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Fourth Quarter Fix For Frantic Sales Managers

The fourth quarter is here, and it’s a time


November 12, 2008
By George Ludwig

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The fourth quarter is here, and it’s a time that makes most sales managers anxious even in a good year. Factor the tumbling economy into the mix, and anxiety morphs into sheer terror and panic. No wonder.

The fourth quarter is here, and it’s a time that makes most sales managers anxious even in a good year.

Factor the tumbling economy into the mix, and anxiety morphs into sheer terror and panic. No wonder. If you’re behind on your numbers as you enter the first quarter – and if achieving your company’s revenue goal by year-end is mandatory for your organization and your own survival – you rightly realize that the next few months are “make it or break it” time. But it’s not too late to turn things around.

Sales leaders, like football coaches whose teams are behind at the start of the fourth quarter, must retool if they want to win the sales revenue game. Managers must adapt to the current economic downturn and find the smartest route to score big and score fast.

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Remember the dramatic turnaround in what was hyped as the biggest NFL regular season game of 2007? The New England Patriots were trailing the Indianapolis Colts 20-10 with only four minutes left on the clock, but coach Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriot team were able to turn things around by scoring two touchdowns, which brought them a well deserved 24-20 victory.

If the Patriots can do it, so can your sales team.

Sales leaders can also turn things around, score big in the fourth quarter, and win the revenue game even if the scoreboard shows you’re losing by a big margin, if you focus, drill, and deliver in three fundamental areas.

One: ensure your sales team has a positive psychological mindset.

Two: hone in on how and where your team will spend their scarcest resource: time.

And finally, coach your team to skillfully execute the critical sales ‘best practices’ necessary to still win the game.

1: Make Believers Out of Them

Give salespeople your best “I have a dream” speech.

Pull everyone together (in person is best, but use the phone if necessary) and talk from the heart about your belief that the game can still be won. This is where you must convince people you can lead them to victory. Your speech must highlight all the specific company and marketplace beliefs that are necessary for success.

This speech doesn’t need to be more than ten minutes long, but it must speak to the emotions and values of the team in a way that fosters commitment.

Reinforce the message with some one-on-one coaching. Sales managers must encourage individual salespeople to kick some serious booty and take no prisoners in their pursuit of business. Look for the good in your salespeople, catch and reward them for doing things right, and keep the fourth quarter a period when people feel absolutely superb about themselves.

Fire them up—but don’t fire them. If you have a salesperson (or people) whose performance is dismal, don’t get rid of them just yet.
Plan to take the issue up in the first quarter of 2009 and don’t discuss it at all during the fourth quarter. Right now you must keep the positive energy at a peak level and have your salespeople as emotionally committed as possible in order to stack the deck in your favour so the company can sell, sell, sell in Q4.

2: Be a Time Management Master

Sort out their selling funnels and create a short list. The sales management team, with the involvement of the salespeople, must evaluate each individual’s sales funnel at the beginning of Q4 to determine which opportunities he or she should pursue.

Come up with a short list by looking at factors like:

• What’s the size or profitability of the sale?

• What’s a realistic evaluation of where the potential sale is in the sales process and the probability of closing it by year-end?
• What resources and actions are necessary to close the sale by year-end?
• Are there any specific adverse customer behaviors as a result of economic conditions that may preclude them from being a hot-targeted prospect?
•    Are there any previous buying patterns the target has demonstrated
as it relates to price, value, and purchasing urgency that might affect the opportunity?

Once the short list of opportunities for every seller has been developed, have your salespeople prepare a brief strategy position (an assessment of where you are in the process) for each of the opportunities included on their short list of targets.

Aim for the fruit closest to the ground. Consider a Q4 selling promotion targeted toward your current customers.

In hard economic times, customers want to make safe choices with their limited funds, so they look to companies and products they know and trust. This is a good time for the sales and marketing departments to team up and offer one or more specific price promotions targeted to hit the sweet spot of your current customers who are in the best position to purchase by year-end.

It also costs less and is considerably faster to sell to existing customers than it is to acquire new ones.

Grease the skids with quick communiqués. One way to save precious time in Q4 is to reach out to your customer and prospect database, especially your identified targets, using a variety of time-saving communication tactics.
E-mail, snail mail, faxes, and telephone will all complement your direct sales efforts and keep you top of mind, which is extremely helpful when trying to close business as quickly as possible.

3: Coach ’Em Relentlessly

Stick to your salespeople like glue. Now is not the time to let salespeople fly free.

Instead, the entire sales management team should be co-travelling and coaching salespeople right up until year-end. They should be there not only to encourage salespeople, but to also make sure that the company’s specific sales “best practices” are being executed with the customer at every interaction.

Coach and teach salespeople to improve key skill sets and you’ll help make sure every sales call ends with as positive an outcome as possible. Sometimes this involves a diplomatic intervention to help advance a sale that would otherwise be stalled or stopped.

Help them cut reluctant prospects loose. If you think a salesperson is courting someone who probably isn’t going to sign on the dotted line this year, it’s up to you to help him or her disqualify the target. Salespeople are by nature optimistic and so it often takes a gentle, caring sales coach to nudge them to move on to another target with a greater probability of closing in Q4.

Keep the “best practices” checklist in front of your salespeople (see sidebar). The “best practices” sales managers should focus on when they co-travel and coach salespeople vary from one company to the next.

The bell is about to sound for the fourth quarter, and sales revenue touchdowns and a game victory are both doable, even in this recessionary economy. In fact, there’s something about having a tight deadline that energizes people and helps them focus. Good salespeople love a challenge. Harness their competitive spirit and channel it in the right way and you’ll be amazed by what your team can accomplish by 2009. o


George Ludwig is a recognized authority on sales strategy and peak performance psychology. An international speaker, trainer, and corporate consultant, he is currently the president and CEO of GLU Consulting. George is the author of “Power Selling: Seven Strategies for Cracking the Sales Code” and “Wise Moves: 60 Quick Tips to Improve Your Position in Life & Business.” He’s also a columnist and frequent contributor to Entrepreneur magazine, Investor’s Business Daily, Selling Power, and numerous business radio programs.