The Real Reason Your Reps Don’t Use Your Playbooks

Ralph Grimse

Marketing and sales enablement have poured millions of dollars into building sales playbooks. The intent was good. The research was right. The content was (mostly) compelling. The field launch webinars were even well attended.

But field sales ain’t the Field of Dreams. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come. Too many playbooks end up unused or forgotten altogether.

But why?

Let’s assume you’ve done everything right in your playbook development. Why don’t reps reference it or spend more time in it? Why don’t you get requests from the field for updates? Why don’t they ask for clarifications on the nuances of your wording? Why aren’t they [insert any reaction]?

Time for some #truth.

Modern sales is a Rubik’s Cube. To be successful, reps must line up the various dimensions of a deal. Consider all the factors reps need to think through in today’s opportunities: the different buying stages, multiple buyer personas, varied compelling events and triggers, endless combinations of issues and needs. Add more influencers into the mix, these factors multiply.

Current playbooks don’t reflect this complexity. Their format and structure isn’t helping reps pivot through the modern sales motion. At their best, they’re process documentation for occasional reference. They’re like the Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on the shelf of today’s sales organization.

Face the reality that your reps aren’t using your playbooks like they should. But the goal of making your playbooks an essential part of their day-to-day isn’t out of reach. If reps see value in using something, they will use it. You don’t have to tell a rep to use email, the phone, or LinkedIn. If someone said that the key to winning deals was putting a piece of pizza on their head, reps would do it. It’s that simple.

Too Much or Too Little

Many marketing and sales enablement teams are extremely thorough when building their playbooks. But reps tell us that all that content makes the playbook read like a Dostoyevsky novel. Long-form, detailed content won’t be consumed by the modern rep.

At the same time, reps say many playbooks come across as too superficial. The basic sales process is illustrated, with maybe a few case studies or features. But detailed guidance around how and when to use specific messages, collateral, and strategies is missing.

Too much content or not the right content. We believe these complaints actually reflect the same issue. Ultimately your playbooks don’t help the rep assess and respond to the specific selling situations they’re facing.

Modern Playbooks for Modern Selling

So, what does the future playbook look like? Hint: It’s situational and it delivers content in context.

1. Make the Playbook Situational. When a football team builds a playbook, its broken out into sections for particular situations. For instance, there’s usually an entire section related to the Red Zone. Why? Because with a more condensed field, a separate set of plays and strategies are needed to score.

Similarly, your playbooks should reflect the specific situation your reps are facing. This makes accessing the content faster and easier. Remember, reps only care about information if it helps with what they’re dealing with right now. A few examples of situations covered in some of our recent playbooks are:

  • Early-stage conversations with senior executives in large healthcare organizations
  • Competitive differentiators in the context of three use cases when competing against one specific incumbent
  • Co-creating a business case with a champion as part of a procurement-led sale within financial services

You can see the Rubik’s Cube coming to life. Each scenario is based on a set of customer, product, competitive, and buying-stage factors. This may seem onerous to build, but this is where the field derives real value from a playbook.

2. Deliver Content in Context. Reps need quick access to the right content – messages, collateral, selling tools and steps, training reinforcement, etc. But this content must be served-up in the right context. The selling situation is the context. Too often enablement content and learning assets are housed separately in siloed systems or file structures.

Done right, a sales playbook provides the context for all this content. When marketing content is delivered within the context of a selling situation, is because invaluable. It is actually used. The context of a selling situation also provides important guidance to marketing. They have a clear view of what materials are needed, what format they should take, and when they might be deployed.

In the same way, when skill training is accessible in the context of a real selling situation, it will be embraced by reps. Learning at the moment-of-need is priceless. A content-in-context approach moves companies away from compliance-driven sales and product training. No more mass emails hounding reps to complete some training before an arbitrary deadline.

Digitizing the Playbook Experience

Building a paper version of what we’re describing is impossible. Digitizing the playbook is really the only answer. Digital playbooks enable you to support today’s complex selling. They also allow you to continuously push new content to the field, so your playbooks stay relevant.

There’s a handful of enablement solutions that can help deliver content in this Rubik’s Cube fashion. In a recent project, we used the Showpad platform to give reps access to situational content, all delivered in context. After converting a traditional playbook into a digital playbook, reps can now take multiple paths to access content:

  • Customer buying journey stage
  • Buyer persona
  • Customer use case
  • Industry vertical
  • Competitor
  • Deal win-theme

We also built playbook sections tailored for specific sales interactions. Each of these sections includes highly targeted messaging, collateral, methodology tools, and skill reinforcement. For every common selling scenario, reps now have practical guidance on what to say, what to show, and what to do.

Getting Started

If you’re planning a playbook for 2020, stop… Think through these elements – what situation are you solving for? How will you integrate context and content? How will you digitize? Hopefully you’re at the early stage where you can optimize your playbook strategy.

If you’re looking at your current stack of playbooks as you read this, pause… Take a deep breath. First, assess your gaps. What pieces have you built? How can you reposition the content to align to your selling situations? What training can you integrate? What are the missing collateral and messaging assets? Next, look at digitizing your playbook. How can you use technology to create a more dynamic and contextualized experience for the rep?

The next generation of playbooks will be digital and will become the anchor of your enablement platform. Your reps will be able to access process, marketing, and learning content in a digital platform. When paired with CRM, a digital playbook provides everything reps need to be successful.

Embrace a new approach to improving your reps’ effectiveness and ensure your playbooks get used. Contact us to learn more or to demo a modern sales playbook.

Ralph Grimse

Ralph Grimse

Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.