Ah, September. Summer ends and school starts. In selling, though, our quarterly view of the world focuses us keenly on the closing of Q3 and the start of Q4. In the immortal words of sales guru, T.S. Eliot, “To make a beginning is to make an end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. And the end is where we start”. As sales managers everywhere offer their guidance and motivation that, even with these ends and beginnings that remain in the year, there’s still time to make good things happen. And we’re flooded with blogs sharing sage insights about how to do just that – close the year strong. The checklists of the five, ten or twenty best strategies are provided to help you maximize the chances of hitting your numbers by Dec. 31. Actions like “Contact every client” are often suggested while another fan favorite is “Go back to prospects who had chosen another vendor”. Another popular bit of advice is “Ask for referrals” and, of course, every Top 5/10/20 blog post includes the news flash to “Conduct account business review meetings”. And, yes, there’s some value in the myriad of ideas that are repeated over and over. More or less.
Before you pick up the phone or hit the keypad, stop. Take a moment to think about your clients – the targets of those intrusive actions you’re about to take. How do you think they feel about the flurry of vendor calls they receive at this time of year? Do they feel touched to be contacted by tons of reps, all requesting the same things? You know the answer. Clients are, by and large, smart businesspeople who, by the way, are extremely busy heading towards year-end and they don’t appreciate self-serving incursions on their time. And is saying self-serving a bit harsh? How can it be when our objectives have nothing to do with clients’ best interests but are based solely on our needs to hit our numbers?
There is a middle ground, though – a mutually beneficial way to deliver value to clients while at the same time earning value of your own in the time remaining. The most meaningful thing to understand in serving clients, especially at this time of year, are the four most important words in selling – “It’s not about you”. Sales reps who don’t internalize that message are sniffed out by clients a mile away, just like the aroma of a skunk. They’re the reps making those self-serving calls in attempts to sell their products and services before the bell tolls. Yes, they’re easily spotted and more importantly, they’re long remembered.
So, how can you close the year strong in a way that respects your clients’ interests? Start by focusing on three strategies that benefit both you and your accounts:
1. Know the Numbers – Approximately 70% of US companies follow calendar budgets. For you Math fans, that means a full 30% don’t. In the public sector, the US Government tracks October to September while Canada’s government schedule runs April through March. Japanese and Australian firms follow very different formats and universities often align to academic calendars. To add complexity, many commercial companies utilizing calendar budgets align to government calendars for engagements with public sector clients. So, before you start suggesting “end of the year” activities, don’t embarrass yourself. Make sure it really is the end of the year. And if the closing of a client’s funding year is truly approaching, the flow of next year’s funds is right around the corner. As such, knowing your client’s ordering patterns, pains and overall needs is huge. Significant mutual benefit can result from proactively suggesting purchases with unused funds before year-end as “use it or lose it” often applies. Some accounts will even pay “pre-bills” in the current year for new year deliveries to avoid losing funds. At the same time, if the current year’s funds are used up but client needs remain, suggesting ordering and delivery now with payment due in the new year is another powerful proposition. Knowing your client and what’s required earns you the right to have meaningful year-end conversations versus those scripted and wasteful Top 5/10/20 chats .
2. Work the Channels – Jay McBain, Chief Analyst – Channels, Partnerships and Ecosystems at Canalys and 2021 Channel Influencer of the Year states that 75% of world trade flows through indirect channels. Whatever your percentage is, it’s probably significant. So, towards year-end, it’s critical to engage with your channel partners for territory and account planning. Your mindset should be that your partners are your clients and you are theirs. As such, your focus should not be on what you’ll do to them but what you’ll do with them. This strategic communication with channel partners is a fundamental end-of-year activity. Collaborate effectively and maybe you’ll find some Q4 nuggets and/or set the stage for a fruitful Q1.
3. Review the Value – Too often, end-of-year business reviews are nothing more than thinly-veiled attempts to squeeze more business out of an account. If that’s your intent, clients will see through the veneer quickly. If you’re fortunate enough to get client executives to attend one of these one-sided sessions, it will be their last. And as mentioned earlier, they will remember. So, flip the script and focus on value instead of business – value in the client’s perspective! Don’t conduct business reviews, but instead conduct value reviews, structured around the value the client expected of you in the recent past and the value they depend on you to deliver in the upcoming period. It’s amazing how reviews structured around client value almost always also uncover new business opportunities. Focus on the client and good will come of it.
Close the year strong? Of course. But never at the expense of your client and always with account knowledge and a keen focus on mutual benefit. And always remember, it’s not about you.