A sales playbook is more than a series of call scripts and sales sheets.
It’s a go-to guide for tackling a salespeople’s biggest challenges, a roadmap for reducing new hire onboarding time and the secret to driving big productivity gains.
Sales playbooks ensure wins aren’t random and losses can be traced back to the moment where things went wrong.
Done right, the playbook empowers salespeople to engage customers at every touchpoint and adapt to any selling situation without skipping a beat.
In this article, we’ll look at what goes into a winning playbook, offering tips, examples, templates and how to measure results.
What’s in this article?
Why sales playbooks are critical for modern sales teams
A great sales playbook allows organizations to put plans into action by aligning reps around core objectives. They guide them through the sales cycle using proven, tried and tested strategies.
Sales playbooks incorporate your chosen sales methodologies, detailed sales process and specific resources such as call scripts, email templates, negotiation questions, buyer personas, customer pain points and more into one cohesive document.
This resource comprises both high-level guidelines as well as specific, play-by-play processes. It helps sales managers boost productivity and performance, ramp up new hires and keep salespeople informed when things change.
Without a defined playbook, salespeople must either figure things out on their own or by shadowing other reps, which often perpetuates bad habits. Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review states that companies with effective pipeline management had a 15% higher average growth rate than companies with ineffective management.
Additionally, companies that trained their sales managers on comprehensive pipeline management strategies saw their revenue grow 9% faster than those with unorganized operations.
Why? Because streamlined processes and comprehensive resources motivate reps to follow the leader and arm them with the help they need to reach predefined goals.
Otherwise, over time, undetected mistakes could hinder growth and cause lasting reputational damage.
Alternatively, when sales teams have practical resources and ready-made content at their fingertips, they're better equipped to engage informed buyers with tailored solutions and expert insights.
For sales leaders, playbooks can be used to crowdsource the most effective tactics and share that knowledge with the entire team. For example, if salespeople discover that a particular email cadence or resource consistently drives deals forward, managers can add it to the playbook.
Ultimately, a sales playbook is an organization’s manual for maximizing sales efficiency, delivering quality experiences and powering up the revenue engine.
What is included in a sales playbook?
Your sales playbook should be customized to your organization, though there are some key elements that tend to apply across the board.
For example, playbooks typically include information about the company, products and services. They also provide brand guidelines and show salespeople how to effectively use the tools and content provided.
You’ll also find detailed customer personas, qualification criteria and step-by-step plays for handling different situations.
Before you begin, it’s important to develop an outline that covers all of your bases.
Here, we’ll go over some of the standard chapters every playbook should include, though keep in mind, you’ll likely need to add a few sections that are specific to your company.
1. Company info
Before you get into call scripts and role-play scenarios, you'll want to introduce your company to new hires.
This section should outline basic information, including:
- Company strategy: Start by explaining your company’s big-picture sales strategy. Why does your company exist and what problems do you solve? How does the sales team factor into that strategy?
- Company mission & values: Explain who you are, what you do and why you're different. It's important to nail the mission statement, as it will serve as the foundation for all sales and marketing messaging.
- Individual roles & responsibilities: Identify the roles and responsibilities of each person on the sales team. This section should explain to new hires what is expected of them, including how you determine quota targets and how performance is measured. While you’ll get into more detail later, outlining expectations around these areas will help salespeople begin to formulate a plan for hitting key targets.
- Org chart: A simple chart explaining who reports to whom will help new reps understand how the organization fits together. Include names, titles and what each role contributes to the greater whole.
- Training Schedule: Give reps a breakdown of the training process. Who will they meet with? What will they do on their first day? Week? What is the expected onboarding time? What resources are available?
Be detailed and transparent so that your reps don’t face any surprises or are left with more questions than answers. This will ensure your reps get off on the right foot and helps to set strategic expectations.
2. Products & pricing
This chapter should provide your team with everything they need to know about your products and services. At a minimum, make sure you answer the following questions:
- What products do you sell?
- How do they work?
- What do they do?
- Why should buyers care?
