. It could be an industry, but it's really meant to be a narrowly defined sales strategy. Anything you're seeing across that range of different types of strategies that pops out as more important right now than others or where you're seeing emphasis, Sharon?

Let me offer this. I think it's quite common, especially for companies that crack the code around sales plays and Playbooks, and really you'll have a Playbook that supports a sales play, to once they've created them and had success with them to continue to add to their library.

Sharon Little: The other challenges that we see are not having strong processes in place. There needs to be a standardized process within the organization to really pull all of these elements together. Then finally, one of the other mistakes that we'll see is not including Sales as part of the process. There's nothing like having Sales wisdom woven into your Playbook to make sure that not only are you creating a deliverable that can be used by the Sales team, but those little extra elements of knowledge that only come from being in front of the customer and going through a sales cycle, having those woven into your deliverable, it makes all the difference in the world in terms of the impact that you're going to have with that Playbook or portfolio of Playbooks. It's not uncommon for let's say a half a billion or billion dollar company to have 15 to 20 Playbooks that might be in place for their sales team. I think the way that you need to take a look at this is really from a tiering standpoint. You're going to have your core Playbooks that are aligned to the lion's share of your revenue. If you're an organization that's just starting out, if you're a smaller company on a growth track, the fundamentals have to be in place.

Think about where's the revenue coming from this year, and make sure that you have the Playbooks in place to support those. Once you've cracked the code on those core Playbooks that support the revenue plan, you can look at what are the ways to slice and dice it going forward. In your business, it might be an industry focus that you need to apply to a Playbook. There might be some emerging growth products that perhaps don't command a lot of revenue today, but you expect that they will down the road. There may be some specific channel versions of your Playbooks that you need to create to represent that particular go to market. You potentially have multiple ways to slice and dice these and multiple audiences, but the fundamentals are make sure that they work for sales and make sure that you have the core revenue products represented.

Tanner Mezel: That's really good. I'm reading here an audience question, "Revenue is deemed a lagging indicator. Playbooks need to be tied to leading indicator KPIs that are intrinsic to management activities with regard to pipeline management. Do you have thoughts on this?"

 I think the heart of that is what do you focus on besides lagging indicators? We would say there's lagging metrics and leading, but why don't you react to that? Later in the webinar, we have a couple of very specific scenarios of organizations we've seen get this right, and we'll get really specific about some of the leading indicators that they tracked. That'll give everybody some ideas to consider.

Sharon Little: I think that revenue is one of those indicators, if you will, that crosses boundaries and can apply both for leading and lagging scenarios. Certainly, actual revenue is a lagging indicator, but projected revenue is not. Every organization that I've worked with has a finance team, a sales operations team, that works really hard at the beginning of the year to put together the revenue plan. Significant work goes into that. The product teams contribute too. All the best minds in your organization come together to agree on what that plan is for the year. That's really what I'm talking about in terms of tethering your Playbooks to revenue. It's the projected revenue plan, not the actual revenue plan.

One of the other versions of Playbooks that you really can take a look at that I think are important, as you take a look at building out pipeline for the plan for the year, in many cases having a Playbook that supports your major campaigns, that drive pipeline, can be another very positive way to invest your time when it comes to Playbooks.

Tanner Mezel: I'd like to move to a poll on this topic. The poll is, which selling motions or plays are being prioritized for your business? The poll options are: Enterprise, Solution, Partner, Industry, Persona. 

“Solution” is in first place. "Enterprise" and "industry" are tied for second. I'm going to go talk about the different ways we'll see organizations organize around some of those and some concepts for how to think about the kind of Playbook content for those three areas. Before I do that, if you want to make any observations. Any surprises, like what you thought you'd see or any reactions to those percentages?

Sharon Little: Yes, my reaction is really it sounds like there's some folks have definitely dived into this, which is outstanding. We're going to get to some advanced level discussion around Playbooks as we continue through the webinar. Excellent to see. The focus on enterprise and solution I think is where most companies start. Then you start to see the more sophisticated versions of Playbooks and the slicing and dicing continue as you move into some of those areas.

