The playbook concept for bringing together marketing and sales teams has become increasingly popular. When conceived and used correctly, playbooks can align the efforts from marketing, sales, product development, and customer service to provide a consistent voice to the buyer. They are also inherently efficient, providing a ready central source of the information and guidance that sales and service teams need. Unfortunately, not all playbooks are conceived, structured, and used correctly, and thus some wind up providing neither consistency nor efficiency.
If you are considering a playbook to improve sales messaging – the specifics of what salespeople ask, say, and show with meeting with customers – then I recommend your team begin with a clear understanding of what a good playbook is and is not.
A Playbook Is NOT a Library of Sales Collateral
Most sales teams want access to updated, attractive, and engaging material to make their jobs easier. Marketing teams are happy to oblige with sales collateral that follows the overall brand message. Yet it is often the case that sales and service teams simply don’t use much of the collateral material prepared by the marketing team. What’s the problem?
The difficulties can arise when sales people aren’t sure where relevant collateral material is stored, what has been updated, and what they should use in different situations. When the sales teams don't know where to find needed materials or what they can trust, then they will tend to either ignore the collateral or try to modify it in some way. The results show up as low usage rates or inconsistency in what is shown, shared, and talked about with customers and prospects.
One pattern of response to this issue is to create a library or repository for all of the existing sales collateral, toss in the content, and call the finished product a playbook. That does solve one issue (the sales team knowing where to locate things), but it does not provide any guidance to the users. In fact, this improper use of the playbook concept can make the inconsistency issue worse.
A Playbook Is NOT a Long List of Product or Service Features
For companies with an extensive product or service portfolio and/or solutions which are technically complex, one of the greatest challenges is to simplify the message. Salespeople must be able to explain the performance and benefits of their solutions to non-technical, business-level buyers. Salespeople also need a means to answer questions and make clear recommendations in the moment.
Some companies take the playbook approach to mean they should have one location for the volumes of product information, price sheets, and technical spec sheets. Unfortunately, this approach doesn't make things simpler. Salespeople might default to overwhelming the prospective buyer with product information, options, and specifications. In a time when non-technical buyers in procurement, finance, and operations can drive the buying process, overwhelming prospects with features and functions will only hurt progress.
A Playbook IS a Guide for Specific Conversations
The concept of a playbook comes from the world of team sports, particularly football. Coaches use playbooks so that all team members know exactly what to do in specific plays—which themselves are designed for specific goals (e.g. score quickly, convert a third down, or run time off the game clock). For sales messaging, playbook content might be organized around certain business initiatives on the part of the buyer, specific buying audiences and roles, or industries—omitting stale, irrelevant, or overly complicated content than is needed in that situation. That helps everyone stay focused and move faster.
The head coach of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton, once saw his team collapse from 4th to 31st in the league’s defensive rankings. He allowed his defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to keep his job, but on the condition of simplifying his playbook. A 2015 ESPN story stated, “Ryan has been known throughout his career for having a complex scheme—sometimes for the better, but too often for the worse because of the kind of assignment and alignment errors that plagued the Saints last season.” Later, after the playbook was made simpler, one of the Saints defensive players said, “We’re playing faster, I’ll tell you that.”
Building Your Playbook
I have found two management decisions are key for creating playbooks that lead to better performance for marketing and sales teams. The first is to agree on the purpose of the playbook, including the specific behaviors and business outcomes that the playbook should help produce. The second key is to involve all of the relevant business units in creating and validating playbook content. That process begins with high performers from the sales and marketing teams but also might include colleagues in product development, sales operations, communication, or research who are important to the selling process.
And remember—simple is better than complex, less is generally better than more, and fast is certainly better than slow.