10 Steps to Building a Sales Playbook for Your Startup Sales Team

Building a thriving startup takes more than just a brilliant idea and talented players to sell it. Even the most pragmatic business owners have been tempted to believe that if they just find the right sales team, their product will simply sell itself. But what happens if you manage to assemble a winning team, and instead of going out and conquering the world, they’re ultimately waiting for you to tell them how to make the first play?

Your business suffers when you don’t define your own sales process. According to research from Hubspot, 60% of B2B companies lack a well-defined sales process; but putting one in place can give you the competitive edge you need to grow your business.

That’s where a sales playbook for your startup sales team comes in. A sales playbook is a way of collecting sales best practices and communicating them to your salespeople. Think of it like a football playbook where your team has access to all the plays they need to move them towards the goal line. With the right playbook in hand, your team knows how to effectively communicate with their customers, close the sale, and drive repeat business.

Sales playbooks take some time to craft and execute, but can ultimately help scale your business to the next level. Here are 10 steps to building a sales playbook for your startup sales team.

1. Establish Your Mission and Vision


Your sales playbook can’t exist without first clearly defining and understanding the mission and vision of your business. Sit down with your leadership team to clarify your company’s purpose and core values, and make sure they’re reflected in your business’s brand personality. As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, once said, “If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” Brand loyalty plays a key role in driving repeat business and the sales you need to scale your business.

After you clarify your mission and vision, make sure to incorporate it into the content of your sales playbook. Your sales team will walk away with an explicitly clear understanding of the mission and vision behind your business, which will help them communicate its core values effectively to your target market.

Further reading: At the end of the day, establishing and refining your core values, mission, and vision fuels the prioritization of the customer experience. Check out A Successful Customer Experience Starts with Core Values.

2. Identify Your Buyer Personas

Before you start selling, you need to truly understand who your customers are. Start by creating buyer personas that represent avatars of your potential customers.

You may think you already have your buyer personas in place. You can visualize those potential customers, down to what they look like, what they’re wearing, where they live, and what they’re buying. In reality, a buyer persona goes deeper than that. It’s more than a description of your buyer. Think about what these buyers’ pain points are, what types of solutions they’re looking for, and what motivates them to buy.

But instead of guessing or poring over endless data, just ask your customers directly. Work together with your team and ask your customers for a quick call or meeting to chat about their experience with your company and what they’re looking for. Your buyer personas will become clear and take the pain out of creating this section of your playbook.

Further reading: In order to create effective buyer personas, your company needs to ask key questions and identify goals and challenges. Read Hubspot’s How to Create Buyer Personas for recommendations.

3. Hire Talent with Your Sales Team’s Responsibilities in Mind

It may seem tempting to go out and hire the best talent you can possibly find, and personalize your roles to fit them, but that’s the wrong approach. You first need to define the roles you’ll need to effectively find leads and convert them into customers, and then hire people with specialized skills that fit those roles.

Those specialties can then define their responsibilities and roles in your playbook. An account executive will have a different role than a sales development rep or a customer success rep. Each person on your team should have their individual responsibilities well-defined in order to move through their plays for success.

By hiring with responsibilities in mind, you’ll create a cohesive and successful sales team that’s working together to improve your bottom line.

Further reading: Hiring the right sales team starts with defining their responsibilities and roles, and then finding talent with the specialized skills you need. Saleshacker goes into depth in “How To Build (And Scale) A Successful Sales Team“ to help you create the right team from scratch.

4. Walk Through the Sales Objections

Here’s an area of your sales playbook that other businesses may overlook. Once you have your buyer personas in place and fleshed out, you also need to know potential customers’ sales objections. Anticipating every objection from “I need to talk with my team” to “I’m locked in a contract with your competitor” gives your sales team an edge over the competition.

Walk through a cold calling script to practice working through those objections and build confidence before your team ever picks up the phone. Once your team knows the right plays to handle customer objections, they can counter with a winning strategy and close the deal.

Further reading: Familiarize your team with common sales objections and how to combat them with this article from the RamblAI blog: Common Sales Objections and How to Overcome Them.

5. Outline Compensation

Compensation shouldn’t be vague and confusing, nor too complicated for your sales team to understand. HubSpot offers the solid advice that when your sales team understands how the commission structure works and benefits them, they are more likely to execute on it.

