How to Build a Sales Playbook

James Meincke is the Marketing Manager at CloserIQ, the sales recruiting platform for startups. He frequently shares sales insights on the CloserIQ blog and also helps run marketing for the online sales community Women in Sales.
  • March 15, 2024

Sales playbooks are valuable assets in many situations: onboarding new hires, launching a new product, and implementing a change to your process. Once your representatives see how the playbook helps them, they will use it independently to help with sales activities.

If your team doesn’t have one—or you’ve been relying on the same old document for years—it’s high time to create a playbook that serves your team’s current needs. Here’s how:

Getting started on the sales playbook

Organizations with great sales playbooks see many benefits. New representatives get through the onboarding process faster, while representatives are better able to take advantage of available resources. The sales process becomes more consistent across your organization, shortening the sales cycle. Ultimately, your team closes more deals.

But all of this doesn’t just happen the moment you print off your playbook. In order to see benefits, your playbook must meet users’ needs. From the very beginning, you need to outline your primary goals in creating the playbook. Think about what aspects of the sales process most needs improvement. If you haven’t used a sales playbook before, it’s oftentimes helpful to keep the playbook focused.

Think about the format your sales playbook will take as well. In a Mailshake interview, Colin Stewart, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Predictable Revenue, “Question zero is really, how do we make [the sales playbook] useful? Because if you don’t, it doesn’t matter how good the specific document is. If you don’t have a structured way of teaching and onboarding people how to use this document, then it’s just a really fancy Google Doc that’s going to sit in Drive and grow cobwebs.”

Sales playbook ownership

The right people need to be involved in the process from the get-go. One person should assume responsibility as project manager. A good sales playbook team should include sales leaders, top-performing sales representatives, representatives from product marketing, and subject-matter experts.

According to Stewart, “If you look at any organization, it’s the CEO who’s responsible and accountable for making sure that people can do their jobs and removing blockers. So I would say the CEO owns the strategic direction. Questions about who we’re going after or the problems we solve for them, that information is probably coming from the product organization. You might have a product marketing department or product marketing person that owns that piece and then the tactical layer really belongs to the director or manager of sales.”

The elements of a sales playbook

To create the foundations for a great sales playbook, you need to include certain building blocks:

1. Company overview

Open the playbook with a (brief) description of your company’s history, mission, and values. This description should include discussion of how the sales department is organized in terms of roles and territories. It’s also helpful to outline potential career paths for junior sales representatives. New hires will find this section particularly useful.

2. Products

Create a list of every product and service that sales representatives will be selling. Include basic information about pricing, core value proposition, competitive products, etc. Answer this question: What is your product and why should customers select your products over alternatives?

3. Buyer personas

The sales playbook should include a sketch of all buyer personas that your company targets. Make every buyer persona specific by discussing the organization you’re targeting (size, industry, organizational structure) in addition to individual decision-makers within the organization (job title, challenges). When does each decision maker enter the buying process? This information will be of particular use during the prospecting stage.

4. Overview of sales process

Write a step-by-step overview of how the typical sale progresses. What steps need to be taken at each stage in the process, and which members of the sales team will assume responsibility for particular tasks? Mapping your process onto a real-world example can also be helpful.

5. Sales methodology

If your sales team uses a particular methodology (like SPIN Selling or Conceptual Selling), briefly outline the method. Provide a list of resources for representatives who want to learn more.

6. Messaging

This section should offer sales representatives a concrete sense of the messaging your company uses for positioning statements, prospecting emails, phone calls, demonstrations, and other critical communications. Include examples of strong messaging at various stages in the process. How should sales representatives introduce themselves to new prospects, or handle objections?

7. KPIs

Discuss how your company and managers view KPIs. Which metrics should sales representatives pay the most attention to? Based on previous data, what KPIs are most associated with sales success? What’s the preferred process for tracking individual KPIs?

