• Sales playbooks have been around for a long time, and remain relevant for many contemporary sales organizations
  • For more complex and customized selling interactions, guided selling goes beyond playbooks and optimizes sales asset management environments
  • Determining the appropriate degree of guidance for a team is a crucial sales enablement function

Every sales leader is looking for an edge to drive effective coaching for their reps – especially when it comes to helping their sellers know what to do, say and send to buyers when facing prospects and customers.  Faced by resource constraints, they turn to sales enablement to help develop and deploy guided selling initiatives, trying to figure out the magic formula for success and then scaling it for sustained organizational growth. Guided selling comes in three flavors: good, better and best.

The Three Degrees of Guided Selling

Scripted via Playbook

Sales playbooks have been around a long time – from the pre-digital days of three-ring binders, through early interactive collections of PDF files – and continue to be successfully deployed today, especially within organizations that sell higher-volume, lower-complexity solutions. With the context of its roots in athletics, a playbook consists of a finite number of plays, or interaction paths, that individuals can follow within a finite number of buyer-facing sales situations. For example, enablement teams supporting large-scale lead development activity – yes, there are still plenty of thriving dial-for-dollars inside sales teams in the B2B space – can use playbooks to shorten the time-to-learning metric for a job role that typically sees higher turnover, and complements the financial need to minimize upfront investment in training and ramp-up time. 

When a play or set of selling interactions is repeated by multiple sellers at scale, playbook content and applications drive efficiency throughout the selling process. However, the potential downside of playbooks also lies in their simplicity: if the number or complexity of solutions is too variable for enablement to pre-position a scripted environment for any potential play, a playbook won’t provide sufficient guidance to sellers.

Shepherded via Tagging

The intermediate level of enterprise guided selling lies at the heart of all sales asset management (SAM) solutions: the proactive development of a taxonomy library by sales enablement, allowing all content creators and curators to tag any content object according to a wide selection of variables. These include the solution being represented, relevant stage in the buyer’s journey, buyer persona type, sales cycle stage, competitive landscapes, price window and geography. When integrated at the opportunity level with the sales forces automation (SFA) platform, the SAM recommends to sellers which assets represent the right content to present to their buyer at the right time. With the assistance of product management and portfolio marketing, sales enablement is primarily responsible for this tagging activity.  The only limitation is that proactive tagging can involve some guesswork, regarding which assets truly map to which buyer-facing interaction. 

Driven via Machine Learning

Full-fledged SAM environments don’t settle for the passive and subjective act of pre-sales asset tagging. Instead, they deploy artificial intelligence algorithms that collect data on the outcome of every recommended asset – how much any given content object is associated with deals that are won, lost, stalled, etc. – and refine their own selling guidance based on these analytics. Commonly referred to as “machine learning,” this represents the gold standard of SAM benefits. SiriusDecisions research reveals that 65 percent of marketing-produced sales content is never even seen by buyers; therefore, the opportunity for marketing and sales leaders to improve their productivity is well-served by this capability.

So, does guided selling actually work? SiriusDecisions research says yes – consider what we hear from high-performing organizations – those with 80 percent or more reps achieving annual quota last year. They are 79 percent more likely than low-performing organizations to indicate placing a high-investment priority on sales playbooks or guided selling applications, and 97 percent more likely to indicate that these tools are highly effective.  And we’ve only spoken here about “activation” assets, those used by sellers to present to their buyers.  As for learning-oriented “empowerment” assets, they are also part of guided selling – but that’s another blog post for another day.