It’s two weeks until December. Holiday music is already playing in every store you set foot into, your weekends are starting to fill with egg-nog and apple pie induced festivities and every morning you find yourself layering up with an extra hat or scarf before you step outside. Tis’ the season!

December around the corner also means your sales year is coming to an end. You have one month left in your year to close out strong. The pressure is on and invariably, you will be there the last day of the last month to close business. If your fiscal and calendar year are the same, the runway for Q4 is even shorter because you will lose 10-15 days due to vacation and holidays. Therefore, it’s important to manage your time and plan accordingly. So, as a sales leader or manager, what do you do? How can you close out 2018 successfully? I’ve faced this challenge as a senior sales executive, sales enablement executive and outside sales enablement specialist.

Pulling a rabbit out of the hat to close out Q4 is not a strategy. Set one.

Closing out the month of December strong is crucial, but not at the expense of your Q1. Closing out the last month of the year without a fully baked sales plan is a recipe for failure. Closing out the year with no line of sight into Q1 sales pipeline is asking for a disaster. We’ve all seen the issue of emptying the pipeline to finish strong but then faced the challenge of starting the new year with nothing. We all know the impact of not having a detailed sales plan in place heading into the new fiscal year. You can end up behind before you even get started. There are two areas that must be top-of-mind while in Q4:

  1. Have a fully scrubbed sales pipeline, down to the rep level, to include a clear line of sight into significant opportunities
  2. Don’t forget Q1 in terms of your go-forward sales plan

Have a fully scrubbed sales pipeline, down to the rep level, to include a clear line of sight into significant opportunities.

Think about what you should be doing tactically to finish your year strong. Have a clear line of sight into every opportunity in real-time, that way you don’t waste your time and resources on the opportunities that are not going to close and spend more time on the ones that will. Chose an opportunity size threshold as a way to create a target list of opportunities. That doesn’t mean you aren’t focused on all opportunities but the larger opportunities can have a bigger impact (good and bad). Remember, no discount in the world will convince someone to buy if they aren’t ready. Be realistic regarding your pipeline and move opportunities out, down or up. This too will help set your next month and quarter up for success. Here are some ideas to help you gain a clear line of sight into opportunities and finish the quarter strong:

  1. Enable real-time access to sales analytics to truly understand if you have the sales pipeline and velocity to cover your sales goals and where you may be exposed. We use our own solution, InsightSquared.
  2. Provide a real-time view into the sales pipeline across the enterprise down to the deal level through a CRM tool.
  3. Don’t put the sales team through pipeline update “fire drills.” Every minute spent creating a report is a minute taken away from selling.
  4. Take the sales cycle into account. Don’t expect a 6-12 month enterprise opportunity to close just because they are offered an incentive. However, don’t forget about managing them.
  5. Track your “best cases” but don’t include them in your forecast. Anything that comes in will be an added bonus.
  6. Ensure that your sales team has a close plan that the client agrees to. Call it a close plan internally, but you won’t want to call it this with your clients. Ideally, it’s a solution procurement and launch plan.
  7. Hopefully, this is a practice that is already in place, but if not, set up an internal cross-functional SWAT team for larger opportunities. Include the appropriate people in the room who can make decisions and act quickly to help close a deal.
  8. Ask a senior executive in your company to reach out to a similar role in theirs. This will help solidify the deal and start the partnership off on the right foot.
  9. Have your administrative and legal resources available to handle any last-minute contract issues so they do not hold sales back from closing opportunities.

Don’t forget Q1 in terms of your go-forward sales plan.

Don’t get lost in closing out the year and forget to look forward into the next. Encourage your sales team to do the same. Here are some thoughts to help you prepare for Q1 as you close out December:

  1. Ensure you have a complete sales plan down to the tactical level.
  2. Make sure there is a program in place to fill the top of the funnel. It takes more than just “cold calling” to drive a business. Marketing is required.
  3. Make sure goals, compensation and territory plans are complete. The worst thing you can do is leave a salesperson guessing.
  4. Ensure you have a standard sales process and methodology. Without one it will be extremely difficult to drive predictability.
  5. Have a structure to assess the team based on clearly defined roles. Make sure you have the right people in the right jobs. Deal with under-performers.
  6. Also, highlight your “A” players that are at risk to leave and put a plan in place to retain them.
  7. If you have open headcount for Q1 be interviewing in Q4. Behind headcount equals behind plan.
  8. Structure a Q1 business planning process that takes it down to the rep and account level. Have everyone participate. It will reinforce the fact everyone runs their own business.
  9. Make sure you have management disciplines in place to drive coaching and accountability.
  10. Have a structured communication cadence throughout the enterprise that goes from top to bottom and bottom to top.
  11. Define a training curriculum based on a detailed gap analysis but make sure the impact can be measured and there is a process to coach in real-time to drive implementation.
  12. If you don’t already have it in place, implement a CRM and a sales analytics solution to provide the requisite data and insights your sales team needs to be successful.

Tie it all together by planning a sales kick-off meeting as early in January as possible. This gets everyone aligned on goals, fosters collaboration and gets the team excited about selling so they can be off to a solid start.

Wishing everyone a successful December and end of the year. Cheers to 2019!

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