Execute Your Sales Vision


All good sales leaders have a vision they believe will be successful if executed properly. However, as grand as the vision may be, it’s only as good as the leader’s ability to see it executed well by his or her entire team. Whether the vision entails shifting from product-oriented to solutionfocused selling, or leveraging new routes to market, or merging sales forces, or some other flavor of sales transformation, achieving success requires both a clear vision and a sound management model.

From Good to Great

Sales leaders face many challenges in leading the sales force to effectively execute the vision. Somehow, great sales leaders get it done. What is their secret? What are the key differences between good leaders and great ones? At the Alexander Group, we believe one of the key differences rests with the leader’s ability to show the sales force how to be successful — in other words, how to execute the sale. The vision is good at capturing sellers’ hearts and imagination, but the majority of the sales force needs concrete guidance.

The Sales Leader's Conundrum

Consider the following patterns and challenges that trip up most sales leaders, or what might be referred to as “the sales leader’s conundrum”:

And this is just in sales. Gaps also exist between sales and marketing with frequently spotty distribution and uptake of marketing materials. These challenges occur amidst the ever-present pressure to demonstrate immediate results. How can sales leaders break this cycle?

Consider the Power of Playbooks

Imagine everyone in your sales organization executing against one vision. Sellers work from a prescribed set of actions, informed by best practices and the behaviors of top performers in the organization. Likewise, sales leaders know how to coach the sellers to achieve increasingly higher levels of success. Sellers know what marketing materials are available and when in the sales process to best use them, and marketing understands what materials are most effective. If a big transition is coming or underway, everyone in the organization is prepared to adapt and proceeds to change to the new practices in concert.

Sound too good to be true? With sales playbooks, this level of harmony and performance is possible. World-class sales organizations are outpacing their competitors through the use of playbooks. Can you believe the key ingredient that great sales leaders leverage for success is borrowed from the football field? Consider how a football team must drive the ball down field and across the goal line. The guiding force isn’t just the coach or the quarterback — it’s the playbook. It shows the players how to execute the play. Today’s B2B sales environment is marked with increasingly complex and rapidly changing buyer demands. Sales playbooks, more than ever before, can show the sales force how to execute and achieve success.

Turn Tribal Knowledge into Best Practices

A recent Aberdeen Group1 study reveals that when companies identify and document their best practices they outperform others in three distinct ways. First, they have a 10% shorter average sales cycle — they move more deals through the funnel at a faster rate. Second, they have 4% overall higher quota achievement. Finally and most importantly, their top line revenue growth is higher by nearly 6.5%.

Yet simply capturing knowledge and documenting it is not enough. How often has an investment in sales aids started collecting dust almost immediately after being created? The secret to getting those best practices adopted is through playbooks, which is why best-inclass organizations are more than twice as likely to have implemented playbooks.

Playbooks can improve engaged selling time by 15%

Alexander Group research shows that a key difference between best-in-class companies and the rest of the pack is engaged selling time. Our sampling of 350 sales organizations and more than 150,000 sellers reveals the average engaged selling time for a rep is 24% compared with 35% for best-in-class companies. Clients who implement playbooks typically see engaged selling time increase by as much as 15% within the first six months of adoption.

Why Now?

Playbooks are not new. Yet the concept of playbooks is currently having a heyday — a search on Google yields more than a million results, twice as many as six months ago. Why now? We believe there are several factors driving the need for sales playbooks:

“Playbooks have become an instrumental tool in helping to translate business strategy down to the day-to-day tactical plans for the organization.” 

Healthcare Sales Executive

Types of Playbooks

When does a playbook have the most value to the sales organization? There are several different types and use cases for playbooks. In this paper we describe four distinct types of playbooks, each designed to meet specific challenges in an organization:
  • Execution oriented
  • Activity focused
  • Barrier removal
  • People management
  • Region development
  • Business improvement
  • Transformation primer
  • Executive strategy
  • Quick wins in a new world
  • Guide for new hires and their managers
  • Acceleration to fully functional
  • Tactical and practical

1. Sales Process Playbooks

The Struggle to Move the Middle

The sales process playbook is the most common playbook type meant to address a basic problem of all sales organizations: a lack of consistent execution throughout the sales force.

The typical bell curve distribution of a sales team’s performance indicates opportunity to improve middle performer results by simply adding one or two more deals per year, adding an extra product in each of their deals and decreasing sales cycle time. One or more of these simple improvements can “move the middle” performers a little closer to top performers. Collectively this movement can drive significant results for the organization. What’s the best way to move the middle?

Once again, by capturing and adopting what top sellers do (and when) and translating that into easy-to-understand guideposts. When middle performers replicate the actions of top performers, they improve overall company performance.

Address Bottlenecks, Anticipate Breakdowns

Sales process playbooks can also deliver value when an organization is addressing or anticipating breakdowns in the sales process. Bottlenecks and breakdowns in the sales process occur for a variety of reasons. Common ones include not appropriately qualifying the economic buyer, failing to gain consensus among needed stakeholders or holding onto a “dead deal” too long. However, these breakdowns can often be anticipated when sales leaders are planning ahead for a new product launch or coverage model change. Equipping the sales team to avoid or deftly handle these breakdowns is critical to success.

