March 24, 2014
Three Chapters of a Sales Playbook

It’s March Madness time, but in the NFL there is no offseason. The Super Bowl is over and that means coaches have time to focus on their playbooks before training camp opens.

While the major chapters of an NFL playbook are widely understood – offense, defense, and special teams – I’m always surprised to see the lack of agreement as to what constitutes a sales playbook. I have heard it described as everything from a collection of tactics to a rolodex of potential partners and customers. Both are important in your team’s success, but are missing key components.

Here is my list of the three major chapters your sales playbook needs to cover, as well as a few examples of what I’ve seen work in each.

Chapter I: Recruiting – Who and How

What this answers: Before you talk about what plays you are going to run, you need to get the people to run them. With involuntary rep churn around 10-20% for world-class sales organizations, you need to be recruiting even if you aren’t trying to grow you team. Before you hit the streets (or LinkedIn) looking for your next A-player, spend time thinking about who you’d like to hire, and how you’ll get them.

What is their background? Are they industry experts? Are you hiring for their rolodex or their potential? Come up with the list of 5-10 attributes you’d like in your next rep. Determine which you can judge based on a resume, and which you need to discuss in the interview. You now have your screening criteria, and can grade candidates 1-10 on each. Even better, in 6-12 months you’ll be able to look back and see which of these criteria, if any, are predictive of success.

Once you’ve outlined the type of person you’ll be hiring, now think about how to get them. Do you need a recruiter? Can you poach them off LinkedIn? For example, if you want Sales Development Reps from Oracle who have been there for 2 years, it’s a pretty simple LinkedIn query to get your target list.

What’s worked for me: Every team is different, but three characteristics I love on my recruiting matrix are coachable, passionate, and curious. I dive into each in the screening process. I believe if you have these three things, we can work around what may be a lack of industry or sales experience. To get this talent, networking is a great approach but dries up quickly, so I lean heavily on LinkedIn. Either way, ABR (Always Be Recruiting).

Chapter II: Training and Onboarding

What this answers: Now that you have your team of rockstars in house, how do you get them up to speed quickly and consistently? It’s critical to ensure everyone has the same training if you’re going to hold them equally accountable for their results. Think through your plan for getting your reps up to speed on the customer, the industry, the product, and your sales process.

A good place to start is by looking at what is not on your recruiting matrix. This will show you what your new reps may be missing. If you didn’t prioritize experience and have reps right out of college, you may need to give them some basics of working in a professional environment and some sales 101. If you hired industry vets, on the other hand, you can likely skip that and focus on your sales process (and make sure they don’t bring the bad habits of their prior employer).

Your training and onboarding plan should include classroom sales training sessions, ride-alongs / plug-ins with current reps, assigned readings on the industry and your sales methodology, role plays, and exercises to help reps understand the customer pain and how your company solves it.

What’s worked for me: When a new rep joins my team, my next 90 days are focused on ramp. At a high level, I have them spend the first 30 days listening to calls and emailing me summaries each day, the next 30 days on joint sales calls where I am leading the meeting and they are jumping in as comfortable, and the final 30 days with the rep running their own pipeline with heavy oversight. Mixed in are frequent (think 3-5x more than you meet with ramped reps) meetings to check in, a lot of role plays, and certifications. I like reps who are experts in their field, so a big part of my training playbook is helping them get there.

Chapter III: Managing the Team

What this answers: You have their team and they are ready to pound the pavement. Now how are you going to keep the machine running? This chapter needs to hit on your sales and management philosophy. It will cover some very high level strategy as well as very, very tactical steps. What type of sales organization are you going to run, and how are you going to engage with your team?

Think about the kind of questions you’d like your reps to come to you with, and how you want to do that. Will you have weekly (or daily) one-on-ones, or would you rather host “office hours” for people who have questions? Do you want to hear about early stage prospecting activity, or just when the deal needs help crossing the goal line? How do you want your sales managers to help your reps? How much of a frenetic, interrupt-driving organization do you want to run verses a methodical, thoughtful approach?

The list of questions in this chapter goes on. Think through as many of them as you can so you know how to prioritize your time. When you have two meetings at 3pm on Tuesday, do you know which you’ll skip? If you’ve done your homework here, then you should.

What’s worked for me: I’ll be touching on this topic frequently in future posts. I like to focus on early stage opportunities instead of late stage. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it gives me the best chance to alter the path a deal is on as well as coach the rep on the broader picture. In the late stage, I can’t do much other than throw a title around to try to “unstick” an opp that is stuck for one reason or another. And the rep is likely too focused on closing the deal to actually learn something from it.

I ask reps to be accountable to their bookings and to their forecast, and I do it by monitoring three key metrics: number of opportunities you closed (won and lost) last month, win rate last month, average sale price last month. Those three together tell me the story of how a rep did, and we can peel back the onion to understand what caused any variance. I look at them mid-month, and have reps use them to create their monthly review for me.

When it comes to playbooks, I often find there are few wrong answers here, except for not having an answer and executing consistently on it.

Every sales leader needs to articulate a plan for each of these chapters, regardless of the stage of your team. Make sure you’ve taken some time to think each of them through before you turn your focus to what most sales people are really good at: executing.

Jim Schuchart is the VP of Sales at Privy.  You can find this blog post, as well as additional content on his blog located here.  You can also follow Jim on Twitter (@JimSchuchart) by clicking here.