It's Time to Start Planning for Q1. Here's How.

It's Time to Start Planning for Q1. Here's How.

How many times have you heard (or told your team) that Q4 is the most important quarter of the year? We've heard it time and time again throughout our careers, and it's true - the last quarter of the year can truly make or break your full year performance.

As if Q4 isn’t already challenging enough, this is the same quarter where you need to plan for Q1 of the next calendar year if you're going to come out of the gates strong. Here’s what that means and how to do it.

What Happens When Q1 Planning Falls to the Wayside?

We can tell you from experience what a disastrous start to a new year can look like.

It’s January 2nd and your team is back in the office. No one knows if they have a new account assignment. They know their compensation plan is changing, but don’t know how they will be paid. They know new products and services will be in their sales bag, but not which ones or how to sell them.

A few industrious sales reps guess at the solutions they’ll be selling, and start to build sales collateral. No one is sure who the priority customers are this year - enterprise or small and mid-sized businesses. Partners and customers are waiting to hear which rep will be assigned to them.

In short, it’s a disorganized disaster.

Leaving significant operational or strategic gaps is the absolute wrong way to go about a new year. Every delayed process puts the quarter in a deeper hole. We’ve seen accounts assigned as late as March, compensation plans rolled out after the first quarter, and training tools missing altogether. Starting a new year with mass confusion or productivity sinkholes is a risk no company can afford.

What Does a Strong Start to Q1 Look Like?

The biggest key to a fast start is alignment. All teams need to be aligned in terms on priorities and direction. So, for example, if sales is responsible for selling a specific product in particular, or to a specific targeted vertical markets, this is exactly where the marketing budget should be allocated, where the Systems Engineers should be peaked, and where the partners should be targeting.

Marketing plays a particularly important role during this time. The funnel is usually drained in Q4, leaving little (if any) pipeline to chase. This makes Q1s historically difficult, so marketing teams should be hard at work building high quality leads for the sales team to go after.

Meanwhile, each salesperson needs to know his or her specific role, accounts, territory, products and/or services, and quota. Compensation plans should be clearly laid out and agreed upon, without room for interpretation or additional negotiation.

Just as important is for the sales team to have a clear understanding of the resources available to them, both internally and externally. Internal resources could be tech support, service, and marketing, and external resources could include partners they can work with based on varying expertise.

How Do You Ensure a Strong, Quick Start to Q1?

Our approach is to assign a few people responsible for creating a Fast Start plan so when the team returns to the office on January 2, they are ready to go.

Everyone at the company from top to bottom needs to know the overarching strategy and how each role cascades up to contribute to the big picture. Everyone knows their assignments, their comp plans, and their extended teams. They are not only informed, but enthusiastic and motivated about the year ahead.

Refine Your Q1 Mission, Vision, and Strategy

A strong Q1 doesn’t begin in January. Instead, it starts in early October when the management team refines their vision, mission, and strategy so that it can flow down to the next level of teams.

All of the leaders within your business need to roll this information out to their teams until it reaches each and every employee. This ensures that the entire company is aligned and pointed in the same direction.

Designate a Project Manager

At the same time, someone (either an individual or team, depending on the size of your company) needs to be carved off to be responsible for overall project management.

This person’s number one responsibility is to keep track of the timeline to make sure priority items are ready to go on January 1.

How is this done? First, this person or team should identify and track everything that is changing in the upcoming year, as well as everything that is staying the same. They also need to identify any potential risks or obstacles that could stand in the way of successful execution. These should be flagged immediately so they are addressed well before the start of Q1.

Develop an Enablement Plan

Creating an enablement plan is another important piece of the Q1 puzzle.

Enablement encompasses product, services and solution, and operational knowledge - everything needed so employees understand their products and solutions so they can do their jobs most efficiently.

The enablement manager or team is responsible for determining all of the necessary sales and training tools and resources the sales team needs to be successful. These tools could be anything ranging from customer references, to messaging, to solution playbooks.

What skills and knowledge are required for success? What training and development is necessary? These all need to go into the enablement plan.

The enablement team should also be prepared to share the hard and soft skills learning map early in the year so the sales team understands exactly what is expected from them in this area.

Between all these resources, the sales reps should have everything they need so they can be solely focused on making quota rather than worrying about non-sales activities.

Create an Internal and External Communication Plan

Most companies have a communications manager who is responsible for both internal (employee) and external (partners and customers) communications.

When it comes to Q1, this person has two main responsibilities - sharing the mission and vision laid out by the management internally, and netting out key messages for external audiences.

How do you know if comms has done its job effectively? Here’s the acid test for your internal audience. If you dialed anyone in the company’s number, could they consistently and accurately articulate the mission, vision, and critical imperatives for the new year? If so, you’re golden.

The external communications plan should share new strategy, leadership, organization, products, sales models, coverage, etc. as appropriate with customers and partners so everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect.

When to Begin Planning for Q1

Start now!

Why is it important to start so early? There are several reasons.

First, there are a lot of moving parts involved in planning that can extend the timeline. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, this could take anywhere from a few days to a few months.

The length of time required to plan is also  dependent upon the number and nature of changes. For example, changing a compensation plan is labor intensive and may require multiple approval levels, whereas something like changing a territory could be much easier.

Second, your partners are most likely running their planning sessions in October and November, so if you want your strategy to make it into their plans, you need to let them know your intentions, investments, commitments, and expectations now.

Another benefit of starting early is that it allows time for contingencies. If something goes wrong or needs to be changed, you’ll have time to take care of it before the quarter actually begins. If you don’t allow for this buffer time, your Q1 could be off to a difficult start that’s tough to bounce back from.

And, if your Q1 planning is finished early, you can get right back to focusing on the all-important Q4.

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