Sales Playbook – Part 2
(This is the second in a series of posts regarding the development of the modern sales playbook and its value as an evolving formula for improving corporate revenue performance. See Part 1)
In 1977, Stanford University named the cerebral (though relatively unknown) Bill Walsh as its head football coach. That year, he took a moderately talented Stanford team to a national ranking and a victory in the Bluebonnet Bowl. In 1979, a dreadful San Francisco 49ers team that had virtually disintegrated in the late 1970s due to mismanagement and poor personnel decisions named Walsh as head coach and general manager. Over the course of the next eight years he orchestrated three Super Bowl championships for the 49ers, relying upon a retooled organization model which the sports press dubbed “The Team of the ’80s.”
Luck? Talent? Timing? Think analysis, planning, training and metrics. Walsh did what no other coaches of his era had done. He set out to develop long-range strategic and personnel plans for the 49ers. He also focused on what other coaches had considered the minutiae of the game: minute-by-minute choreographing of practices, breaking down individual and group tactics into parts, and defining responsibilities and setting objectives for both players and coaches. The success spawned by his methods and style profoundly influenced what we see today as the modern game of football.
In order to win in today’s economy, enterprise sales organizations must chart a similar course. The old notion of staffing up with the best available athletes and letting it rip, reminiscent of the “build it and they will come” illusion, has proven too risky. The winners have moved beyond just throwing bodies at the problem to carefully choreographing all the elements in what is now a buyer-driven sales process.
Cue the modern sales playbook.
The effort to compile and maintain this living corporate document should be sponsored by the CEO and involve all the functional leaders who enjoy a paycheck funded by customer revenue. In other words, it really needs to be a whole-team endeavor. Why?
The basic components of the playbook — the actionable formations and plays — may vary from organization to organization based on target markets, value propositions and circumstances. But the goal posts don’t move. They mark an end zone that beckons us to score as many points as we can to win our ideal customers. So, the first question we ask is, “Who is our ideal customer?” The follow-on question is, “Who owns the customer?” The responses to these primal questions require a high degree of forethought and specificity from the leaders of all those players who daily apply their energies in the effort to profitably attract and grow satisfied clients.
What is an Ideal Customer Profile?
An ideal customer profile is a description of the company that’s a perfect fit for your solution — not the individual buyer or end user. Your ICP should focus on relevant characteristics of your target accounts, such as:
- Annual revenue
- Size of their customer base
- Employee headcount (companywide and within key departments)
- Technology they use
- Level of organizational or technological maturity
Ideal Customer Profiles vs. Buyer Personas
B2B marketers often question the difference between an ICP and a buyer persona. Does an ideal customer profile replace the buyer personas? Do we need both?
ICPs and buyer personas are not the same thing, but they are closely linked. While the emerging concepts of account-based marketing focus on accounts rather than leads, it’s important to remember that each account is made up of individuals with diverse roles and priorities. We know that each sales opportunity has anywhere from four to seven “decision makers” or approvers who will affect the outcome. This is where buyer personas come in. For example, we may decide that the presence of specific stakeholders within an account constitutes a key characteristic of an ideal customer profile.
Four Key Ingredients Establish the Plan
The methodology for compiling a modern sales playbook begins with four specific components that require cross-functional introspection, analysis and consensus.
1. Customer analysis – Identify the market opportunity, key trends, key buyers, users and influencers. Nail the profile of the ideal customer, the customers’ pain points and preferences and the critical business issues customers are trying to solve.
2. Buying process – Identify conditions or events that trigger buyer consideration, evaluation, and purchase. What are the behaviors of a qualified opportunity?
3. Company offer and value proposition – Describe and clarify what your company offers and the ways in which your products and services address the customer’s pain points and business issues. Clearly define a.) “Why should buyers buy from you?”; and b.) “What is the value buyers receive in buying from you?”
4. Competitive analysis – Detail how competitors position themselves in the market, their selling process, typical moves by each competitor, and recommendations on how to counter these moves.
An open, analytical approach directed from the top tends to unify the leadership team as much as it informs sales process. The answers that arise from this examination reveal much about the culture of your company. In this quest for customer insight, the values of the organization become apparent. These derive from the evident leadership principles that ultimately set the tone for operational behavior. As is always the case, values, like culture, flows from the top down.
Once a consensus emerges on these critical elements, it is time to overlay these onto a portable, repeatable sales process. Recognize that in today’s markets, however, neither companies nor their sales organizations successfully dictate the sales process. As indicated earlier, the complex B2B sales process has become a buyer process that requires awareness and sensitivity to the new question: “How do our buyers want to buy?” All we really know is that we must replace the traditional sales waterfall stages of prospect/qualify/present/demo/propose/close with the relevant action steps, events, milestones, supporting assets and timing to which the preferred buyers will most likely respond.
The most useful sales playbook will thus emerge from a culture and a top-down process that emphasizes the customer and celebrates team success. As Bill Walsh said in his 1993 interview with the Harvard Business Review, “I think of it as the coach’s ability to condition the athletes’ minds and to train them to think as a unit, while at the same time, making sure each athlete approaches his own game with total concentration, intensity, and skill.”
In Part 3, we will examine the specific stages, activities and desired outcomes in a sales model that reflects the realities of today’s business environment.
Steve Quehl is a Sales & Marketing Partner in TechCXO’s Atlanta office. He can be reached at (404) 386-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See his full bio here.