Sales always feels like a race. Or climbing a hill. Now that last year is over, you’ve got a new hill to climb, a new race to run. With a new year started, you need to turn future potential into reality.
Many sales managers and sales professionals - whether you are in business development or account management - wonder how to get ahead and stay ahead. Locking in enough deals and revenue earlier is the most effective way to do that. In this article, we look at how you can do that earlier in the year to take some of the pressure off as you move forward.
Why is early sales success a challenge?
Whether your financial year is calendar or fiscal, there is always a pressure to hit target towards the end of the year. That final push. For a sales team, this can make the end of the year feel like a never-ending dash through calls, meetings and deals, in the hope of hitting target and earning as much commission as possible.
Unfortunately, there is a negative impact to all of that activity. When it comes to the start of a new year, or the next quarter, the sales pipeline is often not flowing as fast as it should. Sales activity from one quarter has cannibalised new opportunities for the next, making it even more of an uphill struggle to get deals in the pipeline.
Here are a few ways you can overcome this challenge:
- Identify sources of growth
- Create new opportunities
- Set stage goals
- Manage lag and lead indicators
Hit target earlier
#1: Identify sources of growth
Growth from one year to the next doesn’t always come from the same sources. Depending on what you are selling, you may need to switch sector or region. Product life cycles also have an impact on this. If clients only make a purchase once a year, or even every few months, you constantly need to hunt for new prospects and opportunities while making sure to maintain contact with your accounts until they’re ready to make another purchase.
Always aim to think several months ahead. When going into a new sector, use case studies from one sector to help you demonstrate that you’ve got solutions applicable to another. Start outreach as early as you can, and whenever possible ask for introductions within your network. Referrals from clients is another way to make traction in a new sector or region.
In time, proactive outbound activity will start generating positive inbound leads and a strong growth pipeline.
#2: Create new opportunities
In sales there are always ways to create new opportunities.
Work with marketing to target new sectors, regions and types of businesses. Make sure you’ve got the sales enablement material in place to support sales pitches. Speed is a factor you need to pay close attention to. When leads come in from marketing, don’t hesitate to get in contact with them.
Instant demos are a great way to engage a prospect with a solution early on. If a potential client has time for a call, they probably have time for a short instant demo. Even if they’re not at their desk, you can screen share with a potential client and pre-qualify a lead before setting time aside for a more in-depth conversation.
#3: Set stage goals
Every year a sales team is given a new target. From that, individual team members are set annual and sometimes quarterly targets. Bonuses and commission are based on the performance of team members.
But are these targets enough to manage activity successfully? Not always. Setting stage goals breaks these targets down into manageable activity points. For example, if a sales agent needs to book 20 meetings per week, they should be lining those up 6 weeks in advance. Gradually filling their calendar up with meetings, either from referrals, scheduling appointments with clients (account management) and new business activity.
#4: Manage lag and lead indicators
In sales, it is easy to identify lead indicators, e.g. whether or not someone has hit target.
However, what about lag indicators? Are your team doing enough to ensure they can hit target? For example, booking enough meetings with prospects and accounts in the calendar. Managing activity, the number of calls, emails and online instant demos a sales team is doing is key to understanding if they’re doing what they need to hit target.
Hitting target and maintaining growth every year is always going to be a challenge. Some years it is more challenging than others, and in some countries we are seeing signs of economic slowdown and regional uncertainty. And yet, there are always opportunities for growth and new sales, even if it means searching a little harder. With the right amount of focus and effort, skilled sales teams can start securing revenue earlier in the year and hit target without a panicked rush at the end.