Building relationships. Delivering sustained revenue. Accelerating growth.
Those are the key objectives of any high-growth sales team.
In the hyper-intensive B2B climate, they’re rarely achieved without a heavy lift. Buyers expect more, across an ever-increasing number of channels and at unprecedented pace.
For the average sales rep, navigating this reality alone is tough. In fact, only 28% of sales professionals expect to meet or exceed their quota in the upcoming year.
As businesses look to drive quota attainment forward, many are turning to a more strategic approach to build team confidence and competence: sales plays. In this article, we’ll delve into the concept of sales play development, and its role in scaling pipeline and converting prospects into loyal customers.
What is a sales play?
A sales play is a structured, multi-step series of touchpoints and activities designed to guide prospects to a purchasing decision. It involves a well-defined set of actions, tactics and communication methods – usually across multiple channels – tailored to address the unique needs of a particular customer segment.
Plays are designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of sales efforts and can be customized for different scenarios, such as targeting a specific industry, addressing a common customer pain point or pursuing a particular market opportunity. They provide sales professionals with a clear roadmap and a situational cadence to follow, helping them better understand how and when to engage with prospects or customers.
Why are sales plays important?
To achieve steady quota attainment from revenue programs, you need consistency in your sales approach. Trying to scale without consistency will lead to outliers, missed targets, low return on investment and limited revenue predictability as a result.
With plays, businesses can add this level of consistency to their processes. Reps work with a clear, established sense of direction and the exact touches they need to make to deliver value at every stage of a customer conversation. This approach harmonizes the sales process with the buyer persona and customer journey, equipping both new and experienced sellers with data-led tactics to successfully forge connections and move leads through the pipeline.
The benefits of sales plays
Plays are not just about consistency and control. When implemented correctly, they’re highly effective tools of engagement. According to Harvard Business Review, leading sales operations attribute more than 60% of pipeline to actively designed and deployed plays.
Types of sales plays
Plays are adaptable and can be customized to suit a company’s specific goals, products and industry, making them versatile tools in the sales process. The choice of the type of play depends on the unique sales objectives and challenges faced by a business.
From upselling to net-new nurturing, plays can serve many purposes. The most common include:
Prospecting plays: Focus on identifying and reaching out to potential leads or prospects to build pipeline. They involve strategies for finding and engaging with individuals or companies who fit a predetermined ideal customer profile (ICP) or buyer persona.
Nurturing plays: Plays designed to retain rapport and drip feed content to low-intent or not-quite-ready-to-buy prospects. They involve ongoing communication and engagement to keep the prospect’s interest and trust over time.
Upsell and cross-sell plays: These plays focus on increasing the value of the sale by encouraging existing customers to upgrade packages or invest in additional products or services.
Product launch plays: When introducing a new product or service, these plays focus on creating awareness and driving initial early interest through targeted communications tailored to the product’s unique value propositions.
Inbound follow-up plays: These plays provide guidelines for effectively following up with marketing qualified leads (MQLs) generated through inbound marketing, ensuring that no potential opportunities slip through the cracks.
Authority and referral plays: These strategies leverage existing buyer relationships to generate referrals and word-of-mouth business based on positive customer experiences.
The B2B essentials
Successful play implementation relies on a number of established ideas, sales technology, documents and resources. It isn’t as simple as writing a cadence based on what you perceive a buyer’s preferences to be. Here are some key materials sales teams should look to collect prior to developing and distributing.
The four phases of sales play development
Strategy is the prerequisite to any successful play. That usually starts with understanding the purpose of the play: What are you looking to achieve? As a granular strategy, plays need to be tailored and targeted not just to specific prospects and decision-makers – but also specific outcomes or objectives. An upsell play for existing customers won’t work for net-new prospects, for example.
Consider the attributes that contribute to buyer interactions and intent: seasonality, saturation, economical influences, market fluctuations. Is there a need that directly warrants play execution?
Many sales leaders use the SPIN (situation, problem, implication, need-payoff) methodology to assess opportunity potential:
What is the condition of the current target market?
What pain points are key players grappling with in the market?
What are the consequences of ignoring these issues?
How can a specific solution solve these identified pains?
Designing a sales play involves a systematic process that aligns your sales strategy with the specific objectives and customer segments outlined in the strategy phase. Play design requires data-driven creativity. It should provide repeatable templating for reps to use, hitting multiple value propositions and pain points with targeted messaging.
Strategists looking to excel in the design phase should consider the following key attributes:
Execution and adoption
Once a play strategy and content pattern are established, leaders need to put these frameworks into action. This is very rarely as simple as plug-and-play. If a company is rolling out new value-based plays or messaging, they must equip, train and coach sellers to drive the needed behavioral change.
There are a number of attributes that go into effective play execution. Here are three core considerations that are essential:
Test and learn
To maximize value from sales play performance, leaders need to routinely assess and optimize plays based on engagement, ROE and ROI.
Testing involves methodically conducted experiments aimed at enhancing different aspects of your plays. These “tests” typically include the collection and analysis of data to validate assumptions regarding play performance. The ultimate objective is to boost engagement and improve outcomes over time. These tests serve as means of measuring, scrutinizing and substantiating the performance of your current processes, playing a pivotal role in maintaining the freshness of your touch pattern and continued relevance of your data.
In practice, testing can assess a wide variety of comparisons within your strategy. This may range from subtle adjustments to elements such as email subject lines and calls to action (CTAs) to more extensive experiments, such as A/B testing two plays targeted at the same audience, with varying value propositions, messaging, touch frequency or cadence lengths.
Key considerations & best practices
Sales plays are not just a trend; they are a fundamental shift in the way businesses engage with prospects and customers. By implementing them effectively, you can find new heights of success, meet your quotas, and create lasting connections that drive your growth and prosperity in an ever-evolving business landscape.
Looking to outsource? We can help. Harte Hanks is highly experienced in designing winning sales plays. Powered by our commitment to routine testing and experimentation, our plays are specifically targeted plans of outreach, designed to transform prospective customers into buyers. We uncover your prospect’s pain points and deliver meaningful messaging that solves their challenges and drives them toward conversion.
Contact us today
As a Forbes Under 30 entrepreneur/consultant, Sercan is a highly experienced PlayOps Strategist. He helps Fortune 500 companies enhance their ToFu/MoFu pipeline strategies, sales enablement, business development optimization, and GTM plays.