Sales Process Playbooks: Key Performance Indicators

A sales process playbook captures and translates the behaviors of top performers, prescribing a set of sales actions designed to guard against common breakdowns in the process. The playbook arms every seller with a consistent approach that ties milestones to key activities and guides the effective use of support resources and marketing collateral. This reduces the amount of improvisation and provides the front-line sales leader a valuable tool to help coach consistent execution across the team. Sales process playbooks help improve:

Align with Marketing

A key differentiator between best-in-class organizations and others is the alignment between marketing and sales. Marketing organizations within best-in-class companies are more likely to understand sales goals and measure return on marketing investment. Sales playbooks can serve as a vital collaboration tool for marketing and sales. With playbooks, marketing gets a more detailed understanding of the sales process, learning which materials are used when and where, and identifying gaps that require improved messaging. Likewise, sellers understand the role of marketing collateral in supporting their efforts.


Fortune 50 Medical Device Company Shifts to Enterprise Sales Solution

The complex medical device landscape is among the most dynamic of any sales environment. Faced with major changes in buyer behavior, huge consolidations, shifts toward integrated delivery networks and group purchasing organizations, this Fortune 50 medical device company needed to overhaul its entire sales process.

A sales process playbook proved to be an essential tool to shift from transactional selling to complex, enterprise-level solution selling.

Initially, the rules of engagement for the new sales model were unclear. The company needed to optimize the collaboration of numerous roles in the enterprise account selling cycle. The Alexander Group worked closely with the company to document the sales motions needed to network above the traditional enduser call points. The playbooks were rolled out in 10 countries as the new enterprise coverage models were deployed and played a vital role in guiding sellers in new behaviors. Enterprise contract wins beat expectations by more than 20% in the first 18 months of the new selling model. While sales playbooks cannot be the sole source of that success, the high adoption rates of the new sales process set the company up to win.

2. Coaching Playbooks

Too Much Juggling, Not Enough Coaching

Perhaps the single most important job role in a sales organization is the front-line sales manager. Deliver the strategy and vision down to the sales teams while simultaneously funneling field-level insights up to executives. Yet, often front-line managers act as super-sellers, promoted based on individual sales results rather than coaching or managing ability.

Front-line managers frequently lack focus. Alexander Group’s time benchmarking studies reveal that front-line managers spend too much time in unproductive areas such as administrative work rather than on higher-value coaching. As a result sellers are again left finding their way, while the sales force experiences greater inconsistency in execution.

Time to Maximize Potential

A coaching playbook lays the framework for front-line managers to spend their time on the right activities, condensing and prioritizing what might otherwise seem to be an overwhelming set of tasks. The coaching playbook helps streamline their job and guide them to the activities and behaviors needed for their team’s success.

Coaching Playbooks: Key Performance Indicators

The value and impact of a coaching playbook can be measured. With a coaching playbook in place, front-line managers can increase their coaching time from the average of 13% to best-in-class levels of 23%. The real proof, however, is the impact their coaching has on the team, as evidenced by faster ramp-up time, higher productivity and lower voluntary turnover. The success measures for coaching playbooks include:

The primary reason a sales person leaves his or her job, beyond lack of hope of attaining a goal, is lack of faith in his or her manager to help him or her succeed. Having a good coach’s playbook enables front-line managers to mentor and lead sellers resulting in lower turnover of desired sales talent.


Redefining the Front-line Sales Manager’s Role

In a leading medical device company, the sales force was facing reduced access to physicians and clinical stakeholders, while needing to increase time in front of administrative decision-makers. These corporate buyers are under high cost pressure, navigating the impact of healthcare reform. The med device company needed to rethink the sales roles to focus time on the right buyers and tasks. They decided to establish best practices for the front-line managers, who could ensure each team member received the coaching necessary to adopt the new approach.

The first step involved redefining the district manager role. The new role design aimed to reduce super selling or handling administrative tasks and relationships and increase coaching. The next step involved developing a coaching playbook to provide recommended actions and time allocations for coaching along with tips and tools for managers to find more time for high-value activities. The playbook also offered scripts and guidelines for different engagements with the sales team, including team conference calls, field visits, in-person meetings and one-on-one calls.

The clarified roles, best practices and supporting tools increased manager productivity, enabling them to focus on areas of strategic importance for their district, namely driving more revenue and market share. And with consistent coaching in place, sellers were able to successfully shift to the new relationship model, and overall rep productivity increased.

3. Jumpstart Playbooks

Facing Transformation

Jumpstart playbooks are specifically designed to galvanize and harmonize sales organizations that face transformation. Whether an organization is undergoing a merger or acquisition or a new goto- market strategy, jumpstart playbooks provide the focused information that sales teams need to move in a new direction.

“The biggest impact from the playbook came through aligning roles and responsibilities for each position within the field sales organization,” says a Healthcare Sales Executive. “While the healthcare environment has become more complex, so too has the need for better focus within areas of care of the hospital. The playbook clarifies roles and ensures commercial teams work together as it relates to geographical goals.”