What Should go in a Sales Playbook?

Tanner Mezel: If you said what's been something we've seen consistently across our clients that has been a way to think about a practical approach that's very sales friendly to how content would be organized for a solution message, and 60% of the participants in the webinar focused on that area, one way to think about it is if this is your stereotypical salesperson, and they're going to be having meetings every day, and they're going to need just in time training on their laptop, their tablet, what is it they would be seeing? 

Sales Playbook Approach: What to Know, What to Do, What to Say, What to Show

What would they be watching? What would they be listening to on their Playbook that would really be their guide and would make it easier, would make them faster in terms of preparing for and leading the right solution conversations? This is going to seem so simple, and it is, and it's supposed to be. The concept is what would a salesperson need to know about that solution, about the industry, and about the customer they're talking to for that solution? What do you do in terms of discovery or tactics? For that solution, what do you say? Are there certain stories, are there certain insights, are there certain questions or proof points? What do you show?

If you're in the meeting, should you go to video? Should it be an animated model, maybe in a slide deck? Should it be an infographic? Should you use some sort of a whiteboard or a visual that you draw to lead an interactive discussion that these four areas become a way to really boil it down and say, what is it a salesperson really needs to master this solution and go implement that selling motion or that specific sales strategy? We're going to move into an example of a real Playbook and some of the trends we're seeing around Playbooks and show some examples from different organizations. As we move into that, any reactions to these four areas, Sharon, before we get into some of the specific ideas?

Sharon Little: I think this is fantastic. When you look at the build out of a Playbook and the process that you go through, continually asking these kind of questions is what's going to get you an outstanding deliverable at the end of the process. The other thing to keep in mind is just the mapping of all of this. When we talk about Playbooks at SiriusDecisions, we're a lot of times talking about the buyer's journey and making sure that you have the elements, the crossover. Imagine if you're a salesperson and you're referencing a Playbook. Your Playbook not only includes everything that you see on this list, what to know, what to do, what to say, what to show, but also the various stages of the buyer's journey, the activities that demonstrate that that buyer's transitioning from one stage in the buyer's journey to the next.

You may also see the internal sales process that you are expected to follow within your organization. Being able to reference all of that in context as a salesperson, it starts to make this a whole lot easier for you. In every sales engagement there's going to be a number of things that that salesperson has to figure, has to decide with regards to do next, but the more that they're able to use the Playbook not only as a coaching vehicle but a way to really understand how we're moving through this particular engagement, that makes it that much easier for them. It's particularly helpful for new hires into your organization that are still learning how to sell your products.

Tanner Mezel: That's really good. Actually, I'd like to key off of that, just that whole concept of the buyer's journey. One way that we've seen organizations tackle that, I'm going to go into we call it a vPlaybook, or Virtual Playbook, but just get into a concept around that buying process. I'm going to bring a model, and this has been helpful for some of our clients, is that when they think about these Playbooks, it's really about ... This is just one example. There are a million different examples of this, but the idea that we're going to have agreement between Sales and Marketing on who is it we're really trying to engage, different people and roles?

What are those verifiable milestones that Sharon was referring to? These are just generic, but the steps they're going through along the way as they become interested, and define a project, and make a decision. Again, these phases, the amount of time, the levels you're at where maybe sometimes you're at a high level, sometimes you're at a low level, all that would be tailored obviously to your world, and you'd want to think of the buying process very specific to how they would decide to make a change, how would they decide to do it now, how would they decide to do it with you? 

Customer-facing versus internal assets

What really, really becomes the practical side of that is when the content gets defined by stage. When the customer is in the early stages saying, "Why would I make a change?" maybe there's a whiteboard. Maybe there's an early stage presentation. Internally, what is the educational content, like insights, or talk tracks, or