Common Sales Playbook Errors

Common Sales Playbook Errors

Sales playbooks are a common tool used in the onboarding of new sales hires. The intent behind them is sound – to accelerate the time to productivity of new sales hires so that they and the hiring company are successful. Seems to be an obvious win/win.

However, in reviewing the sales playbooks of many of my clients and potential clients who are in growth mode (new customer acquisition is their priority), I’ve become aware of three common errors that are made that will hamper the ability of your sales reps to make their quota. They are:

  1. Over-reliance on ICPs (Ideal Customer Profiles)
  2. Qualification and discovery questions developed by product marketing managers
  3. Lack of specific and measurable outcomes delivered to customers

1. Over-Reliance on ICPs

Don’t get me wrong, I think ICPs are helpful and potentially valuable when they are used for mapping ALL stakeholders in the customer’s buying ecosystem. However, they are dangerous when used as the guide rails for a company’s new business prospecting and selling efforts.

For example, if a company sells a marketing service, then surely the buyer is the marketing VP, director or manager? And if the company sells IT services, then VP IT, Director of IT, etc., would seem to be the appropriate buyers. If the company offers a sales service, then it makes sense that the buyers would be VP Sales, Director of Sales, etc., right?

Common sense, yes. And this view of who the main buyer is, is massively flawed (they are influencers in new business sales).

It’s flawed for two reasons:

  1. Most of the time, people who have a VP, director or manager job title are budget assignees – they are given a budget, they do not create budgets.
  2. 95% of the time, these job titles are NOT in buying mode – they are in execute and operationalize mode. Status quo reigns…and introducing change (ALL sales introduces behaviour or process change) is as welcome as a hole in the head. Your new business salespeople are trying to prospect and sell to people who don’t want to buy/change. (No other profession would tolerate this level of inefficiency, but sales does…after all, it’s a number game, right? Please, please, please pick up on my sarcastic tone)

Point 1

Several playbooks that I have read recently spoke to the fact that the VP of this or that, the main ICP that salespeople were tasked with prospecting and selling to, were challenged with securing access to funds to pay for all the initiatives they wanted to do.

Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm, states that a target market is defined by a group of people who references each other when making a buying decision and (most importantly, my emphasis) have access to funds. Prospecting and trying to sell to people who struggle to pay for what you sell doesn’t strike me as a high probability activity…

Let me illustrate this further. A couple of years ago, I was training and coaching a team of SDRs on how to get meetings with C-level executives, in minutes and hours vs. weeks and months – often after sending just one email. A VP of the company decided to sit in on the training, and as these SDRs were prospecting to his counterpart VPs at their must-win accounts, I asked him what the experience was like. Well, after talking him back off the ledge after his rant on lack of research, personalization and poor writing skills, he shared something REALLY insightful. And it was this:

“Even if I wanted to buy what they sell, I couldn’t and that is so frustrating.”

When I asked why that was, he shared that he was assigned a budget and that circa 85% was already spent on existing initiatives. He didn’t have enough budget to afford what the seller was pitching. Pay attention to this. This is a snapshot into the mindset of a frazzled and time-starved VP who is thinking inside the budget box, not being able to see that there is an opportunity here to engage his executive team and ask for more budget to fund a rewarding initiative. That puts your selling efforts at risk.

Point 2

Most ICPs do NOT consider that most of the incoming leads that a company receives from VP, director or manager titles are as a result of someone more senior in the business asking that title to go and research the market for solutions as well as to address a specific challenge or issue that has arisen due to an internal or external trigger event.

Prospecting and trying to sell to that mid-level person (whose main focus is to execute and operationalize prior initiatives) when there hasn’t been a trigger event or mandate from higher up is an exercise in activity. Your salespeople will have to throw as much out there –  emails, cold calls, marketing drops, etc.– in the hopes that you’ll catch the 5% who are in an active buying cycle. This is what the sales herd does based on the mindset that sales is a numbers game. It has condemned generations of salespeople to a life of drudgery. It really doesn’t have to be that way if you make a point of leveraging trigger events and focus your prospecting and selling efforts on C-level executives.

Leader action: Make sure that your ICPs include messaging to C-level executives and that reps start there and work their way down if necessary. This is an opportunity for competitive advantage for you.