Additionally, if your company has a robust catalog of offerings, you might build a separate playbook dedicated to explaining different buying processes, personas and product offerings.
3. Commission structure
While salary-based employees typically start a new position knowing what base income they'll be making per year, sales reps' paychecks often depend on several elements.
Every company has its own compensation package for its salespeople and often these packages are complex. They usually include a base combined with a commission or bonus structure, which wildly varies depending on a number of factors.
Describe in clear terms how your compensation plan works. For example, is your plan salary-only, commission-only or base + bonus? If you follow the base + bonus plan, be sure to break down what reps can expect to earn if they hit 50%, 75% or 150% of quota, for example.
Be as transparent as possible in order to avoid any confusion or tension down the line.
4. Define your sales methodology
Your sales methodology informs the principles and best practices that determine how salespeople approach each step in the sales process.
This section should explain the why and how of the sales process and serves as a roadmap for how you'll navigate each stage in the buying process based on your customer's needs.
Explain why you chose this methodology for your team and outline how this strategy aligns with your overall goals.
5. Explain your sales process
The sales process represents the meat of the playbook. It arms your salespeople with what they need to be successful at every touchpoint, from prospecting and lead qualification to solution selling and closing.
Here’s an example of how you can break down the sales process, mapping sales activities to what’s happening on the buyer’s side.
Here, your goal is to give reps a clear understanding of who you sell to and what to do and say in every potential scenario.
In these next few areas, we’ll look at what elements must be in place to answer those three questions.
6. Identify target personas
This section provides detailed customer personas that aim to paint a clear picture of your ideal customer and the market conditions, trends, pain points and preferences that influence the buying decision.
A B2B persona may include information such as:
- Company size
- Geographical region
- Job title
- Role in the decision-making process
- Pain points
- Solution requirements
A B2C persona may include information such as:
- Job title
- Business background
- Where they go for information
- Motivations and goals
- Purchasing behavior
These profiles help your team anticipate needs, answer questions and overcome objections. They also provide a framework for helping both your sales and marketing teams to identify and target qualified leads.
For instance, a mid-level marketing manager may be responsible for kickstarting the research process, while the CMO won't enter the picture until it’s time to get serious about evaluating solutions.
While buyer personas are designed to represent entire segments, it’s important to remember that they’re composites of real customers, not fictional characters.
Capture data from the following sources to inform your personas:
- Sales interactions
- Communications records
- Social media mentions
- Support tickets
- Online reviews
- 1:1 interviews
- Survey feedback
- Customer service interactions
- Website, email and social media analytics
This section should also explain the buying process for each persona. This includes what events might compel them to seek out a solution and what needs to happen at each stage.
7. The “plays”
Sales plays walk reps through the actions and best practices proven to move deals forward.
This section covers a lot of ground, much of it specific to your industry or situation. However, you’ll generally want to include the following elements:
- How to qualify leads
- How to forecast
- How to establish the right cadence
8. How to use sales tools
You’ll also want to create a section detailing the proper use of your company’s tech stack. While salespeople may already know how to use CRM systems and project management apps, every company uses these tools differently.
This chapter must go beyond a basic introduction to using each feature and instead, focus on how to use the right tools at the right time to move deals forward.
This chapter should include the following information:
- Where to find tools
- Which tools and features should be used at specific touchpoints
- How do you input data into the right fields?
- How do you manage leads?
- How do you track leads?
- How do you track opportunities?
- How does lead ownership work in your organization?
- How are quotas assigned?
- What goes into creating accurate forecasts?
Additionally, it’s helpful for reps to get a sense of how the CRM and other tools connect with organization-wide data.
What other programs integrate with the CRM? For example, does your system capture information from customer service interactions and marketing campaigns?
If so, be sure to give salespeople clear information on how they might use big-picture data to inform their approach.
9. Key performance indicators (KPIs)
Which metrics should your reps focus on the most?
Consider objectives such as time to close, average deal size, number of qualified leads generated and so on.
Make sure you outline expectations around how salespeople’s performance is measured and how each metric connects with daily selling activities.
