In 1975, Roger Staubach (quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys) popularized the Hail Mary pass by saying, “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary” — right before he threw the ball 50 yards for a touchdown. Since then, this long, last-minute pass has resulted in some of the most miraculous wins in football history.
But the Hail Mary isn’t a strategic play by any means. It’s a desperate move that sometimes works — but mostly it doesn't. The real work of winning a football game (or any game, for that matter) is a playbook full of consistent, repeatable strategies.
Trick plays and Hail Marys are fun to watch on television, but they aren’t the kind of thing you want to stake your company’s success on. To maintain a winning streak with your inside sales team, you can’t rely on cheap tricks or tactics. Instead, you’ll need to develop a solid sales playbook that’s unique to your product, your target market and your sales process.
If you’ve never developed a sales playbook before, staring at a blank page can be intimidating. To help you make the most of your efforts, let’s look at how you can write a winning sales playbook for your team completely from scratch — and start achieving championship-level results.
In essence, a sales playbook is a complete guide to your sales process. It’s made up of best practices and techniques unique to each situation your reps might encounter. It’s like a collection of standard operating procedures broken down into specific strategies.
This document is different from an employee handbook. Rather than focusing on the code of conduct or behavioral expectations, a sales playbook teaches reps how to sell your product effectively. It’s also different from a sales plan. Instead of outlining goals and strategies for the entire department, it’s made specifically for your sales reps (the people on the front lines). It’s a quick reference to the actions your sales reps take every day — cold calling, email outreach, prospecting, lead qualification, demos and more. When your sales reps don’t know how best to approach a sales situation, they should turn to the playbook for direction.
Creating a sales playbook isn’t just something sales managers do when they have too much time on their hands. There are several ways this resource can improve your team’s performance overall:
While a sales playbook doesn't have to break down every operation for your entire sales department, it should be more than just a list of best strategies. A playbook serves as a quick guide to keep your team oriented with sales goals and how best to achieve them.
There are a lot of things you could include in a sales playbook, but you don’t need as much as some people say. Instead, stick to making the key elements of your sales process as clear and accessible as possible.
If you want your daily processes to be in line with company goals, your sales reps need to feel connected to the bigger picture. That’s why it’s best to start your sales playbook with a basic company bio. Include 1-2 paragraphs containing a brief history of the company, the founders and a mission/value statement. This serves as a reminder of “why we’re doing this” and puts the rest of the playbook in the context of company culture. Unlike an employee handbook, this bio should be short. Instead of providing a full history lesson, it should focus on motivating sales reps to take part in the company's mission.
Illustrating a clear team structure will help your reps stay connected and focused on their individual duties. Part of your playbook should break down the team hierarchy and responsibilities of each role. Typically, SDRs (Sales Development Representatives) are responsible for qualifying new leads and AEs (Account Executives) are responsible for closing deals. While you could create a full detailed directory, the main goal of this section is to illustrate the workflow across different positions. Team members need to know who will take over the next stage of the process after their job is complete.
You may decide to create a detailed employee directory in your playbook. This is where sales reps can find contact information for their direct supervisors, sales managers, other key players on the sales team and maybe all the way up to the big boss (VP of Sales/CRO). But keep in mind that you’ll need to make continuous updates as people shift positions.
Understanding your target market and the people you sell to is key to success in any sales and marketing strategy. Without detailed customer personas, reps are selling blind. They’ll either waste time selling to an unqualified lead or botch a great sales opportunity because they don’t understand their prospects. Providing access to detailed customer personas in your playbook will make for more productive sales calls (if applied correctly).
The target market section of your playbook should define the specific industries and demographics you hope to serve. If possible, give examples of real customers or companies that fall within each category. Then, break down the individual personas (fictional representations of the ideal customer) for each one. Be specific about the needs, challenges, values and worldviews of these people. This will help your reps understand what angle would be best to take in a selling conversation.
Once you define your ideal customers, it’s time to dig into the sales process. In this section, you want to guide your reps through the sales cycle and provide general direction for how to apply different strategies at each stage.
