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ATD Blog

Building a Practical Sales Playbook

Thursday, February 14, 2019

By now, most sales enablement professionals recognize the value of a sales playbook. While it can take a tremendous effort to build and maintain this living resource, it quickly pays dividends when salespeople are driving consistent activity across the various stages of your sales process. So, whether you are taking a fresh look at an existing resource or have resolved to finally tackling this initiative for the first time, here are some things to keep in mind when building a practical sales playbook.

Design for Salesperson Consumption

While these tools most often originate in sales enablement, operations, or field leadership, the intended audience is the frontline sales person and any supporting team members. For this reason, one of the first decision points around how to build or improve a sales playbook is around achieving balance in the way it is designed. This means keeping the necessary level of detail to support the right actions, but communicating the detail in a way that salespeople don’t glaze over when they attempt to find what they need at a moment’s notice. A practical way to achieve both is to isolate the choice nuggets of any page or section and then box it out, placing it right upfront with a note for the salesperson to reference the full detail if more is required. The same approach can work with digital playbooks, where references become links to more robust information.

Another way to design the material for salesperson consumption is to include as much scripting as possible. When a playbook both describes best practices and is generous with scripting, it reduces the learning curve on things that may be new or outside of someone’s comfort zone by making it easy for the salesperson to lift, adapt, and deliver. While many playbooks offer scripting, if the goal is to improve the tool, aim to increase the scripting around more opportunities. These could include how to work through various objections, negotiate pricing pushback, and navigate good post-sale transitions between the client and the service team. Most salespeople will say that there is no such thing as too many examples.

Apply Instructional Design Principles

Regardless of which internal role originates the sales playbook, there is an opportunity to engage individuals with subject matter expertise in instructional design and take it to the next level. Quite often, the same skill set that course developers apply to training content can be utilized in bolstering the usefulness of the playbook to ensure it is perceived as the indispensable tool it should be. Instructional designers are often the guardians of integrity when it comes to how information is organized, sequenced, and delivered. They specialize in telling, showing, sharing, and modeling complex concepts.


When an instructional designer is invited to help author or audit a sales playbook, ask that they apply the same critical thinking skills to determine if there is a natural rhythm, flow, and predictability to the resource. Encourage them to be candid about anything that might stand in the way of continuous adoption. Instructional designers can also help with fine-tuning by adding section objectives (which can serve as the “why”), inserting more user tips, and creating greater linkage between concepts across different playbook sections. All of this “art” coincides with the “science” of the playbook and helps turn a tactical tool into a potentially supplemental teaching resource.


Incorporate a Social Learning Mechanism

It is important to recognize that implementing some social learning channels around the playbook isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s necessary to inherent practicality of the resource. Playbooks are there to drive successful client experiences. When the material in the playbook leads to the right sales outcomes and those stories become socialized, the enthusiasm for using the tool increases. Likewise, when salespeople put playbook material into practice and add in their own skill level to move the needle, their peers will get better when they understand both aspects of the success equation. Combining the playbook as a resource with the opportunity for salespeople to talk about it develops its credibility, which drives up utilization and, in turn, creates more consistent activity collectively across the team.

When playbooks are delivered via a cloud-based platform, social learning often looks like a commenting feature that is baked in the solution. Of course, commenting in and of itself isn’t enough. To ensure social learning happens around a digital playbook, put a coverage plan in place to monitor any comments, and begin by expanding upon them to keep the conversation going. However, for less connected or paper-based playbooks it is important to be more intentional about engineering it. Consider adding the playbook as a topic to weekly sales meetings and make it a standing agenda item to discuss. Keep an active list of suggestions and tips so the tool can be updated on at least a quarterly basis to maintain its relevance as a practical, must-have resource for the sales team.

About the Author

Dayna has been consulting with Fortune 1000 firms on talent development and performance initiatives since 2006. She specializes in both instructional design strategy and in sales training. Throughout her career, Dayna has worked with hundreds of clients in Financial Services, Insurance, Technology, Hospitality, Pharmaceuticals, and Professional Services. Dayna has served on various non-profit boards, most recently as the President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), Philadelphia Chapter, where she is currently a board advisor. She is also a thought contributor and author for ATD National’s Sales Enablement Community of Practice and has been asked to serve as the programming chairperson for their 2018 and 2019 Sales Enablement Learning and Leadership conference. Dayna has a Graduate Degree in Organizational Change, enjoys mentoring young professionals, and frequently speaks at events around the country.

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