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Why Every Business Should Consider a Playbook

football kick on goal

In an era where business landscapes evolve at an unprecedented pace, the need for a well-thought-out approach to growth, efficiency, and value creation has never been more critical. A business playbook stands out as a pivotal tool for companies aiming to navigate these challenges successfully.

 

A business playbook encapsulates the essence of strategic planning, operational excellence, and the collective wisdom and insight garnered from the experience of the people that make up a business.

 

This article will explore why every business, regardless of size or industry sector, should consider a business playbook or, at the very least, a few key plays to outperform the competition.

 

What is a Business Playbook?

 

Great question. There is no unified or commonly accepted definition, yet many leaders will highlight the importance of following and developing one. If you search the internet and ask a hundred business leaders, "What is a business playbook?" you will get many different answers aligned with one general theme. "A business playbook comprises the plays or actions needed to reach a goal."  

 

In this article, I will answer the same question based on my viewpoint of a business playbook and my observations and experiences working with 50+ companies and organizations over the years. 

 

The maturity of playbooks at these organizations ranged from well-developed to none.  Generally, the most successful entities created or worked to develop playbooks focused on the performance areas most important to their business.

 

A business playbook or playbook is a compilation of procedures, guidelines, and best practices designed to drive a strategic purpose.

 

The last part, "strategic," sets it apart from Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or business processes. A playbook is not just a collection of steps. It combines a plan and high-level tasks tied to a strategic goal, presented and explained within a business context. It is a way to help ensure that all actions are focused on executing the optimum strategy to reach that goal.

 

Where do Playbooks fit in? 

 

Before getting too far, let's discuss the similarities and differences between Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS), business processes, and playbooks. 

 

The terms playbook, Standard Operating Procedures, and business processes are often used in the context of organizational management and operations. While they are related and sometimes overlap in their use, they serve distinct purposes and are used in different contexts. Here's a breakdown of the differences:

 

Playbook

 

A playbook is a document or set of documents in hard copy or digital form that provides detailed strategies, guidelines, and examples to achieve specific business goals or to handle particular situations. It is often used to encapsulate best practices, strategies, and steps to execute tasks or projects effectively. Playbooks are designed to be practical and actionable, providing the knowledge and guidance needed to replicate success in various scenarios. They can cover a wide range of topics, from sales and marketing strategies to customer service protocols, crisis management, and even an entire business.

 

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

 

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are detailed, written instructions to achieve uniformity in performing a specific function. SOPs are more narrowly focused than business playbooks and are primarily concerned with the how-to aspect of tasks. They are used to ensure consistency and efficiency in the execution of tasks and to maintain quality control across all operations. SOPs are critical in regulated industries where compliance with specific standards and regulations is mandatory. They detail the step-by-step processes that must be followed to complete tasks according to company policy or legal requirements.

 

Business Processes

 

Business processes are the steps or activities to accomplish a specific organizational goal. These processes can be documented or undocumented, and they can be as simple as the steps taken to fill a customer order or as complex as the procedures involved in manufacturing a product. Business processes focus on the flow of work and information through various departments or stages, aiming to increase efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness. They are broader than SOPs and can encompass multiple organizational tasks and departments.

 

Key Differences

 

Scope and Detail

 

Playbooks offer strategic guidance and are often broader in scope, covering multiple scenarios or strategies. SOPs are highly detailed and focus on specific tasks, providing step-by-step instructions. Business processes describe the workflow to achieve a goal, focusing on the sequence of activities across various roles or departments.

 

Purpose

 

Playbooks are designed to guide strategy and best practices. SOPs aim to standardize specific tasks. Business processes map out the steps needed to achieve business objectives.

 

Usage

 

Playbooks are used for training, execution, and strategic planning, providing a reference for consistency in performance to maximize results.  They seek to influence behavior and outcome.  SOPs ensure tasks are performed consistently and correctly, often for compliance and quality control. Business processes are analyzed and optimized to improve efficiency and effectiveness in achieving business goals.


Let's see a practical example.

 

Soccer or football, in most of the world), provides an excellent example of the differences between playbooks, business processes, and SOP.


For those unfamiliar, soccer is a rule-based sport where two teams kick a ball around and attempt to get a ball into a goal. While a game may look chaotic due to the constant movement, plays are constantly being executed to help a team score.  These plays are set up depending on ever-changing criteria, for example, how the defense is set up, where on the field the ball is, what the score is, how much time is left, etc.

 

Most teams have a playbook to guide execution in different situations. These are your standard Xs and O's and big-picture strategy for getting the ball into the goal.  X1 has the ball at mid-field and passes it back to their right to X4.  X4 spots X7, making a clean break down the right flank, and launches a long ball over the defense. X7 sprints, control the ball, and crosses (kicks the ball) into the top of the penalty area. X9 meets the cross with a perfectly timed run, volleying the ball into the net.