Ideally, your playbook should have a graphic to visually represent your sales cycle. This provides an anchor point so that you can break down details like:
Use this section to explain your sales methodology, too. This is your department’s specific approach to driving sales through effective action at different stages in a sales process. It’s a blending of philosophy and strategy that will guide the actions of your sales team in all situations.
If you use a specific model (such as the “Challenger” sales model), break that down into core tenets or steps with explanations of each one. That said, it’s important to note that your methodology may need to be flexible in certain situations. Some prospects may require a unique approach, while others may require different strategies depending on their stage in the buyer’s journey. For example, an early stage prospect may not know what they want yet and are just exploring options. However, a later stage prospect may have very clear objectives and will need you to speak to those objectives before they make a buying decision.
At Prehired, the main driver of our Science-Based Sales® methodology is the mindset of Clarity > Closing®. It’s the idea that sales shouldn’t be coercive or manipulative. Instead, sales reps who build supportive relationships with prospects and make the value proposition as clear as possible often perform better than the rest.
An effective sales strategy is informed not only by the customer, but the product itself. While a deep dive into product orientation should be part of your training and onboarding process, it’s also important to include an abridged version in your playbook.
Gaining a deep understanding of a complex product takes time. If you have multiple products to sell, it can be even more difficult to keep track of the details. But rather than spend a month learning the ins and outs of a piece of software, you want your sales reps to start taking calls as soon as possible. You can shorten the learning curve by arming them with a quick reference to the key features and selling points for your product.
However you choose to format this information, remember that the focus isn’t on the features themselves but on the solutions they provide. How does your product address different challenges or provide advantages in different use cases?
After you nail down the basics of your playbook, it’s time to develop a list of specific sales plays. When doing this, be sure to explain the goal of each one within the playbook. Knowing the goal of a process can help your reps modify their approach for unique circumstances that don’t fit the mold.
Remember that the purpose of these plays is clarity and efficiency. Develop them in such a way that reps can look up and follow the process at a moment’s notice.
To stay organized with such a high volume of content like this, it’s wise to keep strategies organized by category or their specific stage in the sales process. Here are a few essential plays to include in your sales playbook:
While this list covers some of the major plays you want to include, there are many more you can (and should) use. It all depends on the needs of your company and your ability to create innovative strategies.
The final section of your guide should direct your sales reps to key company resources that help them do their jobs. You can include detailed versions of your sales process, marketing content, contacts within the HR department and anything else that’s relevant. Provide access to everything they need to reference or will eventually need to distribute to customers. Explain the purpose of each resource (briefly) and list the ways to locate them if they are too large to fit within the playbook. If you can, link directly to each resource (if you’re using an electronic document) so that reps can quickly access them.
While it’s easy to understand what should go into a sales playbook, it’s a whole different task to sit down and write it. Let’s look at a few tips to help you produce a more effective playbook for your team.
Start with your inspiration. Why did you decide to create this resource? What specific need will a sales playbook solve for your team?
With that in mind, create clear, time-bound goals for the playbook. Include specific outcomes and deliverables you think the playbook should achieve. When do you want to complete the writing and revisions before full rollout?
Beyond that, plan for how you will get your team to adopt the playbook into their daily processes. Any new piece of technology or UX element is bound to face resistance. Promote full rollout from the beginning and start designing incentives to increase engagement with the resource.
Creating a sales playbook shouldn’t be a solo effort, but it shouldn’t involve the whole sales department either. Once you know what you want to accomplish, put together a team of people with a variety of expertise to help. Looking at each section, decide who is best fit to help you develop that material (and who has the time to contribute).
In some cases, you may need to leverage knowledge from other departments to inform certain parts of your playbook. Beyond that, you may need to have approval from higher-level executives before you implement this kind of resource as standard material. Be sure to rope them into the conversation before you move on.
Once you have your team structure, have a meeting to discuss the responsibilities of each role and agree on the timeline. Who will be responsible for the writing? Who will be responsible for publishing and promotion? Set deadlines for each stage and schedule recurring meetings to receive feedback and review your progress.
