Making a quick start for 2012: Creating “First Quarter BUZZ”

Making a quick start for 2012: Creating "First Quarter BUZZ"

I want to share with you a key finding from the recent Pepperdine University 2012 Economic Forecast released this month. It contains the insights of over 3,100 small to mid-sized business owners. When asked which strategies would be used in 2012 to increase the value of their businesses, nearly 80% of respondents said it would be through increasing company revenues.

Expense control was a distant runner up. As is the case in most business downturns, you can only shrink a company to success (or survival) for a year or maybe two at the onset of the cycle. And when that cost-cutting gas tank is empty, you must return to your sales roots. Sounds to me like many (if not most) business owners expect the sales force to take center stage once again in 2012. I am not surprised, are you? And, if your competitors do, so must you—right now. So how do you create sales buzz in 2012 that will help you gain a competitive advantage and increased market share?

Some would say that the sales year is often won or lost in the first quarter. For in the first 90 days of the year (and no later):

  • Sales plans must be made and understood;
  • Resources (people & products) must be secured and tasked; and
  • Intense and sustainable energy must be applied to the needs and wants of key accounts.

If you are not ready to go and are not doing it by the end of March, your sales year will surely not be the success it should.

Over the years we have seen or used a variety of tools and methods for creating sales buzz in the beginning of the year that will build a foundation for annual sales success. Try a few or all of these tried & true actions.

Focus on the big guys. Whether it is sales calls, planning or marketing, put you and your staff’s attention on those few accounts (or prospects) that can make or break your year. I suspect in a typical company, that group of key accounts will amount to no more than say 100 companies. Do you ignore the smaller accounts? No, but you have plenty of time after March to deal with them after the trajectory of the big guys is properly set.

Why does this help? Because it puts the vast majority of all your resources—sales and other—on those accounts who will make or break your year, a good strategy any day of the year.

Make every senior executive a sales representative for a day. There was a legendary CEO of a major hospital-supply company who began his weekly executive staff meeting by asking each of his top executives: “How many sales calls did you make last week?” How many sales calls did the members of your executive team make last week?

While again focusing on the big guys (Catch the theme?), get your top executive team out into the field to build relationships with key customers and also show how important that account is to your organization. The customers will be impressed and your senior executives will be more engaged in generating revenue. Make sure they are making at least one or two sales calls a week, working with (“respecting”) your existing sales representatives and acting as part of the sales team.

Now some will tell you they do not have time for such things, but helping close a $1 Million sale is always more important than just about anything else they had planned next week. There is always plenty of time to catch up in the office after March 31st, anyway. And, the CEO should also be making a sales call each week. I would love to sit in on your staff meetings and hear your newest sales reps talk about pricing, availability and mix!

Why does this help?: By having your top executive team on sales calls, it demonstrates the importance your company places on its accounts and makes every executive in your company a sales person—and they should be anyway.

Make sure you have seen a written sales plan for all of your top accounts. (Those big guys again). Be sure the sales force has the discipline and knowledge to outline–for all to see–how they plan to meet their annual sales goals with each key account—(e.g.:) milestones, product mix, big events, profitability. In short, if your sales force does not have a written plan for meeting their annual numbers for each major account (and a takeoff plan for 1st Quarter 2011), they may not have a clue as to how annual account sales and profit goals will be accomplished—other than ascribing it to luck. Do you want to take that risk?

Why does this help? Some managers and professionals notoriously do not like to put things in writing—it’s that accountability thing. It is our opinion that if a written plan exists, the chance of achieving your sales goal is 100% greater than when there is no plan—other than anecdotal ideas and directions. If you do not agree, try it.

New products must be in the box and ready to sell by March 31st. Do not rely upon new products that are promised but not available until later in the year to contribute to the 2012 bottom line. If your product development people do not have this year’s new product roster ready to sell (and deliver) by March 31st, redo your annual sales and profit plans without the missing new products—and see where the chips fall. Then ask your product development folks what they plan to do for the last nine months of the year.

If the yet-to-be-introduced new products ultimately contribute to 2012 annual results consider it a bonus. But do not sell an empty box (promise) to your customers and waste the sales force’s time explaining why we have failed to deliver the new “best thing since sliced bread” this year.

Why does this help? A new product boxed and ready to sell in the distribution center is worth 100 ideas on the drawing board or in testing any day of the week. Your sales force does not have time in 2012 (or in any year) to sell future smoke on the horizon.

The entire plan as outlined above is designed to create sales buzz early in 2012 that will carry through to year’s end. For the 1st Quarter 2012 this plan can have effectively doubled the company’s normal energy focused upon the company’s sales mission and meeting the needs of each account, and more sales activity will be focused upon the right accounts. The increased energy (the buzz) should be evident across the entire company and provide momentum for the rest of the year.

Do you like what you hear? Try it. Do you think it is too late to start for 2012? It is never too late. Start tomorrow and end on April 30th. I bet you get the same results—buzz, that is.

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