The term sales playbook and sales plays are used extensively in both sales and marketing.
According to Hubspot, “A sales playbook is a document outlining your sales process; buyer personas; call scripts and agendas; sample emails; discovery, qualification, demo, and negotiation questions; proposal guidelines; and competitive intelligence guidelines. In other words, a sales playbook arms your reps with all the content and strategies they need to close a deal.”
According to Solution Insights,
- A sales play “is a repeatable offering and associated sales motion that helps specific sales teams (or channel partners) successfully sell a product, service or solution to a specific set of customers during a pre-determined period.
- A sales playbook is a concise set of directions, tools, content and resource links that will be used by the salesforce to understand and execute the play.
Based on these two descriptions, sales playbooks and sales plays should help us close deals.
My interest is how effective they are supporting us close deals, considering each buyer will have a unique set of buying challenges.
Focus on prospective customers’ struggle to buy
Brent Adamson, Distinguished VP, Advisory, at Gartner, sums up the buyer challenge perfectly. “As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling; it is our customers struggle to buy.”
Gartner identified six B2B buying “jobs” that prospective customers, must complete to their satisfaction to successfully finalise a purchase decision:
- Problem identification. “We need to do something.”
- Solution exploration. “What is out there to solve our problem?”
- Requirements building. “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?”
- Supplier Selection. “Does this do what we want it to do?”
- Validation. “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.”
- Consensus creation. “We need to get everyone on board.”
Have our prospective customers acknowledged their situation?
If a prospective customer has not accepted their situation or has a biased view distorting their perspective regarding risks ahead, launching into helping them with identifying the problem and pressing home they need to do something, will probably fail.
Consider your sales demos, sales playbooks and sales plays. How often do those using them launch into selling the virtues of your company, the solutions, products and services you are selling? Most are launching directly into a sale, pressing home why your prospective customers need to do something.
A sales playbook and sales play is a story waiting to be told. Good storytelling needs an exposition that sets the scene before we launch into the struggle. The equivalent to an exposition in storytelling is making our discovery in our selling journey.
Good selling requires us to uncover and discover insights prospective customers are unaware of and the risks they face, so they first acknowledge they need to do something about it. Providing these insights early on in a sales engagement is the foundation for building a value-based sale.
A sales playbook and sales play should be a story waiting to be told
Tell a good story, and it will evoke emotions helping our prospective customers connect with us, and connect our story with their experiences and struggles.
Good salespeople intuitive know this and use stories to connect with prospective customers quickly. They know they have to do a lot of “selling” to discover and earn trust before they can help them with their struggle to buy. Our sales playbooks and sales plays must help them along this journey, helping buyers with their struggles.
Gartner’s research findings highlight that when B2B buyers are considering a purchase, they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers. The selling challenge gets tougher when buyers are comparing potential suppliers — the amount of time spent with anyone sales rep may be only 5% or 6%.
In the sales blog – Help buyers make better purchase decisions , I discuss the role Smarketing has to play to help prospective customers move along their buying journey. Our digital marketing channels must connect with prospective customers and tell a good story to grab their attention before they contact us.
A sales play is a baton passed to sales reps in a relay race to win a deal
These stories provide the platform and value for salespeople to earn buyers trust and build trusting relationships to be awarded a value-based sale in the short time they have working with buyers.
The sellers’ challenge is that the average buyer is not contacting sellers until they are 57% the way through their buying process. I discuss this and other sales challenges in our sales guide – Sales Pipeline Guide for Sales Teams & Business Owners.
Given the fast reducing time our sales reps have to work with buyers, we have to be memorable and remarkable.
A prospective customer is more likely to remember our organisation or offer based on our story and how it made them feel, rather than the data and statistics around why our solution, product, service, or organisation is valuable to them.
These stories are a baton in a relay race to help sellers be more competitive and awarded the deal. A sales playbook and sales play carries and moves forward the story started by Smarketing. The story, therefore, must be incorporated into our sales playbooks, and sales plays allowing sales reps to continue the story once they connect with prospective customers.
