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Sales Playbook, Sales Process, and Sales Methodology—How Each Component Plays a Critical Role

By: Teresa Weirich

July 8, 2018

Sales playbook, sales process, sales methodology… with all of the vernacular that surrounds the simple concept of moving a prospective customer through the funnel from a lead or contact to a closed won contract, there are many terms that intersect and can easily be confused with one other. This can make developing the right model for your sales team downright confusing—especially as there are so many theories and strong opinions available today.

Some companies believe the terms “sales playbook” and “sales process” are interchangeable. Some have a firm sales methodology in place that everything else stems from, such as Challenger Sale, Sandler, or SPIN Selling. Others have playbooks that they “run” for each call or meeting that helps them guide each customer conversation. And finally, other sales leaders use all three as a hierarchical approach: they set their methodology first, which informs their overall sales process, which then helps them to decipher what the sales playbook should entail. The critical key to remember is that everything from the methodology to the process to the playbook should be driven by the customer. For instance, a company tackling a newer market will employ different strategies and tactics than a company entering an already crowded space.

At Costello, we believe there is a massive benefit for sales leaders when they understand how these three components work together—both from the perspective of creating a healthy structure that sales reps can easily follow as well as tracking metrics and tweaking certain elements as needed.

Before we examine the differences and explore how these components can work together to create a well-rounded and complete sales model, let’s first take a look at each (definitions courtesy of our friends at HubSpot):

Sales Methodology

A sales methodology is usually developed by sales training vendors or consultants and represent unique approaches to driving sales effectiveness and developing sales skills. There are so many that it can sometimes difficult to differentiate them, but some include Solution Selling, Customer Focused Selling, Provocative Selling, SPIN Selling, Challenger Selling, Sandler Sales Method, Consultative Selling, and so on. Sales methodologies also vary among industries.

Highly-innovative SaaS companies may use one model whereas a compliance-driven industry, such as financial services, may use another completely different methodology. A sales team’s methodology takes into account high-level factors such as geography, industry, audience, buyer and influencer profiles, and so on. And in many cases, sales teams find that combining two or more methodologies works best for their goals (such as combining Challenger Selling and the Sandler Sales Method).

Sales Process

The term sales process most often refers to a repeatable set of steps your sales team takes with a prospect to move them from an early stage to a closed customer.

Among the three components we’re covering today, “sales process” is the most commonly used. Many sales leaders and teams use this as an all-encompassing term that also envelopes both sales methodology and sales playbook—but that’s not actually the correct definition. In actuality, a sales process describes the tactical flow that a lead or contact travels through on their journey to hopefully become a customer: discovery, demo, proposal, negotiation, and so on. Of course, each of these sales stages has its own set of nuances and internal systems of order, and all of this rolls up into the team’s overall sales process. Think of the sales process as the checkboxes that need to be completed in order for a sales opportunity to progress.

Sales Playbook

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/or competitive intelligence guidelines.

The sales playbook is the day-to-day guide that sales reps use on the phone with prospective clients or while they’re onsite in a meeting. Made up of specific plays—always taking into account audience, previous learnings, as well as the sales process, which is informed by the chosen methodology—the sales playbook is the go-to resource that consists of “plays” that sales reps run in order to have great conversations every single time. A sales playbook gives reps a conversation co-pilot that helps them remember to do the important things that lead to a successful call—ask the right questions, deliver a compelling value prop, tell relevant customer stories, and handle objections effectively.

Bridging the Methodology, Process, and Playbook Gap

If you’re confused about how these components all work together, don’t worry—you aren’t alone. What we’ve found from many conversations with sales leaders is that they have a sales methodology in place (or more likely, a hybrid of two or three), and they have a well-defined process. But they fall short when it comes to sales playbooks. They may have call scripts or email templates and perhaps a recommended cadence of what to send and when, but those templates are hard to access while on a call and quickly become outdated as the team learns new things. What’s the use of having great templates, objection responses, and customer quotes and stats if they aren’t able to be used at the most critical time: while on a call or in a meeting with the prospective customer? While these assets can be incredibly helpful, they don’t add up to a true, agile sales playbook.

The most successful sales teams have all three components in place—not just one or two. Think about it in the simplest sense:

  • First and foremost, the customer drives the company values—along with its mission and goals
  • The company values inform the sales methodology
  • The sales methodology informs the sales process
  • The sales process informs the sales playbook (and the specific plays within the playbook, such as first call, discovery, demo, and so on)

Monitor and Tweak Sales Playbooks For Success

There’s no such thing as a perfect sales model. Once one piece of the puzzle has been solved, there are always many other areas to address, new suggestions to consider, and new hires to onboard. Once a change has been adopted, it becomes important to monitor a sales playbook’s success over time and continue to iterate on what’s working and what’s not.

By keeping an ear to the ground and monitoring sales playbooks and rep performance in real-time, sales leaders can coach in the moment and make changes before it’s too late. Previously, it’s been difficult for sales leaders to confidently roll out new messaging or changes to the sales process. But thanks to Costello’s real-time sales playbook software, sales leaders can monitor results and business cases in real-time, and make adjustments proactively to always stay up-to-date with the many influences that affect the sales process.


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    Teresa Weirich

Ready to Learn More?

For more information on best practices of great sales leaders, check out the Costello resources below. If you’d like to see Costello in action, request a personalized demo of our real-time sales playbook software.

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