It’s that time of year. The holidays loom, there is a chill in the air, and countless articles appear providing guidance to sales representatives about how to close the year strong.
The five, ten or twenty best strategies are outlined in checklists to insure end-of-year success. “Contact every client” is an action often recommended, as is “Revisit prospects who have chosen another vendor.” Other popular suggestions include “Ask for referrals.” Certainly, there’s value in these oft-circulated ideas. But think for a moment of your clients and former clients.
Notice that they are the targets of these and so many other seemingly magical revenue-producing actions. How do you think they feel about the spike in communication they receive from their vendors at this time of year? Do they feel special? Are they grateful to be contacted by multiple sales reps eager to “close the year strong” – all requesting the same things?
You already know the answer. Clients are smart businesspeople who, by the way, are hugely busy at year-end and don’t appreciate self-serving intrusions on their time.
Perhaps you’re thinking: “Self-serving? Isn’t that a bit harsh?” No. Not when the sales reps’ primary objective is to close the year strong. Whose year? Their year!
Perhaps the most important thing to understand when it comes to serving clients, and especially when it comes to serving major accounts, is that it’s not about us. Savvy clients can spot sales reps who don’t understand this simple concept a mile away. They’re the ones making those self-serving calls at this time of year in an attempts to close their year strong, with zero concern for what is going on in the client’s world. Not only are these salespeople easily spotted, they’re also remembered for a very long time.
The question is, how can you close the year strong in a way that respects your clients’ interests? One great answer is to start by focusing in on three strategies that benefit both you and your accounts:
- Know the Calendars. Close to 70% of US companies follow calendar budgets, which means a full 30% don’t. In the public sector, the US Federal Government tracks October to September; Canada’s government schedule runs April through March. Japanese and Australian firms often follow very different formats; many universities align to academic calendars. To add to the complexity, many companies utilizing calendar budgets align to government schedules for engagements with their public sector clients. Here’s the point: Before you start suggesting “end of the year” reviews or discount programs, be sure that it’s truly the end of the client’s year. And if the closing of a client’s funding year is indeed approaching, bear in mind that it’s also very close to the start of the new funding year. In such situations, knowing your client’s ordering patterns, pains and overall needs is critical. Significant mutual benefit can result from proactively suggesting products or services be purchased with unallocated funds before year-end in those situations where a “use it or lose it” system may apply. Some organizations will even accept and pay “pre-bills” in the current year for deliveries in the new year to avoid losing funds. By the same token, if the waning year’s funds are depleted but client needs remain, you may want to suggest ordering and delivery in the current year with payment due in the new year. Knowing your client and what’s required in his or her unique world earns you the right to have truly meaningful (as opposed to one-size-fits-all) year-end conversations.
- Work the Channels. Jay McBain, Forrester’s Principal Analyst for Channels, Partnerships and Alliances, reports that 75% of world trade now flows through indirect channels. Regardless of what your percentage is right now, consider it highly likely that that percentage is increasing. At year-end, it’s critical to engage with your channel partners – not so much to close imminent deals – although that’s fine if it happens – but for longer-term territory and account planning purposes. Your mindset should be that your partners are your clients … and you are theirs. The focus should not be on what you’ll do to them (which is all too often the subtext in poorly managed sales channels) but what you’ll do with them in the coming year. Strategic communication with major channel partners is a mandatory end-of-year activity. Now is the time to collaborate and set the stage for a fruitful Q1.
- Review the Value. Let’s face it. End-of-year reviews are usually nothing more than thinly-veiled attempts to get more business out of an account. We know that, and if we think our clients don’t know it, we deserve what these sessions typically get: nothing. If you somehow manage to get a senior client executive to attend one of these self-serving sessions, you may rest assured it will be their last one with you. Why not flip the script? Why not focus on value, as defined by the client, instead of revenue, as defined by you? Forget about conducting “business reviews.” Instead, conduct an honest-to-goodness value reviews, structured around the value the client expected of you in the recent past and the value they are depending on you to deliver in the upcoming period. (Sandler’s Quarterly Value Review tool, part of the SES suite of enterprise selling tools, can help you.) Reviews that focus like the proverbial laser beam on client value almost always also uncover new business opportunities. There’s something to be learned there. Focus on the client 100%, and good will come of it.
Close the year strong? Of course. But never at the expense of your client. Help them close their year strong. And never forget, it’s not about you.