Great Q4s Don’t Just Happen: Make This Your Best Q4 Ever
Everyone in sales has heard the old adage, “Quarters don’t just happen, they’re made.” And we’ve all heard “This is the most important quarter ever,” multiple times. But, how can you really knock a quarter out of the park, especially the all-important Q4?
The last quarter of the calendar year is traditionally the most challenging with the most distractions.
Selling time is cut short between Thanksgiving, where we typically lose a week between our teams and our customers, and religious holidays where we can lose a few weeks of field time. Many employees and customers also take their use-it-or-lose-it vacation at the end of the year.
Since Q4 is often the lynchpin to the full year performance, we’ve put together a Q4 closing plan to help you make your best quarter ever.
Step One: Analyze Your Funnel
In a dream world, you’d be able to close all the business in your pipeline so you can end the year as much over your target as possible. But, in reality you probably aren’t going to close every single deal in your pipeline. In fact, we’ve never seen this happen.
So, the very first step you need to take is to analyze your funnel to determine which deals can realistically be closed. Prioritize the customers in your pipeline into four categories:
Deals you will definitely close
Deals that aren’t sure things, but have a high likelihood of being closed
Deals that would be extraordinary wins, but are probably a stretch
Deals that are placeholders in the funnel, whether knowingly or unknowingly
If you close everyone in the first group, will you meet or exceed your goal? What if you add in the second category and increase the odds of closing these customers by throwing resources at them?
If you can cover you quota with your funnel, then congratulations; you’re ready to move to step two!
What if Your Funnel Isn’t Strong Enough to Make Quota?
If you foresee a gap, you’ll need to create an action plan immediately. Start by notifying your manager. You don’t want them caught off guard, and he or she can provide support in helping you beef up your pipeline and pull in deals sooner.
Building a strong funnel takes time, but there are a few strategies you can take to quickly add to it when you’re in a pinch at the beginning of Q4.
First, determine the critical priorities for the quarter. Is it one particular product, a target vertical industry, or a new service? Doing this gets the entire team - sales, support, services - all on the same page, and sets up a strong alignment between sales and marketing.
What resources can you deploy to get more deals to closure? Systems Engineers, company executives, or rapid trials are a few that we’ve seen effectively be used.
What can you do to create a sense of urgency with your buyer to help move up the deal? Special pricing, discounts, extra resources, or added services can motivate a customer to commit sooner.
What rapid response plans can your marketing team quickly implement to generate demand? Having campaigns that can be turned on and off, and easily deployed is a good practice at any quarter.
What deals can be pulled in from Q1 of the upcoming year? If you blanket these customers with resources and an executive call plan, can you bring them into Q4?
Finally, take a look over your contacts (or Rolodex, if you still use one). Is there anyone you can reach out to who may be able to do you a favor? Good salespeople will have at least a handful of accounts where their customers will work with them.
Once your funnel is filled with stronger prospects, you’re ready to move on to step two.
Can a spif or other compensation adjustment be proposed or implemented to drive extraordinary performance?
Step Two: Map Your Resources
Now it’s time to figure out how to matriculate the deals in your pipeline. What resources will you need to support the sale to get it to closure this quarter? This usually comes down to getting the right people involved and carefully managing your time.
Assign Roles to Everyone Involved
If you’re a partner, sit down with your supplier and let them know where you need something extra, like a demo, tech support, or an executive’s support.
If you’re a supplier, determine your best channel partners - the ones with disciplined skills who can easily close deals for you. Then, focus on those who need more resources to get their jobs done and help them however you can.
For both audiences, it’s essential there’s goal congruence. You have to be on the same page. Then, you can work together to reach your goals.
In our experience, some of the most effective Q4 sales pushes have come from a multi-front approach, with all hands on deck. This strategy is essential for more significant deals which can’t just be sales rep to sales rep - you have to go deeper into the account.
Take a blanket approach, with sales reps calling on decision makers, the sellers SEs working with the customer’s technical teams, and the seller’s executives calling on the buyer’s executives. This makes the deal so much more than a sales call, and instead puts a whole team forward to close the sale.
