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Who's Calling The Plays?

While watching a baseball game the other night, the discussion between the two announcers during a lull in the game turned to the concept of game pace. Obviously the pace of the game was resulting in the lull and, interestingly, the MLB administration wants to speed up the game. What most of us might not know is that the pitcher, according to the rulebook, is supposed to make the next pitch within 12 seconds of receiving the ball. This rule has been in place for some time, but the desire now is to start living by that rule. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have not sat through many innings where the time between pitches is that fast. Count to 12 when you are watching your next game and see for yourself.

What is happening here is that the playbook is stronger than the rulebook. For some teams, every pitch starts in the dugout. A sign is flashed to the catcher who then relays it to the pitcher. The pitcher may have the right to disagree, in which case the catcher has to flash a second sign. Pitchers sometimes shake off 3 or 4 signs from the catcher before the ball is thrown toward the plate. This whole cycle of silent communication requires seriously more than 12 seconds.

Until the rulebook gains more credence than the playbook, baseball is going to be a slow going source of entertainment.

We also have an analogous situation within the world of CRM. The concept of the playbook is one of the hotter topics right now for those who follow sales force effectiveness. In theory, the sales playbook is intended to outline selling scenarios and provide actions (or plays) for the sales professional to follow. This can include topics such as the right product messaging for the situation, how to overcome objections, which buying role should be prioritized, and what steps to take to reach the close.

As a concept, the playbook is a great idea. It should provide sales folks insight into selling new products or within new situations. The problem is this: playbooks are typically developed by individuals who don’t sell, nor have they been in the situations for which they are designing the plays. The playbooks are typically written from the perspective of the product and jammed full of untested sales theory.

The last playbook I encountered with one of my clients was written by folks from marketing. It conflicted with the sales methodology in use, did not match well with processes built into the SFA tool, and was written with so much detail, that the few pieces of useful guidance were drowned in endless PowerPoint slides.

During the 5th inning of a typical game, the dugout has good intelligence. The coaches have monitored what pitches worked against each previous batter in the earlier innings. While a player is at the plate, the coach can indicate that the smartest pitch to get the desired infield grounder or strikeout for example, will be at the outside corner. The pitcher most likely does not have the means for remembering every batter’s weak spots. Those signals coming from the dugout are based on good intelligence and drive up defensive performance.

Likewise, the sales playbook could be based on intelligence. They can be built with content that outlines competitive differentiation or scenarios for effective action based on CRM analytics. Sadly, I have not seen this as a common practice, even if it is a best practice. So, if you are from marketing, this means that a good playbook is one based on evidence, rather than theory. Otherwise, your playbook will eventually be ignored. While I have not seen any comprehensive studies yet, the anecdotal evidence indicates that a significant percentage of playbooks are not developed based on successful experience driving the plays.

So, my open questions are, who’s calling the plays, and, are they being developed through CRM analytics or simply product management hunches? Are the playbooks written by people who actually sell or just someone developing product collateral? Your best chance for playbook adoption and effectiveness will be to create this new tool from the perspective of the sales professional rather than the product manager.

Let’s play ball.


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