Note: This article was originally published as a guest post on the LeadFuze blog.
With just a couple days left until the end of the year, many salespeople are busy with the time-honored tradition of performance reviews and goal setting to guide their 2017 sales efforts. Those who aren’t scrambling to meet their year-end targets are probably eager to check these boxes, finalize their bonus calculations, and coast into the new year.
If this sounds like your plan for the next few days, you could be missing out on a few more important activities.
The end of the year certainly lends itself to reflection and goal setting, but it’s also a great time to make meaningful progress on the things you usually file away as “important, but not urgent.” The reality is, you’re not the only one that feels like checking out until after the ball drops – and when everyone else goes dark, that means fewer distractions to keep you from getting a head start on Q1.
The best salespeople I know use the month of December to assess what they learned over the previous eleven months and develop a plan for crushing their first quarter sales goals. If checking out during the holidays is what you need to recharge your batteries, go for it. But, if you’re interested in gaining a competitive advantage over your competition, read on to learn how to make the most of this holiday season.
1. Check In With Your Favorite Customers
The traditional image of a sales person is the hunter-gatherer, hell-bent on tracking down prospects and bringing home the bacon. This is a necessary part of the job, but if the tempo around your office has slowed down, now is a great time to strengthen your relationships with existing customers.
Customers are going through a lot of the same year-end activities that you are, so consider asking them how their year went. Listen for opportunities to help them get better in the next year, but file them away for now. This call isn’t about selling, it’s about nurturing the relationship. You don’t want to be the guy (or gal) that only calls to ask for more business.
Checking in at the end of the year with a no pressure discussion about the customer’s situation provides a ton of value. Recognizing them for their loyalty and taking a genuine interest in the future of their business can strengthen personal connections at a time when people are feeling both social and generous. These conversations can often lead to up-sells, contract renewals, or referrals that shore up your pipeline for 2017.
2. Warm Up A Relationship That Has Cooled Off
If we look at the other side of the coin, the holidays are also a great time to reconnect with some of those old relationships that may have dropped off your radar.
The end of the year means there are residual budgets to be spent, next year budgets to be finalized, and more relaxed gatekeepers. All of this adds up to greater access to decision-makers and more opportunities to rekindle relationships that may have cooled.
Assuming things are going well at the prospect, people are usually more generous with their time and resources at the end of the year. Lead with a compelling, value-added conversation rationale and you might find decision-makers more willing to schedule a meeting in January than they were back in July. Even if you don’t secure a formal meeting, you’ll still be keeping your name at the top of a prospect’s mind.
3. Give Your Pipeline A Check-up
A recent study of 62 B2B companies, conducted by the Sales Management Association, revealed that 44% of executives think their organization is ineffective at managing their sales pipeline.
Truthfully, pipeline management should be a daily or weekly practice, but our natural tendency to reflect back at the end of the year makes it a great time to also look at your pipeline through a more clinical lens.
If you were to objectively assess your pipeline, how healthy would you say it is? If you’re not sure how to answer that question, be consider what you might learn about your sales effectiveness by considering last year’s:
- Stage Velocity – What did your velocity look like at each stage? How long did it take a prospect to become a qualified lead? How long until that qualified lead become a pursuit?How does your actual velocity compare to your expectations? Where are the roadblocks? At what stage did leads get “stuck” – and why?
- Pipeline Leaks – Did your funnel have any leaks? Were there points where a large percentage of prospects drop off? What could be causing this and how can you patch that leak going forward?
- Lead Distribution – Was your pipeline balanced? Did you have plenty of leads coming in, but very few closing (read: possible leak)? Did you have plenty of opportunities in later stages, but very few new leads coming in (read: more prospecting needed)?
- Data Integrity – If you see something that shocks you, ask yourself how accurate the CRM data behind your pipeline report might be. Is there missing or inaccurate data? How might that be impacting what you see on your dashboard?
“Getting right” with respect to your pipeline can put you in a very strong position going into the new year. While everyone else struggles to get up-to-speed coming off of their holiday break, you’ll already have a plan in place to start aggressively chipping away at your quota. Invest the time now, while there are no distractions (or excuses) and thank yourself later when you have more time to dive in to meaningful work.
