B2B sales teams often make fundamental mistakes when they’re trying to establish consistency and scale successfully. Is a failure to develop the playbook sabotaging your sales efforts?
This is a chapter from our eBook, 'Scaling B2B sales: how to build a revenue rocket ship', featuring sales leaders from some of the fastest-growing companies around.
This is the best analogy I’ve heard that describes how early stage tech companies often build and run their sales teams.
Imagine you’re the head chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant, with the mandate to deliver 100 exceptional meals to discerning diners each night. You spend months finding, interviewing and hiring a team of cooks and kitchen staff. Then on opening night, two hours before the doors open, you walk into the kitchen, hand out A4 copies of the menu, say “here you go - make these”, turn on your heels and leave the kitchen. No explanation of ingredients, no recipes, no techniques, not even pictures of what they should look like or the time they should take to prepare.
The results would be chaos. No head chef in their right mind would run a restaurant this way. But this approach to planning, training and management is how many early stage tech teams plan and run their sales teams today. And it does indeed lead to chaos.
Teams of salespeople launch into their prospects with no common understanding of who they’re selling to, the precise nature and value of the product, the factors that motivate people to buy, the stages that potential clients are at and how they affect their thinking, and any unified concept of how to manage people through the sales process from start to finish. This problem is exacerbated in high-pressure environments where the necessity to grow can push wise heads into rash decisions.
The results are the sales equivalent of the anarchic restaurant: lost deals, missed targets, horrible forecasting, unhappy customers and demoralised salespeople. Company growth targets go from aggressive to impossible and businesses with outstanding potential drift into stagnation. All because there’s no plan.
The map to a scalable sales function
Creating your sales playbook is the way to avoid this chaos and build a repeatable, scalable sales engine that will power your company’s growth. As a sales consultant and coach, the lack of a playbook (or the lack of an accurate and up-to-date playbook) is one of the most common problems I see in businesses struggling to scale in sales.
Codifying your approach in a playbook ensures that everyone has a common understanding of the best practices at every stage of the sales cycle. If you do it right, you’ll create a resource that tells every single salesperson:
- How to generate leads in the best possible way
- How to qualify the right sort of customers for your business
- How to run customer discovery sessions to get the most relevant information
- How to engage with customers to articulate your value in the best possible way
- How to customise their demos to show the most value for each customer
- How to control their deals in the most effective way
- How to place their prospects at the correct stage in your sales cycle
Scaling implies serious hiring, particularly in sales. One of the biggest impacts you can make in scaling your sales team is the creation of your Sales Playbook to define the best practice – as you know it today – at every stage of the sales cycle. While a lot of this information may be held in the heads of your founder and early sales team, to effectively scale your business you have to formalise this knowledge so new hires can be trained to the playbook from day one. Your playbook will make sure all your new hires get up to speed as quickly as possible, and give them, and you, the best possible chance of hitting their revenue targets.
And it’s not just for less experienced hires, this matters for senior hires too. If you make a lateral hire at a senior level, perhaps even recruiting a quotadestroyer from a rival business, then no matter how good they are, they still haven’t sold your particular product to your particular prospects before. If you can arm them with all that information in a clear, written format on day one, their chances of ramping successfully and quickly are much better.
Always be learning
Sales managers own the playbook, and it’s their responsibility to feed every learning that the business gathers into the playbook. Update it every month based on won/lost deals. It needs to be a living, iterative document, continually updated as you learn more about the market, your business and your customers - what works, what doesn’t, the data to support it and feedback from reps using it - it all needs to be recorded.
If time and money allow, you should create a granular training programme based on the playbook, and make sure to refresh and rerun it: research from Gryphon Sales Intelligence found that 84% of all sales training is lost after 90 days, mainly due to the lack of information retention among sales personnel.
None of this should be news. Breaking sales down into extremely granular, data-driven processes, codified for everyone, aligns with the approach that Mark Roberge popularised so successfully in the Sales Acceleration Formula, and plenty of high-growth businesses have learned how to create repeatable sales engines that become money machines. Nonetheless, the number of businesses trying to scale sales that ignore these lessons and still go by gut feel is astonishing. And as we see elsewhere in this guide, data beats gut feel every single time.
If you’re struggling to scale in B2B sales, but you haven’t invested the time and energy in producing a watertight playbook, then the answer to your problem is staring you right in the face. Without the right recipe, you have no hope of feeding the masses.