The End-of-Year Trap
By Colleen Francis
Caught in the end-of-the-year trap?
On the one hand, you've got pressure from your manager to close deals NOW! On the other, you're getting the put off from clients who want to call you back after the holidays, next year!
The end of the year is a time when both you and buyers have fires burning bright and often those priorities conflict with each other. Many times we find that buyers use other priorities as an excuse to put buying decisions on hold. This can be especially bad if your clients tend to be publicly traded companies with a budget to hit by the end of the year.
"We're too busy now!, and "Call me back next year" are two of the most frustrating stalling tactics you'll ever hear in sales.
So what can you do to stop your prospects from stalling - and put an end to the end of the year trap? Here are the top 10 ideas collected from my own, and Engage client experiences over the last few years:
- Keep your pipeline full. If you have a pipeline with at least 3-4 times as many prospects as you need in order to meet your goals, you (and your manager!) will feel far less pressure. When you feel less pressure, you'll close more deals. Ironic? Yes. True? You bet. Most closing problems are prospecting problems. In other words you are not closing the sales you need because you don't have enough prospects to sell to.
- Have a "closing blitz day" at the office or, better yet, arrange a week or month long contest to see who can close the most deals.
- Reach out to customers personally, on the phone or face-to-face this month. Email is easy to ignore. Meeting where you are learning more about their business and presenting creative solutions to their problems are not. While you're at it, take your manager with you. You send the message that your client and prospects are valuable to you if are willing to make the investment in sending a senior level manager out to meet them.
- Make the customer be specific when they stall. "Thanks for letting me know that next year is better for you. What date would you want to place the order?" Or: "I would be happy to call you back next month. Would Tuesday, July 11th at 10:00 a.m. work for you?"
- Offer alternatives. Once when I was selling software, we offered to split an invoice in two, charging the customer for the software in March and the maintenance in April. Because the payments were split, the order fit better into her quarterly budgets, and the customer was able to make the deal right away. Can you think of a creative way to help your customers say yes right now?
- Question them into a corner - and close them when they get there. Tell your clients: "I would be happy to call you back next year. Do you mind if I ask, what will have to be different in May to make you want to buy from me then?" Or take the opposite approach, and ask: "Will anything change over the next few weeks that will cause you not to buy?" Once the prospect assures you that they do want to do business with you, you can respond with: "Great! Let's get your order into production now so your project won't be delayed, and we'll deliver it after January 1st."
- One Engage client offers to ship his product in advance and the invoice later, so that his customers can benefit from having the product on site while paying for it later. Of course, he only does this with clients who have excellent credit. But it works great - and he never has to discount his prices!
- Use the "F" word. Agree with your clients, and then disagree, by offering an alternative: "I understand how you feel. Other clients of mine have told me that they felt the same way. What they have found is that they can save up to 20% if they buy now. For example at ACME corporation they….
- Get a testimonial letter. Testimonials are the most powerful tool in your arsenal. They're also a sales person's best friend (next to my dog Conrad, of course!). Ask someone who bought before the quarter end, or any client who accelerated their purchase and was glad they did so, to write you a two-paragraph letter. The first paragraph should state how they originally wanted to wait, and the value they received by not putting it off - for example, did they save money? Time? The second paragraph should detail how happy they are with your after-sales service.
- Get scarce! Remind your customers (if it's true!) that the price will be going up after a specified date or that there might be a product or delivery back-up after the 1st of the month, and advise them to schedule delivery now. If your business tends to be seasonal, encourage clients to buy during off-peak periods in order to get priority shipping and production.
The success with which you handle the end of the year trap is directly related to the quality of the relationship you've built with your prospect or customer. A good relationship gives you more freedom to press for immediate action. A weak relationship may mean you end up having to wait until the next year to make the sale - or longer.
One last thing - under the considerable pressure the end of a year can bring, many sales people give in to the temptation to hold a "slash and burn" sale to get their prospects to buy. I urge you to avoid this at all costs.
In the long term, slash and burn sales are rarely effective, because all they do is set a precedent that your prices will drop whenever you're desperate. Once word gets around, who will ever buy from you at full price again?
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Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.
Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.
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