What was once undertaken by a sales rep now needs to be undertaken without the buyer contacting you. Smarketing has become a critical activity for sellers in today’s business to business sales world to master, which I discuss in the sales blog – Help buyers make better purchase decisions.
Our sales playbooks and sales plays must take Smarketing’s story baton and continue running with it, helping buyers along their buying journey. It needs to help sales reps to quickly identify who the influencers and buyers are within prospective customer organisations.
Our focus must be for buyers to say “That’s Right!”
Good salespeople know they need to discover insights buyers will value quickly. Chris Voss, in his book, Never Split the Difference, negotiate as if your life depended on it, provides us with valuable guidance. He talks about investing the time to listen to our audience actively. Voss calls this tactical empathy. He guides us to follow up on our conversations, summarising what our prospective customers need.
“So you need a tool to include with your sales playbook and sales plays, that will guide your sales reps on the conversations required to maintain an accurate sales forecast. Foster value-based selling, and increase sales values, ensuring your sales teams achieve their sales quota targets. You need a tool that will grow your immediate and longer-term sales pipeline, increase your deal sizes, forecast more accurately, and close deals quicker?”
It is the response from buyers and influencers we need to be working towards according to Voss. He calls these the sweetest two words in any negotiation.
Getting to “That’s Right”, or a statement that confirms their agreement what we say is right, requires us to have a plan working towards it. Our sales playbooks and sales plays must guide us to prepare to get to “That’s Right” and executing a formidable sales closure.
Secure purchase influencers’ and buyers’ attention we can help
In the sales blog – Help buyers make better purchase decisions, I discuss why we should not be obsessed with moving our solutions, products and services through our sales pipeline. Instead, we should become obsessed with helping buyers move through their buying journey, helping them with their buying struggles to make good purchase decisions that include our solutions, products or services.
During a conversation with buyers, good salespeople intuitively know they must keep moving forward, but, at times they must be prepared to take a step backwards and regroup.
Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator. In his book, Never Split the Difference, negotiate as if your life depended on it, he refers to this moving backwards and forwards behaviour as the Behavioural Change Stairway. The FBI developed this behaviour model, which Stanford University summarised in their article, What can the FBI teach us about behaviour design?
Voss explains, if we get stuck on one step, move back one or more steps, and start again. Keep doing this until you reach step five when your audience has accepted their situation and changes their behaviour.
- Step 1: Listen actively.
- Step 2: Demonstrate empathy and compassion.
- Step 3: Build a rapport and get prepared for the fourth step.
- Step 4: Influence our audience.
- Step 5: Our audience changes their behaviour.
We cannot change buyers’ thinking, but we can influence their perception
We cannot change our audience’s thinking. However, we can change how our audience perceives their own situation. Succeed here and we step up to the fifth step when our audience changes their behaviour.
Rather than focus inwards on our sales process, products, services and solutions. We need to focus on the buyers’ journey and helping with their buying “jobs” and overcomer their buying struggles.
Our sales playbooks and sales plays are a critical sales tool guiding and enabling our sales teams to become outward focused on helping buyers. Sales playbooks and sales plays need to guide us to reach the fifth step. Only when we get to this step can we become effective selling and closing deals. It is at the fifth step will we can be effective in building a value-based sale because our audience has acknowledged and accepted where they are.
We can only ever achieve this outcome when we have invested the time to understand our audience’s situation. It is during this process, moving up these five Behavioural Change Stairway steps we earn our audience’s trust to help them with their buying struggles to move through their buying journey.
That help is perceived as valuable and is the foundation for delivering a value-based sale. It is why Brent Adamson, Distinguished VP, Advisory, at Gartner, said. “As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling; it is our customers struggle to buy.”
Understand our buyers’ fears to help avoid their emotions being highjacked
Having established rapport and started earning trust by actively listening to our audience, Voss recommends we repeat back their fears and concerns.
In our example above, when we secured “That’s Right!”, our sales playbooks and sales plays often miss altogether supporting sales teams develop this important selling skill. It is one reason why sales playbooks and sales plays struggle to support sales teams to build a value-based sale and forecast accurately.
