Why are our sales playbooks failing us?

Why are our sales playbooks failing us?

The subtleties of conversation are complex. We should never take what people say literally. The conversation is the surface of sales, whereas real selling is what goes on beneath the surface. Few take the time to go here, which is a shame because these insights give us the greatest leverage building and managing a value-based sale. Taking the time to discover these insights are at the heart of value-based solution selling and enable us to forecast accurately.

Asking the wrong question is a common mistake we all are guilty of in sales. Unfortunately, most sales playbooks and sales plays guide us to ask the wrong questions. Too often, they guide us to ask questions that often confirm our views or beliefs. “Yes” makes us feel better about ourselves. It gives us a false feeling of confidence to push on with what we believe or think is correct.

Unfortunately, a “Yes” or “Maybe” response gives us limited opportunity to discover when, why or how, and other insights allowing us to build a value-based sale. We miss the opportunity to discover what is important to our audience.

When do sales playbooks and sales plays fail us?

Often sales playbooks and sales plays fail because we are not clear on their purpose and expectations we set. The challenge is we often have not agreed their purpose at the outset, and yet we are all quick to settle on expectations what they should deliver.

The problem this creates is satisfying everyone’s expectations without first agreeing their purpose.

Our skill selling is earning trust, influencing and moving people’s behaviour by changing how they feel and perceive what we are communicating. It is why I referred to the conversation being the surface of the sale. Real selling is what goes on beneath the surface.

How someone feels and perceives the message we are communicating, and whether they trust us, is central to our success selling.

Earning the trust and influencing how our audience feels and perceives what we are communicating is how we move them towards taking action — either deciding to purchase, or influencing others to decide to purchase, within a pre-defined period. We need to step into our audience’s situation if we are to build a value-based sale and forecast when we will close the deal with more accuracy.

In other words, selling is influencing and moving others. It is more about people using our products, services or solutions, than the product, service or solution itself.

Our obsession with sales playbooks and sales plays means we overlook the importance for them to guide us, asking the right questions. We are all guilty of asking the wrong questions. Our questions are more likely to be based on confirming our pre-existing beliefs.

When asked “Do sales playbooks and sales plays work?”, without thinking, we say “Yes”. We habitually believe they work without rationally considering their purpose …work to do what?

Habits are hard to change. Research ED says 45 per cent of our waking behaviour is habitual. Under pressure to achieve our quota, we ask marketing for a sales playbook and sales plays. We may even know of a situation where a salesperson who missed their quota target blames the business for not giving them a good enough sales playbook or sales play.

Is this the fault of a poor sales playbook and sales play, poor salesmanship, poor sales and marketing leadership, or all three? To better understand the situation, we need to dig deeper and ask more questions.

What are sales playbooks and sales plays?

The term sales playbook and sales plays are used extensively in both sales and marketing.

According to Hubspot, “A sales playbook is a document outlining your sales process; buyer personas; call scripts and agendas; sample emails; discovery, qualification, demo, and negotiation questions; proposal guidelines; and competitive intelligence guidelines. In other words, a sales playbook arms your reps with all the content and strategies they need to close a deal.”

According to Solution Insights,

  1. A sales play “is a repeatable offering and associated sales motion that helps specific sales teams (or channel partners) successfully sell a product, service or solution to a specific set of customers during a pre-determined period.
  2. A sales playbook is a concise set of directions, tools, content and resource links that will be used by the sales force to understand and execute the play.

When do sales playbooks and sales plays perform well?

I believe sales playbooks and sales plays improve productivity across our sales team, standardise best practices, reduce ramp-up time, and make our salespeople more autonomous.

Sales playbooks and sales plays also make it easier and are less resource-intensive to train new salespeople because they tell our salespeople who their ideal customers are, how they buy our products, their pain points, what to say to them, and more. A playbook saves each salesperson time having to find and learn this information using their initiative.

Without a sales playbook, new salespeople often shadow a salesperson. The risk here is it assumes the guiding salesperson is selling well and not making mistakes.

I also believe providing our salespeople with a sales playbook frees up their time for selling rather than searching for or creating content. According to the CMO Council, salespeople spend 40% of their time searching for or creating content.”

And finally, I believe playbooks and sales plays allow our companies to guide salespeople on using the most effective techniques. And if kept updated, allow us to update salespeople with approaches that have used to great success.

When do sales playbooks and sales plays struggle?

Most sales playbooks and sales plays do not challenge the status quo. Instead, they guide us to ask questions to secure a“Yes” or “Maybe”. Unfortunately, these responses offer us limited value to discover insights such as understanding our audience’s situation, fears and views.

It all comes down to the questions asked, and when to ask the right questions that sales playbooks and sales plays struggle to do well.

Our sales playbooks and sales plays guide us to ask questions that are more likely to be based on confirming our pre-existing beliefs. For example, when asked “Do sales playbooks and sales plays work?”, without thinking, we say “Yes”. We habitually believe they work without rationally considering their purpose …work to do what?

If asked, “Do sales playbooks and sales plays support consistent forecast accuracy?” Most of us would say “No”. This example highlights why carefully considering the reason for asking the question is important. My focus is whether sales playbooks help improve forecast accuracy.

There is value in asking challenging questions that secure a “No” response because they allow us to dig deeper to discover valuable insights. In his book, ‘Never split the difference, Negotiating as if your life depended on it’, Chris Voss says “No” alters the direction of our conversation. A change in direction is our opportunity to keep the conversation with our audience energised.

Most sales playbooks and sales plays are obsessed with securing “Yes”. Unfortunately, a “Yes” offers us little value to build a value-based sales, except that final “Yes!” securing the order.