Keep in mind, you also want to make sure that the sales team understands how sales leaders are measured and what they’re responsible for when it comes to training, coaching and providing resources.
This section might include instructions for leaving feedback about the sales process, training programs and resources, which can be used to fine-tune your strategy.
10. Time management & cadence recommendations
You might also include a section that provides general recommendations for how salespeople should break up their day.
For example, you might include guidance based on how much time top performers spend on prospecting or making follow-up calls, or the cadences that have proven most effective for closing deals.
This section should serve as more of a template for helping new reps get started and should allow individuals to experiment with which tactics work best for them.
Finally, messaging represents the “what to say” part of the equation.
Here, you'll want to provide scripts for explaining your brand's value proposition, products/services, and positioning.
- Elevator pitch
- Discovery questions
- Objection handling & responses
- Positioning guides
- Email & call scripts for prospecting, nurturing, closing and so on
The goal is to provide salespeople with on-demand, context-specific content to support interactions with buyers.
Make sure that your internal and external-facing resources are organized, easy-to-find and tailored to individual buyers.
External-facing content refers to the content you’ll share with customers such as:
- White papers
- Blog posts
- Sales sheets
- Product presentations
Internal content is designed for the salesperson and includes the following:
- Battle cards
- Pitch decks
- Training content
- Relevant articles
Collate top-notch external and internal facing content through cross-team collaboration. The best resources are the result of a company-wide effort.
Your client-facing customer success and account management teams can help you uncover customer pain points. Use that information to create product solutions-driven content that helps your reps nurture leads and close deals.
How to put together an effective playbook
Now that we’ve developed a sense of which elements belong in a sales playbook, let’s examine some essential steps and best practices that can help you build a playbook that your sales team will actually use.
Assemble your sales playbook taskforce
Putting together a winning set of plays is a team effort.
While every organization is different, this project usually includes the following players:
- Sales leaders: Given that we’re talking about sales playbooks, you’ll want to make sure that the voice of the sales team is represented. Include sales leaders and top performers to make sure that existing best practices are included and that the playbook is easy-to-use and relevant to the actual sales process.
- Marketing: Your marketing team is your best source of information when it comes to content and persona-related data. Collaborate with marketing leaders to define your messaging and brand guidelines for each solution your company offers.
- Subject matter experts: When developing your sales playbook, you’ll want to make sure you receive input from your internal subject matter experts. Product designers, customer success teams, field technicians, IT, etc., can all add valuable insights to the playbook—whether that’s perfecting the sales-service hand-off, getting the most mileage out of your CRM, or understanding the technical aspects of the products you offer.
- C-Suite: Involving the C-suite in this process ensures that salespeople are aligned around high-level business goals. Additionally, buy-in from the top is one of the best ways to drive organization-wide adoption.
Finally, this effort needs to be orchestrated by a designated manager who acts as the playbook manager or coordinator.
Creating a sales playbook involves juggling multiple deadlines that span many departments, so an internal PM is one way to make sure everyone stays on track.
Audit existing content & processes
Rather than point toward vague objectives like “driving more sales” or “capturing more leads”, your playbook goals should focus on driving improvements at incremental milestones throughout the sales process.
To get a sense of how your existing content is linked to the sales process, you’ll need to perform a comprehensive audit that reveals which tactics and materials your team uses in their daily activities.
Start by getting together with your reps to discuss the following:
- Identify the sales situations where you want to drive replicable success. Initially, you’ll want to design your sales plays based on proven successes. What are the most important parts of the sales process? Are there existing best practices in place for each of these? If not, where are there gaps?
- Interview sales reps. Ask your reps to find out what resources are most effective in moving deals forward. Are salespeople finding that video yields better results than PDF content? Is LinkedIn prospecting more effective than email or phone?
- Learn how your team sells. How do top performers move through the sales process? What strategies do they use to move through each stage? What content and communication strategies work best at each touchpoint? What challenges do salespeople face? What would help them overcome those challenges?
While you may be tempted to start from scratch, leaving your existing materials behind could result in a ton of extra work and missed opportunities to share knowledge.
