Sales Playbooks series: lessons from the field – three playbook pitfalls to avoid

By: Kyle Uebelhor Sales Playbooks

“It’s BROKEN! … I want something else.”
(a) My son, broken “must-have” gadget in hand three weeks after Christmas, or
(b) Sales Leader, 60–90 days post playbook launch

Whether you chose Option (a) or Option (b), you are right. I recently heard versions of this demand from both my eight-year-old and a seasoned sales leader. Both were extremely disappointed, yet eager to move to the next shiny object.

The good news is that this parallel continues. Just as we teach children how to both avoid mistakes and find solutions when things break, at the Alexander Group we have seen enough broken sales playbooks to know what to avoid in design and how to fix a mediocre playbook.

We know that world-class sales playbooks serve the right value propositions, coaching messages, competitive advantages and key activities to the seller at the right point in the sales process. Playbooks that leverage institutional best-practices while focusing reps on the key “plays” in the process can improve productivity by as much as 15%¹. Achieving these types of results can be relatively simple with thoughtful design and persistent upkeep. However, several pitfalls exist. Here are three of the most common:

Too Broad – Playbooks that try to “boil the ocean” create two distinct challenges. First, when you attempt to capture all the possible plays, you will quickly find an endless number of options … and a commensurate number of design sessions needed to capture them.

Additionally, once you have cataloged the complete anthology of plays for your reps, they will not have the ability or energy to consume what you created. No seller wants or needs the War and Peace version of how to execute your strategic vision.

To avoid infinity and beyond, AGI recommends a tactical focus on the key plays that capture approximately 80% of the common sales motions. Add structure to your playbook by thinking in terms of Levels 1, 2 and 3 knowledge:

Level 1 – the key stages of the play;
Level 2 – the most important activities within a stage; and
Level 3 – a detailed procedure manual.

Design Level 1 and Level 2 for all key plays. Reserve Level 3 for the most complex scenarios (e.g., introduction of a new solution or product).

Too Narrow – Myopic playbooks also present a few unique challenges. Although you should subscribe to the “keep it simple” philosophy, beware of over-steering your design into an unhelpful lump of “duh” moments for sellers. A playbook without sufficient meat on its bone will quickly send a sales leader into the depths of Bright Shiny Object Syndrome (BSOS), chasing a different sales enablement tool.

Avoid BSOS by constructing the right design team. Use high performers and seasoned sales leaders to define the right plays (remember the 80% rule) and construct the most impactful actions, value proposition statements and rules-of-engagement for those plays.

Playbooks that demonstrate immediate, accessible value provide quick wins and traction for future use as you refine and update the playbook.

Not Integrated – When I sit across from a sales leader who remarks, “We had playbooks; they were good for a while but we don’t use them anymore,” my first question is, “How often  did your managers open the playbook alongside their reps?” The number one failure of disused playbooks is not the quality or quantity of playbook plays; rather, it is the lack of integration into a routine coaching cadence.

The secret sauce of a good playbook is that it becomes most powerful when used concurrently between manager and rep. Conducting pre-call planning sessions and post-call reviews with a playbook in hand provides structure to reinforce the right activities and eliminate bad habits. Automated playbooks with built-in business intelligence take it to a higher level as managers can see in ‘real time’ (1) how deals are progressing, (2) where reps are stalling and (3) when to call in additional resources.

Awareness of these three common playbook pitfalls can bring a more thoughtful design and the know-how to fix an ailing playbook.

Learn more about these and other potential pitfalls in Sales Playbooks.

¹Alexander Group Benchmark Database


Kyle Uebelhor

Kyle Uebelhor is a principal in the Chicago office. He is a leader in the firm’s Manufacturing and Distribution practices. Kyle’s clients include leading companies throughout manufacturing and wholesale/distribution. By applying deep industry expertise and a pragmatic approach to each situation, he helps companies achieve their organic growth objectives. He brings nuanced perspective to the complexities of sizing the total available global market, delivering differentiated value, creating omni-channel designs, and motivating partners and the commercial team. Kyle frequently speaks on sales enablement topics. He has authored several articles and whitepapers including “The Power of Playbooks: Execute Your Vision” and most recently “Digitizing the Revenue Growth Model.”

Prior to joining the Alexander Group, Kyle spent 10 years in commercial banking. As a relationship manager and lender to large middle market companies, he developed a broad expertise across numerous manufacturing industries and developed solutions-based selling strategies with his C-suite corporate clients. Kyle has an MBA from the University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business and B.A. from Wabash College. He is also a Certified Sales Compensation Professional (CSCP).