Football chalkboard play

The business process would be the actions or steps that follow specific rules for bringing the ball back into play when it goes beyond the margins of the field. What must the player do and not do to meet the objective of bringing the ball back into play? The business process would provide details on what to do.  In this case, once the ball is outside of the playing field, the linesman will advise which team is entitled to a throw-in. The entitled team will pick up the ball and execute a legal throw-in. 

 

Standard operating processes (SOPs) would be the mechanics of executing the actual throw-in. How should the player hold the ball and deliver the throw-in? The SOP would provide detailed step-by-step instructions. The player must face the field, have part of each foot either on the touchline or on the ground outside the touchline at the moment of delivering the ball, the ball must be held with both hands, delivered from behind and over the player's head and feet, and in contact with the ground when the ball is thrown.

 

Does Every Business Need a Playbook?

 

The rationale for adopting a business playbook is compelling. It instills a sense of discipline and structure, ensuring all team members align with the company's strategic goals and work towards them.

 

This alignment is crucial for fostering an environment where efficiency can thrive, and chaos is minimized. A playbook helps eliminate inefficiencies, reduces errors, and accelerates onboarding and training by standardizing processes and clearly defining roles and responsibilities.

 

Furthermore, a playbook enhances a company's profitability and value. It optimizes resource allocation, streamlines workflows, and ensures that best practices or lessons learned are consistently applied across all operational facets. It equips leaders with the insights and tools to make informed decisions that drive growth and improve the bottom line.

 

Does every company need a full-blown playbook? Probably not. Start-ups and smaller-sized companies may need just a few plays focused on sales, revenue expansion, and service or product delivery. Early in a company's lifecycle, it is common to adjust and refine its strategic direction, product offering, and organizational structure. These companies must focus on growth and delivering an outstanding customer experience instead of over-scripting every business area. A company can grow into the right playbook as it evolves and finds its niche. The point is to be flexible and focus on the right things. Small companies need customers and satisfied ones at that.

 

Creating a Playbook: A Step-by-Step Guide

 

Developing a business playbook may seem daunting, but it can be broken down into six steps:

 

Step 1. Define Your Objectives

 

Start with clearly understanding what you aim to achieve with your playbook. Three simple questions, "What is your goal?" "Who is it for?" And "Why do they need it?" should shape the content and structure of your playbook. 


Step 2. Align the Strategy

 

Aligning strategy with a goal means ensuring that the methods, actions, and resources deployed are aimed at achieving a specific objective. This involves coordinating all efforts and decisions to contribute effectively and efficiently toward the desired outcome. 

 

Step 3. Document Your Processes

 

Start at a 10,000-foot level and work your way in. Detail the fundamental processes that drive your strategy. Ensure these processes are documented in a clear, concise manner that is accessible to all team members.

 

Step 4. Incorporate Best Practices and Facts

 

Leverage the knowledge and experience within your organization to identify best practices and critical nuanced observations. These should be integrated into your playbook to ensure that your team operates at a consistently high standard.

 

Step 5. Establish Common Ownership

 

A playbook is only as effective as its usability. Make sure it is easily accessible to your team, ideally in a digital format that can be updated and shared as your business evolves. Please include the viewpoint and feedback of the people using it.

 

Step 6. Review and Revise

 

The business world is dynamic, and your playbook should be as well. Regularly review and update your playbook to reflect new insights, strategies, and market conditions.

 

Real-World Success Stories

 

Many leading companies attribute part of their success to implementing a playbook. For instance, technology giants like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Workday, and SAP have meticulously created partner playbooks detailing solution implementation, marketing strategies, sales activities, customer engagement tactics, and more.

 

I have worked firsthand with many of these partner playbooks. These companies have invested millions into helping partners succeed in selling and implementing their solutions. They know and want their solutions presented to clients in a certain way. These playbooks help the partner learn the most efficient path to implement and sell, what features clients want most, how to handle objections, what tools are available, and suggested ways to present to different decision-maker personas.   These playbooks help ensure brand consistency across global operations.  They are created so partners can get the most from their partner relationship investment and, in turn, drive more sales and higher customer satisfaction.

 

There is also quite a bit of marketing junk masquerading as playbooks. These are often released by companies attempting to sell something to their customer or investor base. They are easy to spot as they need more depth of content and feel more like a marketing glossy.  A good test is that it most likely falls into this category if you can't execute a playbook to drive value.

 

One of the most common playbooks is a sales playbook, which we will explore in the next section.

 

The Sales Playbook

 

A sales playbook is a comprehensive document or guide that outlines a company's sales strategy, processes, and best practices. It serves as a manual for sales teams, providing them with the information and tools they need to effectively sell the company's products or services driven by different factors like persona, industry, company size, type of company, and identified need. 


The content of a sales playbook can vary depending on the organization's goals, market, and sales cycle, but common elements often include:

 

Sales Processes

 

Detailed descriptions of the steps involved in the sales cycle, from lead generation to closing deals, including methodologies for managing each stage of the process.

 

Ideal Customer Profiles of Personas

 

Descriptions of the target customer or buyer personas, including their industry, job titles, pain points, and how the company's solutions can address their needs.