Once you’ve mapped out each person’s role, create a communication plan and review timeline. There’s no single answer to the right amount of communication - it can range from daily to weekly to monthly - so read your team carefully to determine what’s best and stick to the plan.
Manage Your Time Effectively
One of the resources most overlooked in Q4 is time. People go on vacation and offices shut down for the holidays. We’ve heard so many reps say they were this close to closing a deal, only to find that the decision maker was on vacation and unable to sign the contract. Not only do they miss out on the sale, and their quota, but there is a ripple effect all the way up the sales chain. One vacation at a significant customer can have a wide ranging impact.
To avoid this, make sure your reps are keeping an open dialogue with your contacts. Find out if and when they’ll be on vacation, and whether it’s okay for you to contact them during that time. Ask if they’re okay with giving you their cell numbers, and if you have permission to reach out during the evening or on weekends if an issue arises.
Buffer in enough time to ensure every person involved in closing the deal will be available to do so - from your contacts team, to your purchasing department, to legal. Remember that you need the counterparts from both your organization as well as your customers, so don’t wait until the last minute.
This cushion of time has another benefit, too. Every salesperson is rushing to close out his or her Q4 at the same time, and your customer will likely be bombarded with sales calls. The earlier you get in, the more likely you are to be the first and the most successful.
Step Three: Use the Trial Close
We believe that a trial close is an essential piece of the sales puzzle. This is a key step in understanding what’s on your customer’s mind and what he or she may be hesitant or concerned about.
A trial close is like a mental contract with your buyer. Ask them, “If I can do ABC by Friday, do we have an agreement we can get signed this next week?”
If you get a yes, you’re golden.
If they say, “No, first we need you to do XYZ,” then you know exactly what’s stopping the deal from moving forward. If it’s something you’re able to accommodate, confirm, “Ok, so then if we do XYZ do we have a deal?” At this point, the answer for a serious buyer should be yes.
Many salespeople take for granted that they understand their customers, and skip this step because they think it’s unnecessary. Don’t make this mistake! There’s no way to know exactly what your customer needs unless you ask.
Step Four: Map Inhibitors to the Sale
Once you’ve gone through the trial close, you know the specific obstacles standing in the way of your sale. Now, you can deploy your resources in a targeted way to close the priority deals.
You should know each of your prospects’ inhibitors and whether you can assign someone to fix it, whether it’s someone to provide a demo, tech support, an executive connection, or anything else.
Map out each step required to address these sales inhibitors, and create a disciplined follow-up process. Each week, assess what you’ve done lately to close the deal, and the next steps you need to take to close it.
At the same time, you need to be realistic about whether a deal is within reach. If you don’t have the resources to address an inhibitor, be upfront about it. Keep an eye out for the wild goose chases, and don’t get sucked into them. You’re only going to burn precious time and resources on these.
Step Five: Get the Contract to Legal with Plenty of Buffer Time
Depending on your selling process, you may need legal to be involved in the sales process. Don’t underestimate the amount of time it can take for a contract to get through both sides’ legal teams. There’s a serious legal crunch at the end of a quarter, and you need to be prepared for this.
One of the mistakes we see over and over is sales reps not leaving time in case something goes wrong. When there is an issue between the legal teams, it can delay the deal by days or weeks, depending on the complexity. Plus, both sides’ legal teams are generally totally overwhelmed by the time you get to the tail end of the quarter.
It can take a couple of weeks (and often longer) for a redlined contract to get through your legal team and your customer’s legal team, so get it to them with plenty of time to spare. They will appreciate it.
Avoid all of these problems by building in a buffer and getting the contract over to them earlier in your Q4.
Step Six: Sign the Contract
When the contracts are all back from legal, the only thing left to do is get them signed, thank your customer, and celebrate your successful Q4.
Now you can enjoy the holidays with your family… and start preparing for a successful Q1.
This article was originally published September 2018 and has been updated.