This conversation process when we give our audience’s fears, risks, threats and goals a name is called labelling. It is powerful because it creates feelings within our audience of well being, safety and trust towards us. According to Voss, using labels interrupts the part of our audience’s brain called the amygdala that generates feelings of fear.
Getting to “That’s Right!” as early on in our buyers’ journey is important to our buyers because it helps them avoid their amygdala being highjacked.
Amygdala highjacking is very real and is occurring all the time in sales without us ever know it is happening. It is a personal, emotional response that is immediate, overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus (situation) because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.
Avoiding buyers’ amygdala being highjacked helps them better deal with their buying struggles. By helping buyers better understand their situation, we help them better understand the risks and threats ahead. It is these threats that generate the fear in our buyers’ mind and are often out of measure with the actual situation when they do not have a rational, objective understanding of the situation they face.
Getting to “That’s Right!” as quickly as possible in the buying journey is also important to us, the sellers, because it helps us have a clearer purpose why we do what we do. It focuses us on “Sell the problem you solve, not the product”. Getting to “That’s Right!”, and our stuff suddenly becomes a whole lot cooler. I discuss this from another fascinating selling perspective in the sales blog: What is the human cost of not having an inspiring business purpose .
We get to “That’s Right!” by actively listening, asking the right questions to earn buyers’ trust and discovering insights. We use these insights to present how we can help buyers deal with the threats they perceive to help them better manage their struggles to make good buying decisions.
Focus on earning our buyers’ trust
To help influencers and buyers along their buying journey, we need to keep looking for and working towards that subtle epiphany. The Aha moment is when they have a breakthrough in their thinking how they perceive their situation. That occurs when they say “That’s right!”.
Only then, when we are at the fourth step on the Behavioural Change Stairway, can we start to exert our influence and build a value-based sale. That is because we are better managing our prospect customers, the buyers and influencers’ emotional feelings how to deal with the business risks threatening them.
It is now we can focus on guiding and help bring their epiphany, that aha moment into reality using our proposed solution.
Buyers will then feel more compelled to bring us into their confidence. We now have the foundations for a trusting relationship.
Voss explains questions that focus on securing a “Yes” or “Maybe” are passive, whereas “That’s Right” is an active commitment our audience makes to themselves. “That’s Right” is powerful because people will change their behaviour to be aligned with active commitments they have given.
To be effective influencing our prospective customers, influencers and buyers, we need to sharpen our questioning skills. We need to move our audience to a position that they trust us to do x.
Rachel Botsman, in her book, Who can you trust? How technology brought us together – and why it could drive us apart, says we need to think of trust as trusting someone to do something. You would trust me to support your sales team to improve their selling skills. You probably would not trust me to drive a tank or fly a plane.
Our sales playbooks and sales plays must focus us discovering insights to understand our prospective customers’ situation if we are to earn their trust and build a value-based sale.
When our audience says, “That’s Right!” is when they have accepted their situation — trying to secure a “Yes” before this point means nothing if we do not know where they are and what they need to do to improve their situation.
Pulling it all together…
How effective we are active listening, asking the right questions to earn trust, influencing and moving buyers to make decisions and take action, determines how effective we are forecasting accurately and closing a value-based sale.
Considering each prospect will have a unique set of buying challenges. Our sales playbooks and sales plays must guide us to step into buyers’ situation and better support them handle their buying struggles moving through their buying journey. The better we do this, the more trust we earn to move influencers and buyers to take action, increase the value of deals we are managing, and ensuring we close deals when forecast.
At Nazca Services, we have developed the Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard and online training platform to support sales teams to step into their audience’s shoes, influence and earn their trust, so they take action aligned with our shared outcome goal.
The Scorecard helps and guides us to understand our buyers’ situation, and their priority needs better. It helps us support buyers deal with their buying struggles and work out how we will deliver on our promise.
To transform our sales playbooks and sales plays into that killer sales tool we need. Include a sales prospecting tool supporting salespeople have the conversations they need to earn trust, build a value-based sale and forecast accurately.
The Conversational Solution Sales Scorecard and Training Platform, is such a tool that will strengthen our sales pipeline, better manage a value-based sale and improve our sales forecast accuracy.