How to Write a Sales Guide (Manual)

Overview and Objective

One of the fastest ways to increase sales of your product is to educate the sales force on the key features and benefits of the product, unique advantages of the product, how to sell the product, and the competition. This can be done through sales training, a written sales guide, and/or an audio or video file. A podcast, sent out with the sales guide as a summary, is a particularly useful tool because sales people generally spend a great deal of time in the car.

The sales guide will vary drastically depending upon the target audience.A sales guide for a distribution channel, for example, might be one page. A sales guide designed for a direct sales force to sell a complex set of products may end up being multiple binders. In all cases, conciseness and good organization is important because sales people don't have much time to read and they need quick access to the information.

Requirements

Sale people make money when they are on the phone closing deals - so they often won't take the time to read a detailed sales manual. It is therefore critical that the sales guide be as concise and hard-hitting as possible. However, this objective should not compromise the quality of the information.

  • Eye catching formatting - You want the document to be a great reference manual (no one will read it cover-to-cover). Information should be very easy to find so there should be a good table of contents (if it is a large guide); large, clear headings for each section and subsection; and index and/or glossary of terms. Diagrams, tables, and illustrations are best used to summarize complex information.

  • Concise length - The length of the document will vary dependent upon the target audience. For channel sales people, one to two pages is best as a quick reference that they can throw in their brief case. Even if you need a large sales guide to go through detailed demonstrations and competitive information for a direct sales force, providing a quick reference summary in addition to the full guide is ideal.

  • Pronunciation - A new sales person may be unfamiliar with the buzz words of your specific industry. Pronunciation must be called out wherever necessary and in the glossary of terms.

  • Well marked customer sections - Sales people will often copy parts of the sales manual and hand it to customers. Sections of the manual must be clearly identified as being customer consumable or not.

  • Consistent updates - A sales guide that goes out of date is useless.  Consistent updates will keep your product in front of the sales person and keep them abreast of developments within the company and new competitive announcements. For this reason it is desirable to have an internal web site that has all the latest and greatest information. The printed sales guide should reference the website as a resource for updated information.

Outline

1)      Contact information - Let the sales person know where they can get more information on product or on any part of the guide. Include email addresses and phone numbers.

2)      Selling strategies - Outline target market, market size, sales cycle, ideal customer profile, list of current customers, references, press mentions and success stories. If this is a one-page sales guide the information must be kept to one paragraph with a few bullets.

3)      Products and Demonstration - Positioning of the product, how it fits into the overall product line, a list of key features and benefits, demonstration highlights, most common customer questions, and product updates. For a one page sales guide use only the top three the key features and benefits.

4)      Competition - A table of competitors with a feature matrix is the best way to show this information. Don't forget to include pricing. Short write-ups on key competitors including strengths, weaknesses, and an overview of their strategy can be useful if you have just a few competitors. Since many competitors fall into similar categories you may want to outline a more broad strategies for competing against competitors in those categories. You may also want include write-ups of what the competitors will be saying to your customers.

5)      Pricing - Include all pricing, ordering, and configuration information.

6)      Collateral - All associated collateral including datasheets, brochures, and white papers.

7)      Sales presentation - It is important to let the sales people know how to present the product. An online presentation detailing high-level positioning, success stories, and features and benefits with a script is great. A video of the presentation is also a useful tool. (Please see building a product presentation for more information.)

8)      Glossary - You may need a glossary of terms and acronyms associated with the product.

9)      Index - Includ an index if the sales manual is over 50 pages.

10)  Reference Material - Include a listing of where they can find more information about the product or a specific technology. This may be links to your website or other websites.

Packaging

The most important packaging item to consider is how the guide be updated. If it is one or two pages, it can easily be replaced. If it is many pages you may want a binder where sections can be updated. This can often be a problem though because sales people don't always have time to put new sections in a binder. Ideally you would just replace the entire guide when updates are required, but can be time consuming and expensive. In any case the sales guide should ideally have a searchable on-line version.

As mentioned previously, a audio file or podcast is a great addition to the sales guide. I prefer to make the audio somewhat entertaining so the sales person is not bored to tears listening to it.

Video are also generally effective if you are trying to show how to demonstrate a product.

The package should come with a one page (front and back) introduction and summary.

Process

I have found the following to be the fastest way to write a Sales Guide:

1)      Gather all associated materials including a copy of the product, sample files, datasheets, presentations, competitive analysis, Market Requirements Documents, and functional specs for back-up information.

2)      Determine which marketing information (competitive analysis, demonstrations, presentations, etc.) needs updating or creating from scratch.

3)      Spend an hour or so with a systems engineer or product manager who has gone on sales calls and knows the key selling features of the product. Have them demonstrate the product to me as a prospect. Interview one or two sales people for information on how they sell the product.

4)      Spend an hour or so with a seasoned sales representative to understand where they have been successful

5)      Spend an hour or so with a new sales representative to understand what they feel they need from a sales guide

6)      Write a first draft of all materials interactively reviewing sections as they are completed with the appropriate product manager/systems engineer.

7)      Write second draft.

8)      Have one or two sales people review the document for completeness.

9)      Review second draft with product manager and engineering and other appropriate people.

10)  Write final draft and distribute!