Sales Playbooks

Cornerstones for Great Playbook Design

So you want a sales playbook?

You’ve realized that a well-designed sales playbook is key to helping you execute your strategic vision and tackle these common sales conundrums:

  • Not enough sellers are following a uniform strategy
  • Left to their own devices they call “audibles,” in effect creating their own sales strategies
  • Legacy sellers are no longer innovating and new sellers do not leverage tribal knowledge
  • Front-line sales leaders are caught thinking “if only I could clone my top performer” and have no idea how to coach mediocre performers
  • Distribution of best-in-class materials is often spotty

But how should you get started?

How do you take the nebulous concept of a sales playbook and turn it into an impactful tool in your sales force effectiveness kit? To begin your journey, you need a Playbooks Design Team. Follow these four principles and you will be off to a great start:

Sales Playbooks design principles

Four Cornerstones: Design Team Principles


Start with a cross-functional design team of 6-10 individuals. Each team member contributes expertise and “owns” the output. A winning formula includes hands-on contribution through a series of four to six in-person design sessions over the course of one month. Ideally the design team continues well beyond the initial playbook launch and serves as the playbook’s curators over the first year or more of the life of the playbook.

The team requires sales leaders, marketing representatives and sales operations/training executives.

In addition to a sales leader with line-of-sight into the executive strategy, your team should include several top-performing front-line sales managers. These folks need experiential knowledge of what works (and, just as importantly, what has been tried and didn’t work) and credibility within the sales organization to convince skeptics to try something new.

Including a marketing representative ensures that the latest and highest-value collateral finds its way into the right place in the playbook. Frequently, the cross-pollination of ideas between sales and marketing in playbook design sessions uncovers new and better ways of presenting your company’s value.

Finally, the team needs a respected member from sales ops or training. You will want this person to be more than just the housekeeper in charge of tactical updates and version control; he or she should be empowered to add critical thought to the ongoing design process. These individuals often act at the liaisons between creative types from marketing and sales gunslingers.

Top Performer Driven

We have seen sales playbook teams fail to deliver because they lacked horsepower. It is a short-sighted mistake to convene a team of only individuals who have the bandwidth to devote to an extra project. Instead, you want the top performers and leading practitioners from your company to assemble your playbook content. Therefore, you will likely need to call on those with the least amount of time to commit. The best playbook designs come from a team stacked with winners.

Remember, it takes expertise to make the final product feel as if it were written by a seller for a seller.


Successful playbooks don’t begin with a one-and-done approach. Creating and launching a first generation, user-ready playbook that is perhaps 75-90 percent complete should be the goal.

Two things happen when employing this approach. First, the 80/20 rule holds true for playbook design – the last 20 percent of content will take 80 percent of time. Diving deep to get Six Sigma correct will put your playbook on an indefinite delay. Second, world-class playbooks, especially those that are automated, build in a feedback mechanism that enables the design team to perpetually improve the playbook via natural selection. In Darwinian fashion, ineffective elements become extinct and the best, new practices flourish.

With the team assembled, you will need a game plan. Using an iterative design process, most organizations have a fully functional playbook ready to launch before their next earnings release. The daunting task is made easy when the team focuses on one or two primary functions and develops a plan from start to finish.

Highly Visible

Extracting the value from your newly-created playbook requires three things: communication, communication and…you guessed it, communication.

In advance of the launch, begin with top-down communication from the executive sponsor to the entire organization. This message provides a platform to explain the sales team’s vision. It also stresses that the playbook is not just another sales force effectiveness initiative, but it helps coordinate most, if not all other sales team tools.

Front-line sales leaders continue the message as they embed the sales playbook into their sales planning and coaching culture. When done right, the playbook becomes the script for one-on-one mentoring and team development meetings. In fact, great playbooks develop a distinctive vernacular that becomes ingrained in the sales team’s daily life.

Finally, the field leverages the playbook as a vehicle to communicate throughout the organization. By setting the expectation that you want feedback from the field, you will see increased adoption and improved playbook content. The playbook design team acts as the intelligent designer and feedback arbitrator for subsequent playbook generations, therefore ensuring its relevancy as your sales strategies mature.

Making it Happen

Our research indicates productivity increases of 15 percent or more are possible when playbooks are correctly deployed. Given this potential lift, coupled with the knowledge that creating your own custom playbook is a straight-forward process, isn’t it time to make the investment?

Learn more about how you can better execute your sales vision with sales playbooks.

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