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Stop Writing Sales Playbooks (Here's Why)


Wed Nov 11 2015

Stop Writing Sales Playbooks (Here's Why)

Recently, I have been reviewing various examples of sales playbooks. My initial reaction: Holy cow! Why? It seems like an awful lot of memorizing is required on the part of the sales reps. 

Let me back up. Just in case you are not familiar with this increasingly popular sales tool, a sales playbook spells out what to do (the plays) in various situations. The plays can be organized by phases in the buying cycle, trigger events, objections, customer type (small business vs. enterprise), or even buyer personas. With all this ground to cover, a sales playbook can easily run 30 pages or longer. See what I mean about the memorizing? 


Sales playbooks can be helpful, though. They are a little like having access to the answer key before a particularly challenging test. (Not that any of you would know anything about that.) Theoretically, if you study the answer key, you should score better on the test. I say “theoretically” because it only works that way if you have a great memory. Because most people don’t have photographic memories, they might score better on the test—but not perfectly. 

This brings me to my issue with sales playbooks: selling isn’t just a test; it is the mother of all tests. Selling is a live event that is fast-moving and sometimes unpredictable, and the seller’s income is at stake. To do well on this particular test, you have to be able to recall the right play at the right moment under a lot of pressure. Unfortunately, you can’t stop the conversation to flip through your sales playbook to see what to do. 

Creating Playbooks During Onboarding 

Most people aren’t really good at this sort of memorization and instant recall. So having some sort of answer key for the “selling” test seems crucial. I just think the sales enablement team, talent development department, or marketing department shouldn’t be the one to create them. Instead, why not have new sales reps create their own sales playbooks during the onboarding process? 

The benefit of this assignment is two-fold. First, it provides a way for new sales hires to synthesize what they are learning into a tool they can use going forward. This fosters deep learning and retention. People are much better at remembering information they’ve constructed than information they’ve memorized. (I still remember more information from that fifth grade report I did on Amelia Earhart than I do any of the information I crammed for the various tests I took. How about you?) 

Second, it gives sales managers a way to see what new sales hires are—and are not—learning. As a result, sales managers know where they need to provide remedial coaching. 


As part of the process, you can have new sales reps share their playbooks with each other and encourage them to “steal” the best ideas from each. Each rep then ends up with a playbook that contains the best material crowd sourced from his or her peers. All you have to do is to provide the playbook template so sales reps know what information they need to fill in. 

If you work in a highly regulated field (such as pharmaceutical clients), you can conduct a workshop with the compliance team that reviews playbooks with their authors to teach regulations and ensure that content is compliant. Explaining why certain material isn’t compliant and having sales reps correct their playbooks accordingly will get a lot more traction than the typical boring compliance lecture or e-learning course.

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