2. Qualification and Discovery Questions Developed by Product Marketing Managers

You may have read an article from me recently about salespeople who are “onion polishers” – that is, they only ask superficial qualification and discovery questions that are helpful to the seller, but don’t create any additional value for the customer – as the customer already knows the answers to the question. (Value is created when salespeople ask questions that cause customers to think deeply and differently about their business.)

These questions typically look and sound like these:

  • What system are you using today?
  • How many people do you have at these locations?
  • How many messages are you sending out monthly?
  • What are you using to do x currently?

None of these are necessarily bad. They’re just not particularly good and often used too early in a conversation – as they are aimed at helping the salesperson qualify an opportunity that links to his/her solution (why choose us).

And that is because these are questions that have been created by the person who is most familiar with the solution. Yes, the product marketing manager! They love their creation!

Salespeople need to elevate the level of questions that they ask in their first call to establish a case for change – why change and why now – and should you?

These statements/questions typically look and sound like these:

  • Help me understand what you’re trying to achieve by replacing your current system – whether you decide to choose us or anybody else for that matter
  • Tell me, what are the issues you face when your people are spread out at all these locations?
  • I understand you’re sending out messages today. How are you measuring the effectiveness of those messages today and what would you like that number to be?
  • What are you hoping to achieve by changing what you’re doing today? What will allow you to accomplish tomorrow what you can’t accomplish currently? What’s the value in $ of that difference?

Do you see and hear the difference in these statements and questions?

They are focused on the business outcomes that the customer is looking to achieve – not the solution…yet.

Top performers make sure they have a business discovery and qualification conversation first before they have a solution qualification/discovery conversation. Sequence matters when it comes to discovering and creating customer value.

WATCH OUT! Most sales playbooks do NOT have business discovery questions outlined in them; they only have solution discovery questions.

So, that is what your sales reps run with.

Leader action: Review the qualification and discovery questions in your sales playbook with your top performers. Ask them if they think the questions create value for customers. Ask them what questions they use to elevate the conversation to a business conversation vs. a solution conversation. Include these in the next version of your playbook.

3. Lack of Specific and Measurable Outcomes Delivered to Customers

Specific and measurable outcomes that other customers have achieved are very effective when it comes to persuading new customers to buy. They help sellers sell more, faster – and can be used in written and verbal communications.

And yet, most playbooks don’t have very many quotes and testimonials that speak to the specific, measurable outcomes that current customers have achieved. Most only have high-level platitudes and generalizations that speak to results customers have received. The problem is that it isn’t attention-grabbing or all that persuasive.

And guess what? This is a leadership issue.

  1. Sales leaders lack the business acumen and questioning skills to elicit the before and after results and metrics that can easily be turned into highly effective testimonials
  2. Sales leaders are not expecting salespeople to capture specific current state and desired state metrics in their qualification and discovery conversations, so salespeople don’t do it and they can’t do it because their sales leader doesn’t model this skill. And what you don’t expect, you don’t get. That is a cultural issue

Leader action: Firstly, if you, as a leader, aren’t strong at guiding customers to elicit their business case – what is the issue to be measured, how is it measured today, where are they today (x), where do they want to be (y), over what time period (z), and what is the $ value of that difference – then you need to practice “peeling the onion” or speak to me about mentoring.

Secondly, before salespeople send out their proposals, work with them to ensure that the current state (with specific metrics) is captured and highlighted just like with the future state. Then make sure to revisit the client in three, six or 12 months (a reasonable length of time for your product/solution/service to have had impact) and ask them to share the difference that has been made and what that means in % increase/reduction and dollars (depending if your offering saves/makes money for clients or both). Capture that in a concise testimonial that your whole team can use. Make sure to share across the whole team so that they can all benefit. Put these testimonials in your playbook under a tab called, “Results/Social Proof.”

So, there you have it. Three common omissions in sales playbooks that could be causing your salespeople to miss their quota and your number.

Take advantage of this offer: Concerned that your sales playbook may be sabotaging your and your sales team’s success? Send it over and I will take a quick peek to see if there is anything glaringly obvious that needs to be changed. Confidentiality assured.

And, if you found this article helpful, please share it with ONE sales leader who you think would appreciate it. Or, share with your network on LinkedIn.

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Matt Conway

CEO & Principle at Matthew Conway
If you're a CEO or Sales Leader reading this and you want to fill your pipeline with quality opportunities, win more deals and reduce sales cycles by as much as 6x, then perhaps it's time for a chat?

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Matt Conway
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