Map buyer process to sales process
According to Highspot’s 2019 State of Sales Enablement Report, nearly 70% of respondents said that their company’s sales process was becoming more complex.
In another report, sales expert Marc Wayshak revealed that 61% of his clients believe that selling has become considerably harder than it was five years ago.
Sales playbooks are designed to help sales reps navigate new challenges. But to do so, you’ll need to make sure you understand how each prospect navigates the buying process and what their needs and pain points are at each touchpoint.
Before digging into persona-specific pain points, look for general factors that slow down the buying process.
According to the Harvard Business Review, companies should look for predictable obstacles at each stage in the buying process.
This chart represents some of the universal barriers that prevent buyers from moving forward.
From there, you’ll want to get more specific and learn more about each segment:
- Develop a map of both the buying and selling processes broken down by stage
- Define what buyer action represents a “conversion” at each stage
- Identify which content and tactics are most (and least) effective for moving buyers through the process
Once you’ve established a sense of how you’re approaching prospects at each touchpoint, you’ll then want to look at how you might improve the buyer’s experience.
For example, most people today prefer to educate themselves before reaching out to a salesperson.
Because reps typically speak to an informed buyer, avoid building plays around information that salespeople already know. Rehashing basic information can signal a lack of knowledge, which makes it difficult to move deals forward.
Instead, you’ll want to include customer profiles and build plays around addressing common objections, questions and delivering targeted solutions to reduce points of friction in the buying process.
Design plays on focused, proven strategies
One of the main benefits of using sales playbooks is that they allow reps to learn from each other. As you start to consider which plays you should include, look toward your top performers for help.
We recommend working with salespeople, going through each buyer’s journey map and defining the best practices at each touchpoint.
Each play should be laser-focused on a single situation, using the following information as your guide:
- Your industry and the industries you sell to
- The personas you target and their specific buyer’s journeys
- Pain points, questions and objections that surface at each stage
- What your typical sales cycle looks like
While this may sound time-consuming, it’s important to keep a tight focus on how to navigate any sales scenario.
Historically, companies distributed playbooks as paper documents or PDFs—neither of which are easy to use.
It’s not practical for sales teams to lug binders around to various sales calls. Nor does it make sense to force reps to pinch and scroll their way through PDF content from their phones.
In both cases, reps have trouble locating the information they need, while sales leaders need to spend a great deal of time, effort and money when it’s time to update the playbook.
No matter how good the material is, if reps can’t easily find and consume the right content, they won’t use it. The goal is to provide reps with resources that they can reference in real-time, even while in front of a buyer.
Increasingly, organizations are moving playbooks into the cloud, allowing them to identify situational sales plays, catch up on training materials or enhance their interactions with buyers from anywhere.
Many sales enablement platforms offer AI-based recommendations or smart search capabilities that can save salespeople time and ensure they use the right content and strategies for each situation.
For example, if you are using a digital playbook with search-capabilities, you can easily type in the topic you are looking for and find it within seconds. That speed can be incredibly useful, especially if reps need real-time information, like overcoming objections, while on a call with a prospect.
Sales playbook templates: examples from real brands
The best way to ensure your sales playbook is effective is by examining various real-life examples
Let’s dive into several sales playbook templates that speak to various stages in the sales process:
This example from G2 is actually just a template, but this could be an effective way to present your brand’s story and introduce your team.
This template forces companies to condense their mission statement down to essential info that focuses on what the business is going to solve and how the sales team fits into the overall mission.
You can also take it a step further and add an organizational chart with corresponding pictures of team members, making life easier on new salespeople.
Customer journey map
This template from Demand Metric provides a detailed view of the customer journey, with emotional trigger points, goals and buyer thoughts associated with each stage.
Product positioning & messaging
Here’s another example, with a fictional email marketing tool, of how you might tackle product positioning and messaging:
What we like about this example is, it provides all of the essential information (value prop, elevator pitch, key benefits) without overwhelming reps with information.
