Re Brian Halligan: The Traditional Sales Playbook Isn't Dead!

Nicole Mertes
Posted by Nicole Mertes on October 1, 2015

Brian Halligan Sales Playbook DeadWhen our team at Weidert Group sat down to debrief after INBOUND15 this year, we had many great takeaways to share with each other. One theme stood out above all the others: the inbound movement isn't just about marketing, it's about sales. Inbound selling was on the minds of many at the conference, starting with Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, who, in his keynote speech, delivered a bold message: "The sales playbook is dead. It's time to bury it!" 

To a crowd of 14,000 attendees, Halligan introduced a long list of new HubSpot sales tools designed to "unsuck the sales business." Everything from prospecting, to connecting, to follow-up were covered in his reintroduction of HubSpot's sales products. For the complete list of HubSpot's sales platform announcements, check out the full 2015 product update list.

The theme continued throughout the conference with many sales-related topics represented in the breakout sessions. And this makes a lot of sense. Without a focus on sales, the leads that marketing has worked so hard to attract and nurture will remain just that—leads. When marketers include a focus on inbound selling, those leads will convert into customers and revenue.

However, as the conference went on, I couldn't help but think Halligan's claim went too far.

Is the sales playbook really dead?

Certainly, buyers have changed. Halligan and HubSpot have shown for years that buyers no longer learn about and search for solutions the way they used to. In an inbound world, the mantra "buyer beware" has been decisively replaced with "seller beware." And today, cold calling and related tactics have been rendered completely ineffective. But does that really mean the sales playbook is dead? Was Halligan just exaggerating for his marketer-heavy audience? Was he talking strategy or just outdated tactics? 

After a few weeks of thought, I thought I'd publish a response. After all, many salespeople—especially in the B2B industries we work with—are very successful, and have been using the same strategy for years. For me, the important questions are: What should be in your sales playbook? Is it a set of one-off tactics? Is it how you utilize your sales technology? Or, maybe your sales playbook is something more: a holistic strategy of moving deals from opportunity to close—including tangible methods and that X factor that makes your solutions sell.

Today, I'll argue that no, the sales playbook isn't dead—the core ideas are still relevant—but we need to provide more definition, updated technology, and a new set of tactics that get deals moving through the pipeline.

Using Old Sales Ideas to Become a Better Inbound Salesperson

There's a lot in sales strategy that still matters, it just requires different methods and technology to deploy. For instance, there's no stronger part of a sales strategy today or yesterday than emphasizing relationships.

1. Relationships Still Move Deals.

People still buy from people, especially when it comes to highly considered B2B purchases that a buyer needs to trust the seller with. With inbound sales, however, the face-to-face interaction and relationship building starts later in the process. Once the buyer has gathered the research and information they want, they need and expect a salesperson to help guide them through the sale. The salesperson who has an advantage is the salesperson who is informed and well-connected. According to LinkedIn:

  • 92% of buyers engage if the professional is a known industry thought leader.
  • 88% of buyers accept connections through someone in their existing professional network.
  • 86% of buyers will listen if sales professionals provide insights about their business.
  • 46% of buyers will engage if the professional has a complete LinkedIn profile.

So how do we update the sales playbook to achieve better relationship-building?

  • Become the seller the buyer can trust by being transparent during the sale process. With so much information accessible 24/7, there's no other acceptable way to engage with today's buyer.
  • Become a social seller. Create conversations in social media and position yourself as a thought leader.
  • Provide your buyers with helpful content throughout the sales process.

2. Focus on Leads. They're Still Important.

Leads are as important as ever to generate new business. But with inbound sales, the marketing team has taken over more responsibility for lead generation. Instead of trade shows and cold calls, inbound marketing and sales shift the lead generation focus online, where buyers start the sales process. Creating a positive user experience on your website and being found online with helpful, relevant content is key to attracting the modern day buyer. For more information on how content and social media are changing the B2B buyer's journey, take a peek at Demand Gen's 2015 B2B Buyer Survey Report.

Updates to your sales playbook:  

  • Align with your marketing team. Share what you've learned about your buyers in the field with marketing so you can work collaboratively on creating relevant content that attracts potential buyers to your site and converts them to leads.  
  • If you don't have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between Marketing and Sales, you're late to the game. Work together on creating a formal document that outlines the common goal and the promises from each department to work to achieve them.

3. Closing Is Still Closing.

It's time to remove the vision of Alec Baldwin yelling, "Always be Closing!" from your mind. Yes, of course, closing still matters, but in today's world you'll have less success with pushy, "salesy" tactics to get there. Instead, focus on "Always be Helping" and let your buyers' needs take top priority. Listen to those needs and provide helpful, smart resources and content that delight them in the sales process.

Updates to your sales playbook:  

  • Strike out "Always be Closing" and replace it with an "Always be Helping" mentality. You'll delight your potential buyers and move them along the buyer's journey more effectively.

The Golden Rule of Sales

Dust off your sales book and take out your editing pen! The sales playbook is still alive and well if you make the right fixes and adjustments as time goes on. In all honesty, I know Halligan himself agrees. In proclaiming sales' death at INBOUND15, he looked to hyperbole to wake us up and alert us to the need to revamp our strategies. I've probably done a bit of the same in responding to that claim with the same purpose in mind.

B2B selling has changed, and while that doesn't mean your core strategies fly out the window, it does mean that B2B salespeople need to continually adjust. At our core, Weidert Group and HubSpot are moving together on resetting the standard for inbound sales. We want Sales to speak the buyer's language, just as inbound marketers have learned to do. At INBOUND15, Halligan left us with a central rule for fixing the sales playbook: "Sell unto others as you would have them sell unto you." As your company considers how to redefine its approach to sales, that should be your guiding rule. Today's buyer is in control, and as Halligan said, "they have all the power." Sales has to respect that, and take new and better steps to improve its game.

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Topics: Inbound Sales

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