6 Ways to Speed Up During Year-End Slowdown

It’s natural to slow down this time of year. The days are shorter, and we’re biologically programmed to slow down. There’s a break from Christmas through new years when many businesses all but shut down. We’re all thinking about family and friends — as we should. And we’re surrounded by so many messages about ending, that it’s hard to think about what’s continuing and what’s starting anew.

The holiday season is a full time. Good cheer, family, vacation, celebrations, feasting. Many of us look back at the year that’s ending and evaluate where we are compared to our dreams for ourselves and our companies. Many look forward to the coming year and start to resolve to change.

Unless you’re in retail, business tends to slow down, too. Productivity slows. Sales slump, especially B2B sales. The pace of everything seems to wind down along with the year as if preparing for a hibernation. And after New Year’s, many businesses take a while to gear back up to their usual operating pace.

After the holidays, people stumble back in from their family trips and too many cookies. They look around the office as though it’s a familiar location from long ago. They blink in the fluorescent light, and they’re just not sure how to get started again.

Sound familiar?

Diminished productivity and lost momentum add up to lost revenue potential. Can’t cancel the holidays. Wouldn’t want to. So I hope my improviser’s mindset can help you and your team enjoy the holidays fully, and keep and even accelerate the speed of business.

Here are 6 things you can do over the next few weeks to keep the pace up now, hit the ground running in the new year, and improve the vitality of your team all at once. Improvisers look for opportunities to keep the action moving.

1. Express gratitude

In keeping with the season’s traditions, thank people for their work. To have the greatest impact, Be Specific.

  • Name specific behaviors. Like this, “Carla, when you go out of your way to help a client…”
  • Name specific events as examples. “Frank, you took the initiative to call Jerry over at ACME Widgets because you’d heard through the grapevine that they were having trouble with…”
  • Name specific results. “Beth,we keep happy clients and get more referral business because you…”
  • Name a specific desired future. “Thank you, Alan. Please keep doing that.”

If you do nothing else on this list, express gratitude this way. Gratitude is a prime motivator, and boosts engagement and productivity all by itself.

2. Shore up relationships

If sales and service activities are slowing down because of year-end, you and your team can reach out to clients, vendors, peers, competitors, colleagues. Reach out to anyone who’s important in your business, and express care (including gratitude). Have lunch or coffee. Attend holiday parties, and go deeper than typical small-talk.. Connect with people on things that matter to them — family, career, dreams, hobbies. Strengthen relationships, and reap the rewards in the new year.

3. Survey what you’ve built

Your team has accomplished a lot this year. Often, though, we just keep plowing forward, looking to the next project and the next task. Take a moment. Take a whole meeting. Look at what you’ve done together, and give each other a pat on the back. Even if you’ve taken a beating this year, you’re still standing. Take pride. If you can’t take pride, give pride to one another. A sense of accomplishment can bolster resolve and accelerate growth.

4. Plan for next year

If you haven’t begun this already, you’re behind. Plan for next year. What are your goals and targets? What are your metrics for success? How will you reach them? Be specific about actions you and your team will need to take. Begin to make assignments and map out responsibilities. Include your team in the planning process. Rather than allowing big goals to intimidate you and your team, frame the plan as an inspiration. And let people begin to take action.

5. Plan for the first week of January

Before everyone leaves for Christmas, gather your team to plan for your return. Set deadlines for the first Thursday that people are back. Include activities that require collaboration and accountability. Give people some work they find fun to jump into when everyone’s back. That way, when January 2nd rolls around, people will come in bright-eyed, eager to work. Gather very briefly on the morning of the 2nd to give people a high-spirited reminder of the plan. Then connect that plan with intrinsic motivators like pride in their work and the gratitude of their colleagues and clients.

6. Express Gratitude

Did I mention that already? This is something trained improvisers do easily and readily. They notice resources, structures, and people that support them. They acknowledge people who have their back.

Improvisers know that constant feedback drives behavior. Feedback is the material that all relationships are built from.


Improve internal Sales Communication

"Going Great" and Other BS Sales Reps Say Sometimes

Improve internal Sales Communication

If you’ve got sales reps working for you (really, if you’ve got anyone working for you), and you’re getting all the accurate information from them that you need, when you need it, then read no further. If you need any more accurate information than you’re getting, when you need it, read on.

 

A SALES TEAM PROBLEM

Engaged and high-performing sales VPs and sales managers are telling me about a problem they’re having with their reps. “My reps aren’t communicating well with me. And sales cycles are too long.” Sound familiar?

Maybe broken communication and too-long sales cycles sound like two problems, not one. I’m combining them because solving internal communication problems can shorten sales cycles. And the same fears that prevent communication also interfere in sales relationships and prohibit rapport building.

Fear of uncertainty leads to vague, unproductive communication.

BREAKDOWN 1

You ask your rep, “Rep, how’s it going with the Smith & Co. account?” Your rep smiles and replies, “It’s going great.”

Best case scenario, you and Rep are on the same page about what “great” means. Progress is happening swiftly. Prospect is eagerly moving through the buying process. Commitment leads to commitment, and a signed contract is on the way. And Prospect has been qualified as good a fit for you as you are for them.

But what if “great” means something different to the rep than it means to you? To you, “great” means the deal is making distinct and swift progress down the pipeline. To Rep, maybe “great” means that this difficult and demanding prospect hasn’t been making demands this week. That’s easier on Rep, but could actually be a sign of a stall.