4. Audit Your Collateral/Review Your Processes
If we’re being honest, when was the last time you sat down and reviewed your marketing collateral to assess whether the information is accurate and the messaging is targeted at the true needs of your customers?
You may not regularly review your sales materials, but a substantial number of your customers do. If some feature descriptions seem off or a value proposition doesn’t hit home, they notice – and that can make the difference between a win and a loss.
Your marketing department does their best to research customer needs and create collateral that strikes a chord with your target audience. But their efforts are often targeted at serving the rule, not the exception. If what you actually hear from the people sitting across the table doesn’t jive with what’s in your brochure, you’re missing an important improvement opportunity.
The slower operating tempo of December lends itself to conducting an inventory of your collateral and determining how you can best use them in real-world selling scenarios. Maybe the message is on point, but you realize that the brochure you’ve been using for SMBs might be better suited for an enterprise sale. Maybe you’ll discover that there is an updated version of a product overview that never made its way to your hard drive (whoops!).
Regardless of whether you uncover opportunities to improve the content or utilization of your collateral, the end of the year is the best time to review and submit feedback to marketing.
5. Initiate Knowledge Sharing
We all know that learning is important. That’s why companies invest time, resources, and many thousands of dollars creating and distributing manuals, training programs, and learning management systems to give their employees to knowledge and skills they need to excel. But is it working?
Unfortunately, a study conducted by International Data Corporation suggests that Fortune 500 companies lose billions of dollars every year by failing to efficiently share knowledge within their organization. This lack of communication results in operating inefficiencies, repeated mistakes, project delays, and a host of other corporate maladies.
So, why is it that we often take our annual review forms and file them away in a drawer or on a shelf? We all take time to talk about what went well and where we have opportunities to improve, but how many of us share those insights with someone other than our manager? How many of us consult with our team members to see if we’re struggling with some of the same challenges?
If you want to be the rising tide that lifts all boats, initiate a conversation among your peers about experiences, both positive and negative, and the lessons you’ve learned over the last twelve months. The discussion can (and should) be about both internal and customer-facing interactions. This level of knowledge sharing has been shown to significantly improve overall performance, as described by Harvard Business Professor David A. Garvin:
“Ideas carry maximum impact when they are shared broadly rather than held in a few hands… open up boundaries and stimulate the exchange of ideas. Boundaries inhibit the flow of information; they keep individuals and groups isolated and reinforce preconceptions…General Electric CEO Jack Welch considers this to be such a powerful stimulant of change that he has made “boundarylessness” a cornerstone of the company’s strategy for the 1990s.”
Carve out an hour to exchange successes, failures, and ideas with your team. You’ll be surprised by the number of insights that surface to help everyone perform at a higher level in 2017.
The Bottom Line (and a quick win)
If this all sounds great, but not great enough to inspire you to keep your foot on the gas, this easy win could be a suitable compromise. This might sound a little odd, but hear me out. What if you did your spring cleaning…in December?
You: You can’t be serious…
Me: I am serious, and here’s why…
A cluttered workspace, either physical or digital, has been scientifically proven to have a detrimental effect on productivity.
- Neuroscientists at Princeton University used MRI scans to prove that operating in a cluttered environment has a detrimental effect of focus and efficiency.
- Researchers at UCLA found that levels of certain stress hormones spike when we are distracted from a core task by the need to sift through physical clutter.
There are hundreds of studies just like these that confirm the negative impacts that clutter and disorganization can have on our lives.
However, it is important to note that we’re talking about more than just a messy desk here. What about all of those unaddressed emails sitting in your inbox? Or that missing/inaccurate CRM data we talked about before? Or that labyrinth of files and folders you call a hard drive?
These things weigh on us and can easily sap the energy from an otherwise productive week. Cleaning up the physical and digital spaces we occupy isn’t hard, it’s just inconvenient…and there’s no better time to do it than when everyone else has checked out for the year.
Look, it’s easy to pat yourself on the back, clear your calendar, and glide into the new year. If you choose to do that, nobody would fault you for it. But, for those who have done that in the past, you might have noticed that it can take some time to hit your stride when you get back to the office in January.
If you want to avoid losing two weeks while you recover from your holiday hangover, make the most out of the next few days by checking off some of these end-of-year activities. Do that, and you’ll be on your way to successful selling in 2017.
About The Author
Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.