Determine whether your team will work on a commission-only structure, if they’ll earn extra bonuses for volume, a traditional base plus bonus, or any other structure that works for your business model and industry. Whatever compensation model you choose, make sure it’s clear and concise and motivates your sales team to hustle.

Further reading: Figuring out the right sales commission structure will vary depending on your business model and the talent you recruit. Read the article How to Design a Killer Sales Compensation Plan to find the right structure for your company.

6. Leverage the Right Tools

A successful sales playbook that makes an impact needs more than just ideas and strategies. It also needs the right tools to help your startup sales team succeed. Employ the technology tools your team needs, whether that’s Google Docs for spreadsheets to keep track of contacts, or SalesLoft to automate and scale direct outreach efforts.

In addition to that, you can improve the processing of customer inquiries with ACD. All incoming calls will be automatically distributed to specific departments in your company.

This is the time to outline what tools your team will use to leverage productivity and success, including CRMs. Your startup sales playbook can also include the type of training involved in using a CRM, what analytic and reporting tools will be used, and requirements for forecasting.

Further reading: To learn more about Automatic Calls Distribution, check out this article on ACD. Regarding the right tools to help your sales team succeed, see this article on the Best 160+ Sales Tools: The Complete List (2018 Update).

7. Measure KPIs

Your sales playbook is only as good as the results it produces. But success isn’t measured just by a closed deal and a check in the book. Your sales playbook should also outline what KPIs to measure, ranging from volume of opportunities, to lead opt-ins and referrals from existing customers.

Rely on the technology and tools used in your business to track the results and measure your KPIs. However, there may be areas you want to measure that require manual testing. For example, listening to your sales team’s calls helps pinpoint common themes that are prompting the sale or pushing your team through those common sales objections. The more you can measure why your sales team is successful and the projects that perform the best, the more you can emulate that success across your entire sales team.

Further reading: Getting your KPIs right can make or break how effectively your sales team works and what they focus on to improve your bottom line. Check out The 4 Most Important Key Performance Indicators for Sales Managers.

8. Focus on the Science of Success

Now that you have your KPIs in hand, it’s time to combine them with hard science. It’s easy to make hypotheses about success and what will empower your sales team, but working off of a hunch isn’t always effective. Instead, Ambition recommends using the scientific method with specific predictions that will be true if and only if your hypothesis is correct, i.e.: “I think that if every one of my people added 15 more calls to their day, we’d see a 5% bump in revenue.”

After working through your hypothesis, it’s crucial to test, take action, and review the results of your test. The end result isn’t just better-defined hypotheses. Using the science of success enables everyone from sales managers to sales teams to ask the right questions and objectively evaluate the answers.

Further reading: To really focus on the science of success, you need accurate insights and techniques from the start. Jill Konrath offers a helpful video on Why Brain Science Matters in Sales.

9. Make Sure It’s Duplicable

A well-researched and executed sales playbook may look incredible on paper, but it isn’t worth much if it isn’t duplicable. This is why focusing on KPIs and the scientific method is so important. They can help inform the sustainability and longevity of your sales playbook to make sure its success can be repeated over and over again.

If your sales team can’t consistently recreate the techniques and intended results of your playbook, then the document you’ve created is really just a guideline. Until your plays can be duplicated consistently, your playbook isn’t going to move the needle toward success, and could end up being a distraction to your sales team instead.

Further reading: A winning, duplicable sales process takes time to develop and test to ensure its success. Sales Hacker goes deep into the process with “Everything You Need To Know About Building & Scaling Your Sales Process.”

10. Create a Sales Playbook Template

As you put together your sales playbook, it needs a ‘home’ and intuitive template that your sales team can rely on. Closer IQ offers a sales playbook template to help you get started documenting your team’s sales process.

Once your template is in place, share it with your team in the cloud for easy access and ask them for feedback. Scheduling a quarterly meeting is also a good way to check in on the effectiveness of the sales playbook template and make changes as needed. Your template shouldn’t be rigid, but rather a living, breathing document that can change as the needs of your business and the industry you serve evolve.

Further reading: Check out other sales playbook templates such as the Sales Process Cheat Sheet from Hubspot or Demand Metric’s Sales Playbook Template.

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