How to use content
This example sourced from a Spotio e-book is an effective way to outline which content and internal tools are most effective at specific stages.
Call scripts aren’t designed for salespeople to read word-for-word. Rather, they serve as a tool for determining which talking points work best at specific stages.
Here’s an example from a cold calling scripts article designed to help salespeople leave an effective voicemail.
Hi [NAME], I left a voice message last week regarding X and thought I’d see if now was a good time to reach out.
To remind you, we [STATE YOUR VALUE PROPOSITION]. I’d love to show you how you can generate [RESULT].
Would you like to schedule a call to learn more?
Email scripts give salespeople a shortcut to creating on-brand messages that resonate with each buyer. Ideally, you’ll have a whole series of templates so you’ll be prepared for any situation.
Here’s an example of an intro template:
Hi [prospect name],
People like you are super busy, so I’ll keep this short.
I work with companies like [business name] to help them [insert the main benefit, e.g. get more signups]. What our clients most like about us is this: [main selling point, e.g. all leads on our platform have been qualified during the last six months, so the response rates are 2-3x the industry average].
I’d love to give you or a colleague a 20-minute demo. Would next Tuesday or Wednesday work for you?
This approach gets straight to the point by mentioning exactly how our tool solves problems for existing customers and why it’s effective.
Here’s another from a blog post on email templates:
I just came across your [their blog post/comment/status] on [platform] and thought the points you made were very insightful and I agree with a lot of your views.
It also made me want to reach out so I could talk to you about how [their company] could benefit from our software that totally takes care of the issue you raised about [issue].
I’m free on Tuesday afternoon if that suits for a quick 10 minute chat
Thanks a lot,
In this case, we’ve highlighted specific areas where salespeople can incorporate a few key details to show the reader that they’re not receiving a generic email blast (though for salespeople, customizing a few important points is just as easy).
Work out what channels your different personas are most active on and then tailor your messaging and sales stages to leverage this.
For example, if you know high-value customers are most likely to use LinkedIn, contact leads that match that persona over the social platform. Or, if you’re contacting them over email, reference or link to a LinkedIn post that is relevant to them.
As such, you can’t expect your sales playbook to remain relevant for long. Make sure you treat your playbook as a living document that you’ll continue to build out and refine.
- Dig into usage data: Look at usage data to identify which parts of the playbook are getting used, or not. Identify and close gaps, as needed. Track sales performance against playbook engagement.
- Schedule regular playbook reviews: Continuously review playbook performance metrics just like any other sales report. Also, perform in-depth audits often, perhaps every quarter, to ensure its contents are relevant to your company strategy and the buyer’s experience.
- Develop an internal feedback loop: Make the playbook a collaborative tool by opening it up to comment. This way, salespeople can leave comments in-line, based on what they’re hearing from buyers, allowing teams to improve content in near real time. You’ll also want to establish a channel where the user community can share anonymous feedback about personal challenges or suggestions for improving the process.
- Collect customer feedback: You can’t create a customer-centric sales playbook without incorporating customer feedback. Send regular surveys and compare that information to customer feedback shared with sales and service teams and through online channels.
Make changes as needed but make sure you keep your reps informed when adjustments are made.
Some sales enablement platforms and content management systems allow you to sync updates across all accounts and set automated alerts that let reps know when there’s new material available.
Make sure you’re tracking the right KPIs
Your KPIs must fit into your playbook strategy to ensure everybody is working towards unified goals.
KPIs should focus on stage-specific goals. You might measure success at each stage by looking at each rep’s performance and taking note of any areas that stand out.
Consider the desired outcome for each stage in the journey. For example, if you’re in the prospecting stage, the goal is to attract as many new opportunities as possible.
The sales playbook is a critical tool for any winning sales team, acting as a single source of knowledge for everyone involved in the sales process.
The best sales playbooks are concise, easy to use and provide step-by-step instructions for helping salespeople to close more deals. They should also be treated as a living document that evolves along with your company, your buyers and the complex sales landscape.
While an effective sales playbook is an investment, getting this right paves the way for predictable wins, happier customers and more revenue.