8. CRM tips

While the sales playbook isn’t the place to provide comprehensive CRM instruction, you should outline the basics of how the CRM impacts the sales process. What needs to happen with the CRM at every stage of the process? How should sales representatives use basic CRM functions like the dashboard, tasks, and report generation? You should also include resources for further CRM education, including in-house personnel who can provide advice as necessary.

9. Available resources

Provide an inventory of available sales resources: case studies, content marketing materials, customer references, etc. While you might not be able to include the actual content, sales representatives should know where to find these resources. Also include some discussion of how to use resources effectively in the sales process.

10. Compensation plan

Outline how the compensation plan works at your company, including information on how quotas are set, bonuses, and the frequency of sales contests. Provide examples of what total compensation looks like at different levels of performance. If your organization has different compensation plans this section is a little more difficult to construct, but you should still describe the basic process.

Another way to think about playbooks

Stewart offers a different way of thinking about building a sales playbook, breaking the final plan into two sections: a strategic piece and a tactical piece.

He explains, “The strategic side is who we’re going after. What are the problems that we solve for them? What are the customer pains? What are the customer stories? If you don’t nail that, all of the tactical stuff doesn’t really matter.” 

Stewart gives the example of trying to sell marketing automation software to farmers in Nebraska as a failure of strategic understanding. “The strategic direction has to first,” he continues. “And then back that up with proof through customer stories that connect the dots there.”

Only after that’s complete can you move on to tactics, according to Stewart. In his opinion, questions teams should be asking when building their playbooks include, “How do we find them? How do we close them? What are the tools that we use? What are the things that you need to know about how we sell? What does our sales process look like?”

Best practices for writing a sales playbook

Of course, you can include all of this content and still come up with an unusable playbook. To create a playbook your reps will actually read, follow these best practices:

  • Make smart use of your existing content.
  • Prioritize user-friendliness in writing the sales playbook. All sections and subsections should be clearly labeled to enable skimming. Cut all unnecessary or redundant content.
  • In addition to paper copies, upload the playbook to the cloud where all reps can easily access it. Ideally, they should be able to jump to specific sections and subsections without extensive scrolling.
  • Seek input from sales representatives on early drafts of the playbook. Ask early readers to identify any sections that are unclear.
  • If possible, track usage of the digital sales playbook. How often are sales reps using it and what sections are most frequently used? You should also seek qualitative feedback from representatives.
  • Reference and use the playbook during team meetings.
  • Make tweaks to the playbook as necessary, keeping your reps fully informed on the revision process. It’s easy for a sales playbook to go out of date as you add new products, verticals, and tools.

Using your sales playbook with your team

Building a sales playbook isn’t a one-and-done process. To maximize its utility for your team, you need to consistently monitor and update the playbook, as well as incorporate it into your onboarding, training, and management processes.

Take new sales hire onboarding. Your playbook can become a tool for getting new hires up-and-running quickly, but only if you build an actionable framework into it. 

In Stewart’s experience, the best playbooks have defined goals for new sales team members. Playbooks he’s created lay out, “Here are the things we want you to accomplish and be able to demonstrate in the first 30, 60, 90 days, and then 12 months. And here’s how you’re going to get there, who you need to talk to, who you’re going to shadow, watch these videos, read these books, etc.”

He also identifies playbook retention and reinforcement as a priority. On the retention side, Stewart explains, “You need to document it, you need to teach it, and then you need to test to make sure that they’ve actually retained it.” But reinforcement is critically important as well. “It’s one thing to just teach people how to do it. But if your actions on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis don’t reinforce the playbook, then there’s no sense in writing one in the first place.” 

Ultimately, according to Stewart, the playbook creation process should be collaborative. He notes, “We hire smart people, and we expect them to contribute and make small improvements along the way.” Think of your playbook as a tool you’re constantly testing and iterating to get the best results overall.

James Meincke is the Marketing Manager at CloserIQ, the sales recruiting platform for startups. He frequently shares sales insights on the CloserIQ blog and also helps run marketing for the online sales community Women in Sales.

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