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42754319_mSales playbooks have been integral to sales training, onboarding and ongoing success for many decades. Playbooks—collections of tactics and methods that highlight salespeople’s roles and responsibilities as well as the tactics and metrics to achieve them—have served nearly the same purpose for decades’ worth of salespeople: sell effectively and productively. But as sales cycles become more complex, information becomes more accessible, and buyers become more educated and empowered, sales playbooks have gone through a drastic evolution to keep up. In order to understand how sales playbooks can still enable salespeople to sell successfully, it’s important to understand where they began and how far they’ve come. Below is a brief history of the sales playbook, including how today’s B2B salespeople are using playbooks to excel in a customer-led sales process.

The Three-Ring Binder

Before the Internet, customers relied on salespeople to help them understand how to solve a problem and make educated purchase decisions. The process for salespeople was much more linear and predictable, meaning a static, printed sales playbook was adequate for almost every selling situation. Most new sales reps walked in on their first day and were handed a printed and bound playbook or, even more forward-thinking, a three-ring binder (so pages could be added or removed if necessary). As is expected from a printed collection of assets, competitive information, product specs and training/learning materials, these playbooks were difficult to update and maintain as companies grew and evolved.

The Linked PDF Playbook

The Internet ushered in a new era for salespeople. Buyers were now able to self-search for product information, educating and empowering themselves along the way. Meanwhile, salespeople struggled to catch up to customers who were now in control of the decision-making process; they now needed quick access to key product knowledge and talk tracks for different types of buyers. The Internet did offer a quick solution for reps in lieu of printed playbooks: internal linked documents (typically in PDF format) helped reps find what they were looking for more easily. Instead of fervently flipping through their binders or books, salespeople were able to perform a quick keyword search—and pray that the information they needed was there. But this quick access often led to the realization that playbooks didn’t necessarily provide the information reps needed—and certainly did not deliver it in a customer-centric way.

Digital Playbooks

The shift towards a customer-centric sales process resulted in a need for a more digital sales playbook, one that was digitally native and contextually relevant for each sales interaction. Digital playbooks can more effectively guide a sales rep through the sales process with relevant content assets, minimizing the need to manually search for content. Digital playbooks are typically organized by sales stage and include links to assets, templates and other materials that are relevant for each stage. Some digital playbooks provide access to sales enablement resources, such as online training, FAQs (and answers), and competitive analysis information, and are specific to a sales rep’s job description. For example, if a sales rep is working in a vertical specific to manufacturing, he or she would only have access to information specific to manufacturing products and messaging. While digital playbooks are on the right track to providing sales with everything they need to sell successfully, they are still too static and rigid for the unpredictable, dynamic buyer’s journeys reps are experiencing today.

Deconstructed Playbooks

Heather Cole, Service Director at SiriusDecisions, identifies the next generation of sales playbooks as “deconstructed” versions of our earlier digital playbooks. Instead of static, rigid documents available through manual search by reps, deconstructed playbooks allow buyer-relevant content to be automatically served to sales reps where they’re spending the majority of their time—typically in CRM or email.

Heather stresses the need to align sales playbooks to the buyer’s journey, not the sales cycle, in order to provide more relevant and engaging content that helps buyers make decisions efficiently and effectively. This external content, typically referred to as activation content, should be specific to the buyer’s role, goals, industry, stage in buying process, and any other specificity necessary to have an engaging and productive interaction. Further, deconstructed playbooks should always be up to date with the organization’s newest logos, messaging, and product information.

But the most important aspect of deconstructed playbooks—and the most notable difference between the digital playbooks of yesteryear—is flexibility. Salespeople should be able to easily navigate easily through the content they need to prepare for or execute a prospect interaction. If playbook content is available in CRM, it should be tagged and mapped to specific prospects by industry/vertical, role, and stage in decision-making process so reps don’t even have to search. Organizations can also employ a tool like LiveDocs, which allows reps to quickly build and customize a unique playbook using an individual prospect’s demographic information. Using traditional digital playbooks to manually build the number of single-use playbook permutations necessary for every buyer interaction would be impossible—or at the very least, a massive waste of time.

Playbooks have come a long way since the three-ring binder era. But many sales organizations are still operating with static playbooks, which, even if delivered digitally, can become quickly outdated for sales reps and aren’t focused enough on the customer. Deconstructed playbooks are the best way for organizations to adapt to a customer-led buying process, provide reps with efficient personalization capabilities, and increase overall sales effectiveness.