Founders typically drive all new customer acquisition when they first create a company. It might start with your first design partners as you’re building a product, then with digging deeper into your network to source new customers. Eventually, as you grow, you’ll need to start hiring salespeople to scale growth and win new business. This is an exciting time in a company’s development and presents both opportunities and risks for founders and CEOs.
It takes a lot of work to recruit great sellers; often, that is the CEO’s focus at this stage. However, recruiting is only part of the equation. A common mistake we often see is a lack of focus on sales enablement.
Here is a common scenario:
A historically high-performing, new seller has been just been recruited from a tier-one B2B SaaS company (e.g., Salesforce, DocuSign, Slack, etc.). At their prior company, they had an extensive onboarding process. This process likely included messaging training, role-play scenarios, buddy and mentoring assignments, and many shadowing opportunities. All the sales support materials were ready and proven for the seller to leverage. The seller arrives at the founder’s company, and there is no formal training. The value proposition messaging is in the founder’s head. The objection handling is in the founder’s head. There will likely be no tested and proven presentations, prospecting emails, or lead-generation support. If they don’t get discouraged, the new seller loses valuable time building all those sales enablement tools when they should be focused on prospecting and winning new clients.
How do you solve for this scenario? Before you set out to buy software or leverage sales enablement tools, you should document any sales curriculum—then you can leverage the many great sales enablement platforms (check out Norwest portfolio company MindTickle) out there. Documenting your sales curriculum will help you generate the content to populate whatever sales enablement solution you use and actually make the training effective.
I recommend that early-stage leaders write a “sales playbook” to get down their initial thoughts and harness all their learnings to date. Of course, the playbook will evolve over time, but it at least gives your organization something to start selling from.
The Benefits of Writing a Sales Playbook
A few of the top line benefits of creating a documented sales playbook:
- The more repeatable your process is, the more consistent (and predictable) your sales conversations are. Your strategies, sales plays and background materials should live in a documented format that can be easily accessed by others on your team. The goal is to make your playbook as repeatable as possible.
- Documentation helps expedite the onboarding process. When you welcome new hires to the team, they’re going to dig through your existing materials to set themselves up for success. With a playbook in hand, they’ll be able to ramp up within a few weeks and start generating revenue faster than if they had to gather all the information themselves.
- Outlines your strategy for if and when you need to change course. As your company matures, the market evolves or industry changes, you’ll be able to evaluate your sales strategy and adapt accordingly. It’s easier to acknowledge when messages or pitches need to change if you have a clearly documented plan to refer back to.
To get started with a playbook, it can be as simple as documenting the below in a Google Doc or Slides format.
At a Minimum, Your Sales Playbook Should Have the Following Sections:
- Industry Overview. This section describes the industry you compete in and sell into, the major players, and trends. This should include commonly used terms, economic models, and trends.
- Ideal Client Profile and Buyer Personas. This section should cover your Ideal Client Profile (ICP). Your ICP should be the company traits of the ideal buyer of your solution. It may be characteristics like employee count or industry vertical, and it can also be more psychographic traits (e.g., a recognized top employer designation). A Buyer Persona is information about the people in those ideal companies that you are actually selling to. They are often designated by department and level as well as other traits, the most important being common pain points and their personal wins.
- Qualifying Criteria. Time is one of your seller’s most valuable resources. To help them, you will want to provide your qualification critters for them to evaluate leads. A part of these criteria may be the traditional BANT (budget, authority, needs, and timing) and criteria that align with your ICP and Buyer Persona. For example, if you are focused on companies between 1,000 and 10,000 employees based on your solution, a seller working on a very small or very large prospect won’t be a great use of their time.
- Your Value Proposition. This should be a crisp articulation of your solution’s value to your ICP and Buyer Persona and proof points that support its credibility. Ideally, your value proposition will have quantifiable data to communicate economic value, especially if you are selling in a recessionary environment.
- Common Objections. Prospects likely have given you many reasons why they won’t move forward with your solution. All of these objections should be written down, and you should have the ideal response messaging for your sellers to leverage to overcome the objections.
- Frequently Asked Questions. Prospects have also likely asked you dozens of questions about your solution’s value, features, and implementation. Writing these down and giving sellers the answers will not only build credibility with the prospect but also shorten sales cycle time if sellers don’t have to chase down answers all over your company.
- Competitor Battlecards. This section details your competition, their value proposition, and how to position yourself to come out on top. Competitors can include a client’s in-house solutions, and the client doing nothing is also a competitor. Messaging to help your sellers convince buyers of the risks of inaction is often just as important as out-positioning a competitor company.
- Your Sales Process. You may not have a formal selling methodology at this point in your company’s lifecycle. You should, at minimum, have a basic sales process* that your deals typically follow and that your new sellers can track against. This is critical to help develop financial forecasts, implementation plans, and your overall resource needs.
- Data Hygiene and Pipeline Management Data Obligations. It is never too early to build a strong data foundation! In this section, you will want to tell your sellers their obligations for maintaining data in whatever systems you utilize. My company has strict obligations around contact, company, and opportunity data (especially opportunity data). Building this muscle inside your company is much easier at the start than re-engineering behaviors when you cross that $100M ARR threshold!
You may also want to develop a “certification” process your new sellers must go through to start selling your solutions. Role-playing various scenarios is one of the best tools I use to help sellers practice. We always record these over Zoom so we can “break down the tape” and the sellers can identify improvement areas.
Your sales playbook, in many respects, is simply capturing all the learning and best thinking of your company’s journey to date. This document will evolve, and you can leverage this solution across any sales enablement or learning management platforms you may one day implement as you scale your sales team.
*What is a sales process? B2B sales process refers to the steps that a business takes to sell its products or services to another business. It usually involves identifying potential customers, qualifying their needs and budget, presenting and demonstrating the products or services, addressing any concerns or objections, negotiating terms, and closing the deal. B2B sales can be complex and involve multiple decision-makers, so building relationships and trust with the customer is critical. After the sale, it’s important to follow up and provide ongoing support to ensure customer satisfaction and retention. The ultimate goal of the B2B sales process is to create a mutually beneficial partnership that drives revenue and growth for both businesses.