Do your sales playbooks and sales plays influence and move others to take action?

This question often receives a “No” or “Maybe” response. Asking questions that challenge the status quo is what good salespeople do. The best have become Jedi Masters structuring their questions to secure a “No”.

The reason is surprisingly simple. When you respond with a “No”, you still feel in control. Notice the subtle difference in feeling between the “No” and “Maybe”. Say “No” and you feel in control and strong. Say “Maybe”, and you feel slightly exposed and threatened. That is part of the power of “No” that the best salespeople search out because it allows them to influence how their audience feels while controlling the conversation.

Jedi salespeople have learnt that securing a “No” to their question will also sow a seed in their audience’s mind-influencing how they feel and perceive you and your conversation.

There is also another subtle and unconscious change occurring in our mind. Notice how you feel more open to considering options and alternatives, having said “No”. Jedi salespeople are harnessing this magic that is occurring under the surface of the conversations when working with their sales lead contacts.

Having asked a question to which we receive a “No” response, Voss guides us to look our audience directly in the eye and listen intently. We call this active listening, which Voss refers to as tactical empathy. Our audience is now the centre of our attention. Good salespeople have mastered this skill to influence and move their audience to take action.

Notice also how your audience’s behaviour changes when they know you are focused on them and what they say. Your audience will slow down, listen more carefully and become more diligent, considering what you say. Once again, this is another aspect of the magic occurring under the surface of a conversation.

Good salespeople use these skills to discover insights that allow them to understand their audience’s situation better and earn their trust. Trust is a feeling that goes beyond the conversation we are having.

Do your sales playbooks, and sales plays guide your questioning and active listening?

Depending upon the answer given to our question and the conversation, Voss suggests we do one of the following.

  1. We repeat back a fear or concern they have expressed, which Voss calls labelling. Then we pause allowing the label to sink in and wait in silence, actively listening.
  2. Or we ask a solution based question to understand their opinion better on how to deal with their current situation.

Our actions will slow our audience’s thinking and the conversation down because we both feel in control. Active listening is another part of the magic ingredient that good salespeople have mastered through experience and wisdom.

It is powerful because when our audience perceives we are focused on their situation, they consider more carefully what they are saying and in return actively listen to what we say.

Active listening is one of the most powerful sales tools available to us in sales. Actively listening helps us find those critical insights to build the trust required for managing a value-based sale.

Most sales playbooks and sales plays overlook the subtitles of good questioning and active listening skills. Consequently, they struggle to support a value-based sale influencing and moving others to take action. I believe there are three reasons for this.

  1. Most sales playbooks and sales plays focus on the product, service or solution. They pitch whatever we are selling in a positive light that encourages us to ask questions that secure “Yes” responses. These responses give us a false sense of security and make us feel good. They do little to discover the insights required to build a value-based sale and forecast accurately.
  2. Most sales playbooks and sales plays focus on moving the product, service or solution through a sales process. Selling is not moving product. It is influencing and moving people to act in line with our intent. Building a value-based sale and forecasting accurately has less to do with moving products and everything to do with moving people.
  3. Being effective selling is earning our audience’s trust and being trustworthy. Few sales playbooks and sales plays focus on earning our audience trust because they are preoccupied with the product, service or solution.

Do your sales playbooks, and sales plays support you earn your audience’s trust?

Sales playbooks and sales plays take us to part the way towards a value-based sale. They help us to do an early qualification. To focus on those sales leads that value what we have to offer and have the money to pay for it. Money is the currency at the heart of the transaction our sales playbooks and sales plays are supporting.

The skill to earn trust, influence and move others, to build a value-based sale and consistently forecast accurately, goes beyond money. It requires good salesmanship to develop trusting relationships to close a solution sale when forecast. Rachel Botsman, in her book, Who can you trust? How technology brought us together – and why it could drive us apart, referred to trust as the currency of our interactions with our audience. It is a confident relationship with the unknown.

Most sales processes are inward-facing focused on moving our product, service or solution. They focus on the financial transaction rather than the conversations and interactions required to earn trust and build a value-based sale. Sales playbooks and sales plays are quick to follow. Most support our sales process and consequently, they too become inward-focused.

If we are to earn trust with our audience, we must place them centre stage. Earning trust must be a central theme and purpose for why we are developing our sales playbooks and sales plays.

Trust allows us to be effective influencing and moving our audience. To building a value-based sale and improving our forecast accuracy.

Our sales playbooks and sales plays need to coach and guide us to ask the right questions. To support developing and guiding our active listening skills required to build a compelling close plan. To develop and strengthen when to ask good follow on questions that earn our audience’s trust to disclose more insights.

The better the insights, the more accurate we become forecasting when our deals close. The more trust we earn, the greater our opportunity to build a value-based sale.

Pulling it all together…

A salesperson missing their quota target and on target earnings is ultimately down to poor salesmanship and poor sales and marketing leadership.

Our obsession with sales playbooks and sales plays must also accept some responsibility. We often overlook the limitations caused by not agreeing on their purpose from the outset. Most sales playbooks and sales plays are effective, focusing us on our products, services and solutions we sell. They help guide us to be more effective getting into a position to find our ideal target audience. To better manage our time and initial sales qualification.

However, most sales playbooks and sales plays fall short guiding us on the conversations we need to have to earn trust, influence and move people. Because they are inward-focused on our products, services and solutions, they often ignore the conversations, interactions, and questions we need to be managing that earn our audience’s trust.

That trust enables us to influence and move them and be more consistent closing a value-based sale when forecast.

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