Seven steps to hit your year-end numbers

As salespeople, we always find the fourth quarter to be the race to the finish line. Our tunnel vision takes over and we're focused on only one thing: closing the deal. Don't succumb to simply focusing on the close. This is the time to prioritize. Just as important, this is the time to stay focused on the customer.

The following are seven steps to help you achieve both those goals - and, as a result, move toward hitting your milestones when the year comes to a close.

1. Identify and prioritize your best opportunities.

Too many sales executives make the mistake of giving in to their natural sense of urgency as the fourth quarter approaches, pushing their staffs to close as many deals as possible before the year ends. Focusing on quality, rather than quantity, is a far more effective approach. Sales organizations have to be especially careful about how they allocate their resources at this time. They need to make sure their salespeople are spending the right amount of time on the right deals.

This requires taking a systematic and collaborative approach to identify the best opportunities, starting with the ones already in your sales funnel. You need to really understand what's happening with your high-priority deals. Take a look at where each of those deals is today and what you need to do to advance them.

2. Know the business issues that key customers want to address.

Examine each deal from your customer's point of view. Figure out how urgent their issue is to them. You really can't prioritize an existing opportunity if you don't know the client's concept what they're trying to fix, accomplish or avoid.

In fact, trying to move ahead without such knowledge is a common mistake, especially during the year-end push. Salespeople sometimes push too hard too early, trying to close the deal while the customer is still trying to figure out the problem. You have to address that issue first. You need to understand what exactly they're trying to do and why. If you can't quickly articulate the business issue they're trying to address, you aren't ready to close the deal.

3. Align your sales process with your clients' buying processes.

It's also important to understand each client's decision-making process who's involved, who the key stakeholders are and who makes the final call. With that information, you can understand the specific obstacles you're facing, and you can figure out the specific actions you need to take to overcome them. Then you can craft a plan to move the deal forward again, focusing on the customer's desired business results rather than on your own.

In the long run, trying to jam through a deal won't benefit you or the customer. Don't short-cut the sales process in order to try to expedite things. The sales process and the client's buying process have to stay in alignment.

4. Always Be Creating.

It's important to prospect for and develop new business consistently, as opposed to just pushing through existing opportunities in hopes of hitting great year-end numbers. You still need to build a robust pipeline for next year.

That may seem like common sense, but it's not all that common. Most people nod their heads and say, "Of course, we do that," but few really do it. The rationale: People assume that if they don't close in the fourth quarter, the business will spill over into the following year and they'll have the whole first quarter to catch up. No wonder the second and third quarters are often weak.

Change the old sales cliche from "Always Be Closing" to "Always Be Creating." Regardless of the time of year, all sales team members should consistently spend time working on new opportunities and relationships.

5. Remember your existing customers.

People often get so busy with new deals that they forget about their largest existing customers. Remember your biggest clients as you push toward the end of the year. As you continue to strengthen those relationships, additional opportunities will start to emerge. Letting your biggest clients coast puts those relationships at risk.

For those reasons, sales organizations should regularly assess the value they're providing to their best clients. Suggest additional solutions that solve your clients' problems or help them achieve their goals. When you do that, you become a trusted advisor rather than just a provider of goods or services and that's likely to pay off with even more business.

6. Involve and engage your salespeople.

In discussing how managers can keep their employees growing as they push toward the fourth quarter, there are three key sales process categories:

* Identifying and creating opportunities

* Pursuing existing opportunities

* Managing important relationships

At one time or another, everyone on the sales team should get experience with all those processes. Rather than risk having people become stagnant or too specialized, let them spread their wings: Mixing up those activities from time to time will create freshness and prompt some creative new thinking.

7. Rekindle the passion.

Contests, bonuses and other incentives are time-honored traditions for motivating salespeople. However, all too often, such activities fall under the heading of "hygiene factors" that is, they're nice to have and may even work to some extent. But such short-term initiatives aren't the most effective way to generate long-term momentum and drive results.

Instead, tap into salespeople's core values to remind them what about the profession excites them: helping customers solve problems and achieve, even exceed their goals. Salespeople need to get back the passion for what they do and for understanding what their clients are trying to do.

Remember, your customer's goals are very similar to your own - they are also trying to finish the year strong. The objective is to provide business solutions and value rather than pushing the sale. With this thought in mind, it puts your salesmanship and organization at a competitive advantage.

Sam Reese is the chief executive officer of Reno-based Miller Heiman - the Sales Performance Company. Contact him through


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