 

Value Propositions

 

Key messages and value propositions that differentiate the company's products or services from competitors, tailored to various buyer personas.

 

Sales Scripts and Social Templates

 

Pre-written scripts and templates for sales calls, emails, social posts, and other communications to ensure consistent messaging and efficiency.

 

Objection Handling

 

Strategies and responses for overcoming common objections or concerns that prospects might have.

 

Case Studies and Success Stories

 

Examples of successful customer implementations or testimonials that can be used to build credibility and trust with prospects.

 

Product Information

 

Detailed information about the products or services sold, including features, benefits, pricing, and how they address the target audience's needs.

 

Competitor Analysis

 

Insights into the competitive landscape, including strengths and weaknesses of competitors and how to position the company's offerings in comparison.

 

Industry Information and Trends

 

Stats, data, and information to allow sales teams to understand the broader context in which they operate, anticipate market needs, and effectively position their products or services.

 

Tools and Resources

 

Information about sales tools, technologies, and other resources available to the sales team, such as CRM systems, prospecting tools, and marketing materials and links.

 

A sales playbook aims to ensure that all sales team members have the information and resources they need to perform their roles effectively, resulting in a more structured, efficient, and successful sales process. It's essential for aligning sales efforts, optimizing strategies, and achieving sales targets and goals.

 

Playbooks in Action

 

Let's take a look at two industry playbook examples.

 

FedEx

The E-commerce Playbook [1]

 

FedEx created an e-commerce playbook to guide and help potential customers optimize their online business approach. This 26-page playbook was designed to inform, educate, and guide critical considerations and steps to build a successful e-commerce business or channel.


Figure 1. E-commerce Playbook, Table of Contents

Fed Ex E-commerce Playbook,

Full playbook available at,


American Medical Association Remote Patient Monitoring Playbook [2]


The American Medical Association (AMA) recognized that innovation and new digital tools created significant new opportunities to improve healthcare. The AMA knew that implementing digital health technology is often complicated and time-consuming. Their research confirmed hospitals take 23 months to go from identifying a digital innovation need to rolling out the solution. To shorten that cycle, they created a 106-page playbook to help healthcare organizations adopt change faster and more successfully.

  

Figure 2. Remote Patient Monitoring Playbook Overview

AMA Remote Patient Monitoring Playbook Overview

Full playbook available at,


The Strategic Advantage of a Playbook

 

A playbook is more than a document in paper or digital format; it's a strategic asset that aligns teams, processes, and goals toward a unified vision of success. The importance of the playbook in today's ever-evolving business landscape cannot be overstated. It serves as a foundation for growth, a catalyst for innovation, and a blueprint for operational efficiency.

 

By meticulously documenting strategies and focusing on the processes and best practices to execute them, companies can ensure consistency, foster a culture of continuous improvement, and navigate the complexities of the modern business environment. The playbook empowers organizations to act decisively, adapt swiftly, and thrive in the face of competition.

 

For business leaders seeking to elevate their company's performance, developing a playbook is not just a strategic move—it's an essential one. It encapsulates the wisdom, experience, and vision necessary to steer the organization toward sustained growth and profitability.

 

Start Building Your Playbook Today

 

A playbook is an indispensable strategic tool for any organization to secure its future in a rapidly changing world. It provides a competitive advantage by streamlining operations, fostering alignment, and driving growth.

 

The question isn't whether your business needs a playbook—it's how quickly you can implement the right plays to drive your business. Begin today and lay the groundwork for a future where your company survives and thrives.

 

Creating a playbook begins with a commitment to strategic clarity. Following the steps outlined in this article and drawing inspiration from successful examples, you can develop a playbook that propels your company to new heights.

 

Remember, the most effective playbooks are continually revisited and refined. As your business evolves, so should your playbook, ensuring it remains a relevant and powerful tool for achieving your company's goals.  Now, go out and win the game!

 

References and Citations

 

1.     FedEx. (2023). E-commerce playbook, Accessed February 25, 2024. https://www.fedex.com/content/dam/fedex/eu-europe/downloads/ecommerce-playbook-IE.pdf

2.     American Medical Association. (n.d.). AMA remote patient monitoring playbook, Accessed February 25, 2024, https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/ama-remote-patient-monitoring-playbook.pdf

 

Images and Media

Cover image, Microsoft Stock Image Photos, February 25, 2024

Soccer Playbook Image, Shutter Stock, February 25, 2024

Figure 1. E-commerce Playbook, Table of Contents, see Reference and Citation 1.

Figure 2. Remote Patient Monitoring Playbook Overview, see Reference and Citation 1.


Disclaimer, Copyright and Trademark Statement


This article is provided for informational and educational purposes. It makes no warranties as to the claims, accuracy or fitness of information provided, referenced or cited. Use of the information, instructions, and any examples contained in this work is at your own risk. There should be no implied endorsement of this article by any person or organization referenced.


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