• A sales playbook should be rooted in your company’s history and its clients, but it’s more important to focus on what you’ve done to stay current with the needs of today’s buyers.
  • A well-constructed sales guide can be read at a glance; many sales professionals won’t find value in long text sales plays and multiple pages of information.
  • A well-designed sales playbook can motivate and direct your entire team to follow proven practices.

By Karen Kimerer


The process of selling is only becoming more complex with time. What used to be a linear process now involves interconnected events that are driven by the speed of business and an ever-evolving buyer landscape. Developing and acquiring new business has become a chaotic labyrinth of tracking down prospects, nurturing clients, and closing the sale.

Although many firms spend thousands of dollars on sales training, valuable knowledge can be lost mere days after a learning event. Afterward, ad hoc sales behaviors generally resurface and reps will frequently regress to often disappointing trial-and-error tactics.

Sales leaders must arm their reps with valuable resources to guide them through today’s intricate maze of sales opportunities. They must offer tools that create sales efficiency and eliminate the practice of experimenting on valuable clients and prospects. One way to do this is by developing a sales playbook. Much like a coach’s binder, the goal of a sales playbook is to develop mindful strategies that can be effectively executed under various conditions.

Learning the Lay of the Land

In its most basic form, a sales playbook is a map that provides guidance to an explicit goal. Creating that map starts with understanding the surrounding environment and developing a visual representation of options and obstacles. In sales, this translates to capturing the variables that can make or break a sale. Before you can determine what this entails, you must start by conveying your company’s purpose. In parallel, include resources that will enable your team to effectively express that important message to your customers and prospects. Messaging for difference is vital, but many salespeople find it difficult.

Your playbook should be rooted in your company’s history and its clients, but think beyond founding dates and names. It’s more important to focus on the decisions your company has made to stay current with the needs of today’s buyers. Before you decide on a blueprint, enlist your major players and take note of their skills, values, and motivations. What key takeaways or practices can be included in your playbook? Knowing the lay of the land also means pinpointing any disconnects in your sales efforts and probing for underutilized services or strategies. Dig deeper to learn why, bearing in mind that your sales team and customers are a good source of feedback. As you take inventory of the important elements that influence sales success, seek redundancies in your efforts that should be addressed.

The best sales playbooks include input from multiple disciplines, so collaborate with marketing and finance to align the sales plays with the goals of the company. This is a great opportunity to establish internal expectations. For example, people outside the sales team may not understand why every prospect is not offered every product and service you can deliver. In addition, new opportunities may surface if marketing or finance can determine a better way to position your offerings.

Scaling Your Content

Once you have a lay of the land, it’s time to scale your content to include only the most essential elements. A well-constructed sales guide can be read at a glance; many sales professionals won’t find value in playbooks that include long text sales plays and multiple pages of information. Like any proper map, the playbook must be simple to read and demonstrate its ability to navigate to a successful sales outcome. Here are some examples of a few useful “plays”:

  • The Prospecting Play: We all know that one size rarely fits all. In addition to saving your reps from calling on the wrong accounts, identifying your ideal audience can help convey the right message to the right person. If you haven’t already, take the time create personas for the customers you have the most success with. According to data from Sales Insight Lab, at least 50% of your prospects aren’t a good fit for what you sell. The information needed to create personas can be gathered when you’re surveying the landscape.
  • The Sales Methodology Play: There’s no question that foresight is a salesperson’s best friend. After all, just about every sales opportunity can be streamlined when you know which paths lead to success, and which will route you to an unforeseen dead end. This is why effective sales playbooks include the company’s sales methodology. Don’t skip this step; it will provide a clear image of the best path to take.
  • The Objection-Handling Play: Sales reps will often push back on following a defined sales process, which is not surprising since sales opportunities come with many variables. It’s also common for sales reps to need to make last-minute decisions, but a lot can go wrong when relying on top-of-mind thoughts. As a result, it can be valuable to develop a sales play that identifies common objections as well as effective ways to manage them. Arming your reps with relevant tools to help advance the sale can increase engagement.

Of course, these are only some of the most common plays. Your list might look a bit different based on your organization’s needs.

A Focus on Engagement

A sales playbook is a guide, not just a script that is meant to be followed. Like a script, though, a well-designed playbook can motivate and direct your entire team to follow proven practices. The content must be designed to serve the seller. It might be tempting to include content and metrics that serve management, marketing, or operations, but it’s important to focus on what your sales team needs to foster engagement. Create specific, real-world plays rather than theoretical ones. The idea is to outline strong and proven methods that support new or better behaviors.

A sales playbook doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective—it can be as simple as a printed booklet or a PDF that can be found on a shared drive. With your goals in mind, establish who will create the playbook, then set short-term and long-term objectives that the playbook can be measured against. This provides the necessary information to update the content as the needs of your sales team and your buyers change.

The Bottom Line

The best sales playbooks deliver a competitive advantage. With the most up-to-date information, your team will be equipped to honor your customers’ time, provide value, and ensure an exceptional sales experience. Your sales team is an aggregation of individual skills, but it can function like a cohesive professional sports team by sharing best practices. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you call your sales playbook. If renaming the resource “A Collection of Best Practices” will encourage higher levels of engagement than “The Sales Playbook,” go for it! In the end, the name of the resource is considerably less important than the overall effect that it has on your sales team’s results.

Karen Kimerer of Keypoint Intelligence has experienced the many challenges of expanding current market opportunities and securing new business. She has developed a systematic approach to these opportunities, addressing the unique requirements of becoming a leader in our changing industry. She is well-versed in 1:1 marketing, web-to-print, direct mail, book publishing, supply chain management, data segmentation, channel integration, and photo products.