Quick Adoption, Right out of the Gate

Typically big changes are announced at national meetings. Jumpstart playbooks serve to reinforce the message of leadership as the sales teams return to their daily routines. These concise digests, often just 15-20 pages, are designed to ensure quick, consistent adoption of new approaches and new thinking. Sales teams may have process questions — “How am I supposed to interact with this new product specialist that has been placed in my territory?” or “What are the three most important things I need to do today?” These highly-focused playbooks are useful in communicating essential information in the critical first 60-90 days after rollout of a new strategy.

Jumpstart Playbooks: Key Performance Indicators

Sales transformation requires a new set of behaviors that leadership wants to see. Observing and assessing changed behavior is the first measure of success in a transformation initiative. A second important measure is customer satisfaction: How did customers experience the change, and how are we improving our customer relationships?


Software Company Transforms, Jumpstarts Adoption of New Selling Model

A $300M software company faced a constrained market with limited growth potential. The sales organization was struggling with inconsistent sales processes and messaging. They needed to transform into a world-class selling organization with a much greater emphasis on new customer acquisition.

Alexander Group developed a detailed implementation and change management plan for this organization, one geared around a team-selling model. This entailed a sales transformation playbook that included several “quick-hit” action steps for sellers. The company announced the sales transformation initiative at the national sales meeting, and the “jumpstart” playbook was rolled out the next day. Sellers assigned to new roles had their jumpstart playbook waiting for them at their desks and/or home offices. This one-two punch approach helped ensure the new desired behaviors would take hold. The sales force realized high adoption from the start, resulting in a more immediate impact and uplift to the business.

4. On-boarding Playbooks

Accelerate to Fully Functional

Faced with shrinking training budgets and increased demand for real-time results, many of today’s sales organizations have eliminated formal week-long (or even month-long) on-site on-boarding sessions. Yet proper on-boarding requires adequate training on the company, the product, the customer and the sales process. Often today a newly hired seller is placed in the field with an account list and a handshake. Their front-line sales managers fulfill the role of an on-boarding trainer for most if not all on-boarding matters. On-boarding playbooks help guide and accelerate the new hire and his coach from the time of offer acceptance through being a fully contributing team member.

Synchronize your Talent Team Resources

On-boarding playbooks coordinate the multiple strategic and administrative efforts needed to make a new seller productive. Best-practice organizations use these guides to leverage the frontline sales leader in the on-boarding effort. They act as a “Day 0 to Day xx” guide to orchestrate the modular, self-study training sessions, HR administrative requirements, advancement reviews and coaching cadence.

On-boarding Playbooks: Key Performance Indicators

With the cost of non-productivity measured in thousands of dollars per day, the return on onboarding playbooks makes for a logical and easy investment decision.

Facilitated Design Yields Quality Playbooks

For many years now the Alexander Group has created playbooks for world-class organizations. Our experience leads us to believe that the best approach to creating effective playbooks is through a series of facilitated design sessions. Conducting three to four structured, half-day sessions over the course of a month with a small group of top performing reps and a few subject matter experts is the best way to unlock the valuable tribal knowledge and best practices that constitute the playbook. We often use the mantras, “don’t over think it” and “keep it simple.” These two notions keep the playbook design sessions on track to deliver a high-quality output in an efficient amount of time. This team of advisors help construct the first playbook which provides immediate value. But for the playbook to have long term impact, it must be viewed as a living tool, refined and updated on a frequent basis, evolving and improving over time.

Pulling it All Together Through Automation: The Playbook Lives and Breathes

The velocity of change in our selling environments is only increasing, and thus so is the challenge of keeping up with change. The next wave of playbooks are automated versions: online playbooks that are updated and refined in real time. Not only do they deliver the right tools and information at the right time, they provide a real-time, dynamic feedback loop between sales teams, CRM and business intelligence systems and sales and marketing leadership.

Automated playbooks are built on dynamic business logic, so they can deliver even more relevant information and specific plays based on the intelligence in the company’s CRM system. Because these automated playbooks are interactive applications, they allow salespeople to navigate more easily through complex information right when they need it. Playbooks can now be mobile-enabled so sellers have needed information with them on the go.

Dynamic interactive playbooks put the right intelligence in the right hands at the right time. Sellers can access deal-specific guidance, and executives can access far more meaningful intelligence on process adherence, collateral usage and pipeline data.

Closing Comments

Whether you need to “move the middle” toward higher performance, empower front-line mangers to coach, or prime the pump for a sales transformation, playbooks are an essential means to execute your vision. If you are considering using playbooks, keep these seven simple goals in mind:

About Alexander Group

Alexander Group provides management consulting services to the world’s leading sales organizations. When clients need to grow revenue, they look to Alexander Group for datadriven insights, actionable recommendations, and most importantly, results.

Founded in 1985, we’ve served more than 1000 companies around the world, across all industries. This experience gives us not only a highly sophisticated set of best practices to grow revenue — we also have a rich repository of industry data that informs all our recommendations.

More Resources

Playbooks Capabilities Overview

Cornerstones for Great Playbook Design

Want Your CRM to Work? Keep Front-Line Sales Managers in Mind

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