Once you sit down to write, you may realize that some of your existing sales processes need work or aren’t fully developed yet. That’s okay. You can start creating an effective playbook by surveying what measures already work for your company. Unless you’re a brand new startup, your team should already have some sales data you can analyze to develop specific techniques and strategies.
You should also open the floor for sales reps to provide feedback. After all, they’re the ones doing the job each day. Asking them to fill out a detailed survey may offer unique insight into your team’s daily workflow. What can they tell you about the ideal customer? What are their favorite scripts to use? What pain points have they noticed from having sales conversations each day?
To boost engagement with any part of your sales process, your reps are going to need quality materials. Things like blog posts, posters, videos, training modules, social media content and whitepapers are essential for nearly every stage of the pipeline.
The marketing department is your best source for this, and it’s important to open up communication between the two teams. It’s well-known that many sales and marketing teams don’t always get along. Marketing is focused on selling to the masses while sales teams are focused on building relationships with individuals. While these perspectives often collide and create friction, the best approach to a successful playbook is to leverage the strengths of both. Allow marketing to provide content and advise on strategy while giving sales reps the freedom to implement those strategies and materials at their discretion.
While the content of your playbook is important, all your effort toward strategy and technique won’t matter without an engaging format. Designing your playbook with user experience in mind is essential to help your reps fully adopt it as a resource.
Start drafting with a basic outline or template, arranging the content of your playbook in a way that makes sense from start to finish. You could put this in a Word document or a Google Doc. That’s okay at first, but you may decide to change the format later once you know what you’re working with and how your reps use it.
Next, figure out how you can best present the information so that it accomplishes 2 goals:
Once you have the content fully developed, it’s time to dive into the details of the playbook’s design. Pay attention to the visual layout — sometimes stacking the content vertically in a document isn’t the best approach. While a static Google Doc with links can work, it’s best to make your playbook digital and interactive if you can. Web-based playbooks allow you to arrange videos, images, interactive tools and other engaging elements in a dynamic interface. This also allows reps to access all materials without leaving the platform.
If you have web design skills or a developer on your team, you may be able to produce a web-based playbook in-house. However, spending the extra money to work with an enterprise UX designer may be worth it to ensure useful results.
In the end, a sales playbook is a resource that grows with your company. If you’ve formatted the playbook correctly, you should be able to update it continuously without disrupting the flow of information.
Once you implement the resource and make it accessible, continue to revise your processes as you gain new data and feedback from your team. Test specific plays, optimize your techniques and add new plays as you continue to serve your target market.
Creating a sales playbook isn’t just some way to live out your dream of being a football coach. This resource will help you create a consistent, repeatable process based on strategies that really work. That’s the only way to achieve higher revenue goals. Beyond that, it also makes the job easier for your sales reps to perform every day.
That said, even the most well-developed sales playbook is only as strong as the players who execute it. If you aren’t working with highly skilled SDRs or AEs, you’ll still have to find ways to pick up the slack and meet revenue goals — or start saying a Hail Mary. That’s why it’s important to build your sales team from the best talent in the industry.
As a Prehired partner, that’s what we can offer you. We provide a curated list of SDR candidates for you to hire. After completing our research-backed Science-Based Sales® training, we grade our members for their attitude, aptitude, accountability and ambition — all the traits of a great salesperson. By hiring a Prehired member, you can know that the foundational skills are already in place. All you have to do is run through your playbook.
Stop wasting money supporting low-tier sales talent. Hire a Prehired member this quarter and start executing plays that get you to the end zone.
As Prehired's Founder & CEO, Josh Jordan is leading the mission to help 10,000 people launch 6-figure software sales careers by the end of 2024.
How? With Prehired's Science-Based Sales® process -- born from helping dozens of software companies build their sales teams...
...and then consulting with hundreds of Software Sales Managers on exactly what they wanted new hires to know...
...and then helping hundreds of regular folks break into software sales in 12 weeks, on average.
Josh created Science-Based Sales® to help nearly anyone succeed in software sales, because it creates clarity for prospects. No killer closer instincts, charisma or kissing up to decision makers needed.
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