Worst case scenario, but a very common one, “great” is not actually in any way related to the deal. It’s a default response. Like, “How are you doing?” and “fine.” It’s just an effective way Rep has found to end the conversation with you, the supervisor, “so I can get back to work.” It’s a method reps use to avoid looking bad in front of supervisors. Rep doesn’t have to face your disappointment or their own if everybody accepts “great” as an acceptable response.

BREAKDOWN 2

You ask your rep when the Acme Ltd deal is going to close. Rep replies, “By month end.” But the deal doesn’t close by month end. Was Rep simply mistaken? Did something unexpected and unpredictable come up, or was the roadblock expected and predictable? Or, did Rep knowingly promise you a pipe-dream in order to delay delivering bad news they knew was coming?

Well meaning reps, even high-performing ones, often dodge, delay, defer effective internal communication. “If I report green, and then bust my butt, I’ll get this account to green before it hits the fan. Everything will be cool. I’ll make sure it becomes cool. No one will have to know that there was ever a problem.”

BREAKDOWN 3

You ask Rep about the pending Anonymous & Associates deal, and Rep says, “They asked me to check back next fiscal year.”

You say, “I thought the contract was a done deal, all but signed.”

“Yeah.” Rep says, “I thought so too. They changed their mind.” You ask what happened. Rep bows her head. She tells you about a blunder she made on a sales call last month, putting her foot in her mouth. She apologized at the time, but the whole tenor of the relationship changed. And she just couldn’t pull the deal out of the resulting nose dive. If Rep had only come to you immediately, you know you could have helped mend the damage done, and come out ahead. If only Rep had told you at the time.

A SALES TEAM SITUATION

Your job as a sales team leader is to increase revenues, to improve systems and strategies, and the get ever greater results from the resources at hand. It’s a sales-team leader’s job to get more this year out of well-meaning reps who are doing good work than we got last year.

Many people in your role, however, struggle to get the granular, specific information they need to assess, project, and support. Sales Directors say they’re learning about problems in the pipeline later than they wish. If I’d known earlier,” they mourn, “I could have helped. And my projections would have been more accurate.”

And when sales reps project a front that, “It’s all good,” it can be difficult to assess where they need coaching, and to support them in advancing their skill and to improve their results.

Does this sound like your life? Do the well-meaning (even high-performing) reps on your team keep information to themselves when it would serve the company (and themselves) better if they’d share it?

You need a collaboration boost.

 

AN ADEPTABLE SALES PERSPECTIVE

That’s why I want improvisers on my sales team. It’s not just that their presence and focus on others create great relationships with prospects that convert them to clients, keep them coming back, increase referral business, and generate gratitude (as described in an earlier blog post). They’re a part of an open system of information that allows the whole organization to thrive, improve, and succeed.

Teams trained to improvise (in programs like Adeptability Training) have more fluid and open information flow — and thus they’re more adaptive, more responsive, and more effective collaborators. Improvisers share information — even information that shows their vulnerabilities — freely and frequently. Sharing information is how they get ahead.

Even before Adeptability Training, you can start to practice its principles today. At your next sales-team meeting, coach your team to put this one into practice. We call this principle “Be Obvious.”


A SOLUTION

Ask your team to “Be Obvious” with you. Tell them, “Nothing goes without saying.”

People who practice “Be Obvious” say more about more. You can ask for more information — and get it — by saying, “Nothing’s too obvious to tell me.” And you, as a supervisor, can be obvious right back. When Rep tells you, “Everything’s great with Smith & Company,” you can say, “I don’t know what ‘great’ means in this circumstance. Tell me more.”

This only works if you tell them as well, “When you come to me early with a problem, I will have your back.” Provide them with the coaching, the support, and the resources they need to excel. Sales reps thrive with support, and faith, and freedom. Most of us in sales are relational types. We may have lone-wolf tendencies, but we get a lot from the relationships that nurture us.

Make a game of it. You might say, “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then say what you think no-one should miss. “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then ask the question whose answer may be obvious. “I know this might be obvious, but have you asked Prospect this question.”

Ridiculing people for being “Captain Obvious” is a common thing in the culture at large, and in many company cultures as well.

“Be Obvious” culture, however, is far more effective. And with a little practice, feedback, and having fun with it, “Be Obvious” can easily be installed within a few weeks.

You’ll never go back.

When your reps are “obvious” with you, you’ll suddenly have three times the opportunities to provide coaching inside the sales process. With more information flow, you can close more business and fine-tune your sales process to truly respond to the particulars of your business, your product, and your clients.

As you repeatedly ask for more information, your reps will learn that vagueness won’t fly. They’ll stop saying, “Going great,” and they’ll actually start giving you details before you have to ask for them.

BONUS ADEPTABLE TOOL

Be Specific.

Ask your team to give you more specifics, greater detail — as a rule. This principle walks hand-in-hand with “Be Obvious.”

The tough part for you… Have the patience to keep asking. Dig into the details, and don’t take “fine” for an answer. Be kind. Be patient. Keep at it. The folks on your team will become fonts of specific information you can use to shepherd deals, notice skill gaps, give an assist, and coach effectively.

Your team will thrive. You will exceed objectives.

 

TRAINING VS. INSTRUCTION

I make a distinction between training and instruction. Instruction provides information. It takes considerable work to implement. You’ve got to bring considerable, deliberate attention to bear.

Training is experiential and creates habit. Once trained, people behave as trained by default.

 

If this sounds useful, book a call. We’ll help make it easier to keep the information flowing on your team.