5 Ways an Industrial Sales Playbook Can Accelerate Results

Ed Marsh | Oct 18, 2023

Using a Sales Playbook in All Phases of Complex Sales

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to Episode

  1. Checklists are proven to reduce mistakes and improve performance.
  2. A sales playbook is a checklist that can be used at multiple stages in the sales process.
  3. Sales managers can use a sales playbook to improve coaching, and reps can improve effectiveness in pre-call planning, post-call debrief, role playing and opportunity qualification.
  4. Sales playbooks are a form of sales enablement that can improve sales force automation and save reps time while boosting sales effectiveness.

Transcript follows:

I’m Ed Marsh and this is SignalsFromTheOP. Signals is my biweekly video blog. I try to provide early warning of important changes in industrial sales and marketing; like a military observation post does in a defense. I hope you find value and would ask that you hit the like button, subscribe, and share this with others who might benefit.

Checklists Reduce Errors and Ommissions - in Aviation, Medicine, and Sales

Let’s talk about the importance of an industrial sales playbook and checklists.

These are critical tools that I find are generally disregarded by industrial sales teams.

Maybe the best place to start is by talking about the origin of checklists. Pilots have long followed checklists. They follow them for all stages of flight and countless unlikely but possible eventualities.

In 2009, Dr. Atul Gawande made waves when he published his book Checklist Manifesto – How to Get Things Right, which explored how simple checklists in healthcare not only dramatically reduced negative outcomes but also contributed to improved outcomes.

Checklists work. They help us avoid skipping steps when we’re busy, tired, stressed, or even settled into routines.

Checklists can help us in sales, too.

They should be used for various steps in the sales process, including:

  • pre-call planning and research
  • post-call debriefs or, to use another military analogy, AARs or after-action reviews
  • discovery calls
  • throughout the opportunity qualification and continuous requalification process

Incorporating an Industrial Sales Playbook into Your Sales Organization

So, what do checklists look like for complex capital equipment sales?

You can use them in many different formats. The simplest is a paper form that outlines the steps and requires someone to check boxes for their completed steps.

Digital tools like CRM, sales force automation, and collaboration tools can improve on that.

One great example is what HubSpot calls their Playbooks. (Sometimes in industrial sales, "playbook" is used as a synonym for sales process. In this context, what I mean is a dynamic way of collecting data around a certain topic.)

A good example is a prospecting call or discovery call playbook.

That might list some sample questions and key data points to be collected and make contextual suggestions that are prompted based on the collected information.

Discovery conversations must be free-flowing, so you don’t want the playbook to make it stiff, but you do want structure enough not to waste the prospects’ time and to collect enough info to make informed decisions about the next steps.

You can also identify certain properties that must be completed before a call to help create a culture and habit of preparation that makes the calls more productive and more satisfactory for prospects who sense that reps arrive prepared.

Using Data Enrichment to PrePopulate an Industrial Sales Playbook

It's also helpful that certain playbook info can be prepopulated. For instance, if you use HubSpot’s OpsHub for data enrichment, you might automatically fill in some details about the contact and company to save the rep some of that research time.

You can also use info from a playbook to populate other properties. For example, suppose the playbook is designed to aid in capturing the prospect’s compelling reason to buy. In that case, you might have some qualitative information (a couple sentences of text), the cost of doing nothing and the cost of change (numeric currency fields), and confirmation of the prospect’s endorsement of those numbers (maybe a checkbox) as properties which would then automatically populate in the opportunity record.

Using Sales Playbooks to Improve Sales Manager Coaching Pipeline Accuracy

We can also use checklists and properties in the sales pipeline in a couple of different ways.

In one case, we can use the questions as a great roadmap for role-playing and pre-call planning – in other words, not just a guide to be followed while on a call, but a guide for preparing. And after a meeting, when fields are empty or inadequately completed, they are great opportunities for sales management post-call debriefs in conjunction with a review of call recordings and then role-playing to lock in techniques to be tried on the next call.

Another way to use fields in deal qualification is as gates on advancing or forecasting a deal. Let's look at the earlier example in which we’re quantifying the opportunity cost of doing nothing compared to the cost of your solution and other change costs. You might look for certain automatically calculated ratios that would be used to determine a deal’s quality.

It’s also possible to use checklists and playbooks in the other way – certain fields and data can be required for qualification, or the absence of certain data, or the length of time since it was last updated can be used as a trigger to reduce the likelihood.

Resistance to Change and Sales Playbooks and Checklists

Gawande’s research found that many physicians resented checklists. They thought they somehow meant that their professional expertise was problematic. And they refused.

Of course that was exactly the problem, under stress, and when things become routine, oversights are common.

So using sales checklists and playbooks like this can be annoying for reps accustomed to playing it fast and loose – you know, the same reps who tell you every month that a deal is still viable and going to close in weeks….and it never does.

So there’s certainly some change management. But generally, really busy, effective, and motivated reps will value the processes that help them improve their efficiency and forecast accuracy, so they optimize their technique and focus on deals that will close.

Just imagine what an accurate pipeline and sales forecast would do for your business!

I’m Ed Marsh. If you found value in this episode of Signals from the OP check out the full playlist and maybe even like it, share it and subscribe – either to my YouTube channel EdMarshSpeaks.TV or at the related blog SignalsFromTheOP.com.