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When is it Time to Update Your Sales Playbook

16 Min

From May 1940 to June 1940, Nazi Germany took control of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and even France.

It took them only six weeks to bring one of the most powerful nations of the early twentieth century to heel.

How did this happen? Simply put, France did not update their military strategies to prepare for the Nazi invasion. World War I was fought using trench warfare, and the French military assumed World War II would be fought in the same way.

Then the blitzkrieg came. The blitzkrieg was a strategy that utilized new technologies and made trench warfare a completely useless defense tactic.

France’s dependency on old military tactics was the reason Nazis won so easily.

The lesson to sales managers from these historical events is that you cannot rely on old strategies and playbooks to win every future challenge. Sometimes sales managers need to go back to the playbook and adjust it to prevent a blitzkrieg against the company.

Some signs that show its time to relook at the sales playbook are:

  • Sales reps are not engaging with it
  • Competitors are growing faster than you
  • Sales processes and technology are outdated
  • Market changes occur

Nobody is Engaging with the Sales Playbook

A sure-fire sign that it’s time to update the playbook is if nobody is using it. If sales reps never glance at it, sales management never checks in on it, then it really serves no purpose. But don’t make assumptions about the sales playbook right away. There could be many reasons why sales reps don’t utilize it.

Issue: Improper training

One of the reasons why sales reps may not be engaging with the sales playbook is because they’ve never received proper training on how to use it. Sometimes in the daily grind, sales reps become so busy they don’t have time to glance at it.

The good news is that if this is the issue, then there is a chance you won’t need to rewrite or change the sales playbook. The answer is to simply call a training meeting. This way sales reps can set aside an hour out of their busy schedules to focus on learning the sales playbook.

Issue: Difficult to use

When it comes to making sales and engaging with customers, sales reps need to be quick. The potential clients they are engaging with don’t want to spend extra time sitting on a call while a sales rep is flipping through their sales playbook trying to find the proper response to questions. Also, sales reps don’t want to deal with the hassle of trying to find information that isn’t easily accessible.

Like the issue of improper training, if this is the issue then you may not need to rewrite the sales playbook. The issue doesn’t lie with what is in the sales playbook, but rather how it is presented. There are many ways to fix this error. Sales managers could take their sales playbook and make it digital. They could make the sales playbook more succinct. Whatever it is, all the sales playbook needs is a makeover to pretty it up.

Issue: Lack of Value

Of course, there is always the chance that sales reps aren’t using the sales playbook because they don’t see the value in it. Sometimes this is the first-place sales managers jump to and sometimes their response can be frustration with sales reps. After all, didn’t you spend hours working on it? Shouldn’t they appreciate the wisdom you poured into it?

In this case, play both student and educator with sales reps. Listen to their input about why they feel the sales playbook is ineffective. Are there processes that take too much time? Do they have better luck selling to a different decision-maker then the one listed? At the same time, sales managers can defend the sales playbook and try to show how using it will lead to greater success. But as sales managers listen to their reps, there may be new insights or strategies that will alter the information inside the sales playbook.

Competitors are Booming

Keeping a tab on competitor’s activities and growth is something all companies should be doing. Simply scanning a competitor’s LinkedIn page to see how many employees they have or watching for funding reports about them can reveal how fast the opposition is growing.

It is also good to keep an ear to the ground when listening to potential clients. Take note of comments like “Competitor X offers these services in addition to the standard package,” or “I would like to use your service, but competitor Y is willing to do the same for a lower price.”

If competitors are growing at a rapid pace, this means their sales reps are taking cuts of the market that could go to your sales reps. While there are many reasons why that could be the case, the sales playbook may need an update to keep up with the competition.

Specifically, investigate these three areas of the sales playbook that may need attention.


Technology provides a massive advantage to sales teams. It can perform feats such as sales forecasting and pipeline management. A sales playbook will detail the different technologies used by the sales team and how to properly manage it.

But technology development is not stagnant. It is constantly improving processes and data accuracy. With that in mind, competitors could be using technologies that make it easier to contact the right individuals at the right times. The technology could also be streamlining processes and giving sales reps more time to engage with potential clients.

Take time to analyze whatever tools your sales team is using. Are there better services and tools out there? Remember, it was advancements in military technology that cost France so greatly. The right technology used with the right strategies will play a massive role in the survival of a company.


If you have the right technology, then it’s time to look at strategy and sales processes are the actionable steps of a strategy. Processes are important because they provide guidelines on how to effectively close sales.

But not all processes are perfect.

Some processes aren’t worth the effort. These processes may be taking too much time from sales reps from doing what matters most.

Other processes are too risky. Are there some processes that speed up the sale but come at the expense of quality and customer satisfaction?

When this happens, sales managers need to address their sales pipeline and find where in the process are they losing potential clients. Does it happen at the demo stage, price negotiation?

As processes are updated in the sales playbook, then sales reps will have processes in place that will help them out-message competitors.


Sometimes competitors are booming because their sales reps are better trained, or they have more sales reps.

The sales playbook should contain information that will help sales reps learn the basics necessary to sell the product. If sales reps are not getting this information out of the sales playbook, then the sales playbook will need updating to provide the needed training.

If the competitor has more sales reps, then the sales playbook will need to focus on winning key clients rather than a taking a broad approach.

The Market Changes

Changes in the business ecosystem require adaptation. It’s simply evolutionary biology, as the environment changes, then the organism must adapt to survive. In this case the organism is the company, the environment is the market, and the adaptation is the changes in approach to sales.

Whenever there is a massive shift within the market, be prepared to respond and update the sales playbook to match the changes.

Changes to Target Audience

Many startups began with a vision of who would appreciate their product. They spend countless hours and dollars on developing strategies to reach out and connect with whoever their target audience is.

Then sales reps discover that someone else within the market is more interested in the product then the initial target audience. After a sales manager realizes their product is a better fit with a different audience, then they’ll need to shift strategies and messaging to resonate with the new target audience.

Also, whoever the product is intended for may not be the decision maker who approves a sale. As sales reps engage with their target audience, they may find that someone else in the company—and sometimes from an entirely different department—is the one they should be speaking to.

For example, a company sells a software to help with recruitment, which is normally an HR function. However, the person who approves the sale is the person in charge of finances. In this instance, the sales playbook should focus on the right messaging for finance leaders.

Changes Within the Industry

Once upon a time, newspapers were delivered by boys riding on bicycles. Now all I have to do is swipe my phone to the right and I get the news instantly. How did selling newspaper subscriptions change?

Instead of sales reps knocking on doors, now there are pay-walls.

Industry changes are largely something out of the control of sales managers. New technologies arise. Once established companies close their doors, while others rise to the top. All these shifts in the industry will alter the sales playbook.

Take time each week to keep up-to-date with industry trends. Ask sales reps to report on any changes they see. By paying close attention to changes on the horizon, sales managers can preemptively edit their sales playbook to reflect an ever-evolving industry.

Product Changes

According to CB Insights, the top reason why startups fail is because there is no market need for their product. It is not uncommon for companies to alter their products and services in order to stay relevant.

When the product changes a host of other things change with it, including: target audience, value propositions, discovery questions, messaging, decision makers, etc.

If you’re company changes products or simply adds a new product into the mix, then sales managers will need to update the sales playbook to make the most out of selling the new product.

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