Management - Avoiding The Q1 Blues

How To Prevent A First-Quarter Slip In Sales

Avoiding The Q1 BluesHow to prevent a first-quarter slip in sales.

Why do many businesspeople experience a first-quarter lull following strong end-of-year sales? Because they believe they're powerless to stop the trend – and they're a little tired, too.

"Salespeople are often goal- or deadline-driven," says Norm Trainor, president and CEO of The Covenant Group and author of The 8 Best Practices of High-Performing Salespeople. "The closer you get to the goal line, the more intensity there is. What that leads to is exhaustion when they reach the goal line, and that translates into less activity in January, and usually a slower start to the year. The cycle repeats itself, and over time, it can become self-defeating."

So what can be done to ward off that post-holiday letdown? Here are six ways to energize your sales headed into 2013.

Think Ahead Differently
While your competition may get caught in an early-year rut, you can set your own path. "Step back and look at the seasonality of your business, and what you can do to eliminate seasonal variance and a heavy concentration of business in the last four months of the year," Trainor says. "One of the ways that can be corrected is to develop a 15-month plan for each year. Instead of doing your planning for 2013 in late December or early January, you do it in mid-to-late September."

Case StudyNow obviously September 2012 has come and gone, but Trainor says it's still not too late for distributors to organize smart goals for the months ahead. "You're looking at two levels of activity: that which will drive revenue in the last quarter, and those activities which will turn into revenue generation in the first quarter and beyond," he says. "When they start to think that way, they eliminate this ongoing repetitive pattern of a very busy fourth quarter and a very slow first quarter. If you think about who you're going to sell to a year or two from now, you can identify target markets and categories, and opportunities that can make your revenue predictable if you follow through on them consistently."

Compose a Business Plan
Of course, a changed way of thinking is only the first step to solving the Q1 puzzle. "What happens – and I was certainly guilty of this early on in my own distributorship – is most distributors use a lot of different tactics to try to get business from clients," says promotional business coach Rosalie Marcus. "They'll try e-mail blasting, social media posts and some networking, and that's great. But if that's not tied to a strategy, it doesn't work nearly as well. The most important thing a distributor can do is put together a one-page business plan."

She emphasizes that it doesn't have to be difficult. "What I recommend distributors do is, starting in November, figure out a plan for 2013," she says. "Who are you targeting? Who's your ideal client? What kinds of industries do they work in? How often do they purchase? What kinds of challenges do you solve for them? That's the first thing you have to figure out."

Marcus also believes strongly that a good plan has big goals. "For the first quarter, maybe you want to bring in a quarter of a million dollars," she says. "How are you going to do that? What strategies are you going to use? By what dates are you going to do certain things? Have some accountability – for example, ‘By January 31, 2013, I'm going to join two new networking groups where my target market congregates, and I'm going to set up a blog that has great information for my target market that will help them grow their sales.' Have certain things that you're going to do, because what works in marketing and attracting clients is consistency. Consistency over time gets results."

Send Clients a Business Update Letter
Marcus says one of the most practical ways to boost your overall sales, including your Q1 numbers, is to make sure that your current clients know what specific services you provide.

"Take a look at who your current clients are and what times during the year they usually buy," she says. "Those are always going to be the easiest sales to get. Many promotional product distributors can supply uniforms, they can set up incentive programs, they can do wellness programs – a lot of things that clients may not be aware they can do. Make sure they know all the different ways that you can help them."

Marcus suggests sending a business update letter via snail mail or e-mail (depending upon the type of communication your client prefers) to existing customers in January, complete with a rundown of all your company's most recent products and abilities. "I would also send a first-quarter special offer with it, such as, if they contact you by this date, they get a free setup on their first order – that sort of thing," she says. "Give them a reason to contact you."

Get Ahead During Competitive Downtime
When his competitors are catching their collective breath after the chaotic holiday selling season, Mike Emoff, CEO of Shumsky (asi/326300), likes to stay busy by looking for new, talented sales reps and bringing his current reps up to speed. "I look at January as a time to focus on doing two things: hiring new salespeople and training existing salespeople. It's a valuable time to do that," he says. "We all have those training issues or opportunities to go one-on-one with our salespeople, and we put them off because we're always too busy. I like to fit everything in. So, that's a chance to do that kind of work with the sales team."

For Emoff, early-year prospecting is a smart idea. "Whether they're in this industry or not, typically around the first of the year is when a lot of people look for new jobs," Emoff says. "A lot of times, they wait until they get their bonus, and then they're ready to move. That's a window of opportunity to be looking for people. If I'm an owner, I like to take that time to beef up my sales by hiring people who can sell."

Tie Wellness Programs to Resolutions
From a marketing perspective, Emoff says the New Year is a great time to hit up HR departments with wellness program ideas. That's because, each year, among the most popular New Year's resolutions is to lose weight or simply to be in better physical health. "We plan for it in Q4 so it can take off in January, and we talk to the HR managers of small-to-mid-sized companies – 100-500-employee organizations – and we strategically talk about implementing a program after the first of the year," he says. "We tie in the possibility of using a resolution as the kickoff to the program."

Emoff says this is another example of being proactive when the competition is napping. "Business gets slow for most people mid-December, and I look at that time as a chance to get ahead of the competition," he says. "So, I go to work with the HR people, and they're slower, too, at that time of year."

Pitch New Year's Gifts Earlier
Since your competition will likely be inundated with fulfilling Christmas and Hanukkah gift orders, Emoff suggests taking time in November to suggest gifts for the big events that take place beforehand and afterwards. "Our industry has a big fourth quarter because, in a lot of cases during holiday time, people are buying holiday gifts," he says, "and when we do holiday gift-giving, one of the things that happens is we get lost in a sea of gifts. "So, to stand out, one of two things can be done: Do a Thanksgiving gift, or do a New Year's gift. That way, the gift isn't lost in the sea of everybody else doing the same thing."

For New Year's gifts, Emoff says higher-end, winter-themed products – things that people will actually display on their desks – may make sense. "If it's a campaign around a New Year, and if you make it very obvious that it was planned out that way, you're going to get their attention," he says.