Got a sales playbook? A standardized sales system, like a football playbook, can help your sales team win more profitable business. Designing one requires a specific action plan. Here’s how to develop one and execute it most effectively.
One of the greatest things about fall for many people (myself included!) is that it’s football season. Each weekend all over the country, hundreds of thousands of adults and children play the game, using highly structured offensive and defensive systems and procedures designed to achieve specific purposes. The best teams practice hard in order to execute their plays perfectly during the games.
So, at the risk of inflicting sports analogy pain, here’s my point: Football players and fans don’t question the need for detailed systems and structure in order to win. But why do so many salespeople think that structure, systems, and procedures are somehow inappropriate—even demeaning—in sales?
Your Sales Playbook
Sales, like sandlot football, can be a very simple game: Set appointments, make calls, ask questions, and follow up. Sales “players” use their strengths and capabilities to create processes by which they manage their sales activities and communicate with customers and prospects. The question is could salespeople be more effective if their processes were more structured—if there was a standardized sales “playbook,” so to speak?
Evidence from the field clearly suggests “yes.” Just as football coaches have systems that enable them to teach and coach by identifying the effectiveness of different plays and reducing unwanted variations in performance, so a structured sales system gives sales managers the same power to assess the flow and quality of leads and the conversion of leads to customers. This will help reduce unwanted variations and increase sales effectiveness.
A well-structured sales system will help reveal which activities salespeople should be performing—as well as when, how (and how often), and with whom to perform them—at each stage. It can become one of your most important competitive weapons and increase your return on investment as you accelerate your sales revenues and profitability.
How to Do It
Just as a play in football is designed to achieve a specific purpose in specific conditions, so should your sales system. The first set of “conditions” to define is your customers, in terms of three specific criteria:
- Demographics – Use descriptions like company size, industry, number of employees, maturity, etc.
- Psychographics – These are your customers’ psychological profiles, particularly those related to how they buy and what prompts them to buy.
- Likely movement – These are conditions that could be affecting customers, like advancing age, changes in interest rates, expansion into other parts of a region, or changes in technology.
Salespeople need to know exactly who they’re pursuing and, just as importantly, who they’re not pursuing. This is equivalent to telling a linebacker, “You focus on #32. Forget about everybody else. Where ever he goes, you go. If he gets the ball, you tackle him.” If your bank sells to different groups of customers (as defined by their demographics, psychographics, and likely movement), you should define these profiles for each group. Your message to your salespeople should be, “Pursue prospects who fit our profiles, and leave the others alone.”
The next step is to craft a “story” for each profiled group. The story should say why your bank exists in terms of helping meet the challenges your prospects face; prospective customers who hear the story should be able to see themselves in it. The people who don’t see themselves in your story are telling you they’re not likely to be customers.
Designing your System
With a clear description of your prospective customers, their wants and desires, and their preferences in mind, you’re ready to design your bank’s unique sales system. This system should be a sequence of steps over a period of time that will:
- Ensure that you cover the market (touch all likely prospective or existing customers).
- Make accurate assessments of who is and is not likely to be a customer.
- Explore the issues with those who are likely to be customers.
- Make compelling proposals.
- Help customers make good buying decisions.
- Nurture and expand existing relationships.
Your sales system should reflect the most effective practices of your current sales organization, and should be designed to appeal specifically to each group of your prospective customers—reflecting their psychographics, in particular. For example, if the best days for prospecting are Tuesdays, then your sales system should direct salespeople to prospect on Tuesday. If a particular way of exploring needs seems to work best, salespeople should use that method. If blue shirts seem to encourage more sales than white shirts, then salespeople should be wearing blue shirts.
Give each step a name (such as Approach Prospect, Assess Needs, Design Solution, Make Proposal, Implement Solution, and Expand Relationship) and define them in terms of:
- Inputs – What triggers the step to begin and what is brought forward from preceding steps.
- Activities – What salespeople do, what tools they use (e.g., lead generators, prospect lists, scripts) and when they use them.
- Outputs – What signals completion of each step.
This structure brings you and your salespeople several benefits:
- Training and quality improvement – If you see that salespeople can’t or won’t use the sales system effectively, you can develop a clear picture of where additional training or encouragement may be needed.
- Risk management – If your team is using a structured and standardized sales system and tracking its progress through it with each prospect or customer, you have an early warning system that tells you whether you have a sufficient flow of opportunities through the sales pipeline, and whether the sales team’s activities are leading to a sufficient yield of closed business.
- Quality control and yield – Your sales playbook should describe the “high probability plays”—the most effective path to sales success with your clients and prospects. If salespeople “shortcut” the playbook, you can intervene in order to put them back on the high probability path. For example, a salesperson may think he’s at the Make Proposal step because the prospect has asked for a proposal. But when you look at the work that has been completed, you may find there are several activities in the Assess Needs step that still need to be completed before moving on to the proposal.
Tweaking and Improving
When it comes to observing, measuring, and improving your sales system, one more football analogy. Think about the coaches sitting high in the stadium, tirelessly charting plays, filming games, and compiling different statistics. They want to know the facts about what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re observing and measuring your salespeople’s use of your sales system, you (and they) will see opportunities to improve it. Make one change at a time so you’re able to see the impact of each change. Set up control groups or other ways to measure the impact of each change—so you can make your decisions based on facts rather than guesswork.
Nick Miller is president of Clarity Advantage, Concord, Mass., a firm that helps banks generate more profitable relationships faster with small- and medium-sized companies, their owners, and employees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.