The Top 6 Reasons Q4s Are Missed... And How to Bounce Back
Over the years, we’ve seen our fair share of great quarters and those that are less than stellar. Q4 is always the biggest one, where sales people work harder than ever to reach their goals. With all of that time and energy going into closing deals, how is it possible so many sales people miss their quotas?
It can happen more easily than you think. Here are the top 6 reasons we’ve seen sales people miss the mark, and steps they can take to turn their numbers around.
Problem #1: Lack of Discipline with Your Pipeline
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen a salesperson go to his or her manager at the end of the quarter, saying they need help making quota. And when it comes to Q4, there’s often not enough time to build it back up to reach quota. The first step once this happens is to do a total qualification of your funnel. Are there enough strong prospects in there to help you reach your goal?
When the answer is no, the problem is generally that the pipeline wasn’t well-maintained to begin with. So how does this happen?
Some sales people fill their pipelines up with “wishful thinking” customers. Some reps have been known to put placeholders in, then remove these as real deals come in. Sometimes they’ve put in deals that are unrealistic stretches, or maybe the numbers are inflated beyond anything that’s truly within reach. But, hope isn’t a sound strategy, leaving the pipeline unrealistic.
In many cases, sales managers are partially responsible for this behavior. We tell our teams over and over to fill their pipelines or that the funnels aren’t deep enough, and that pressure can lead to fudged numbers or wishful thinking deals.
A sales manager has to be practical and not force pipeline for the sake of pipeline. It has to be legitimate. Sales managers should be running a funnel review call on a regular cadence throughout the year. Whatever your timeline is, be disciplined about keeping to it. This could be daily, weekly, bi-weekly, etc. We would run our pipeline call daily during the last few weeks of a quarter. Whatever your timeline is, map it out and be disciplined about keeping to it.
Another way to avoid a drained pipeline is by outlining clear ownership of who’s responsible for building it. It’s almost always a combination of these three key players:
Make sure all three have a clear understanding of their individual responsibilities and contribution percentages, along with the shared revenue and pipeline goals. When all three segments are aligned, revenue almost always goes up.
Problem #2: Not Getting High or Deep Enough into Accounts
Another common problem we’ve seen is sales people pitching at the wrong level or to only one person instead of going higher and deeper into their accounts.
How many decision makers are there within the account? When it comes to the bigger deals, there are often several stakeholders at the customer. Your rep should know who they are and speak with all of them. Do your reps have coaches in their accounts? Do they know who the potential detractors are? Do they have a plan for each?
We’ve also seen sales reps sticking with calling on a purchasing manager, or their first contact in the account. However decisions are often made at a much higher level. Two significant players at a customer are CIO and the business owner. Your rep should be meeting with both of these key stakeholders as they most likely will make the ultimate decision.
Another way to reach higher and deeper in an account is to work with partners who may already have developed contacts at the customer. By working with the right partner, you can create a solid coverage model and account plan.
Does your sales rep need coaching to reach these higher levels? Can they hold their own in a discussion with the CIO about OpEx and CapEx, or with the Line of Business owner about ROI or customer retention rates if they implement your solution? What additional training or support do they need to be able to sell higher?
This is also a great opportunity for a rep to use their executive team. As an example, we’ve seen great results when a supplier offers their CIO to meet with the customer’s CIO.
A single sales person is often not enough to get the job done when it comes to large and complex deals. Get your tech support in touch with your customers’ technical and IT teams, and make sure at least one of your executives in contact with one of theirs. This multi-front approach, or what we like to call resource mapping, involves putting a whole team together to get the buyer to yes.
Some of the most effective sales pitches we’ve seen go far beyond a simple sales call - they involve the whole team. This is especially important in more significant deals. Go as deep as possible into the account, build a partnership, and close the sale.
Problem #3: Procrastination
Time management is key for any sales person, but even more so during Q4 when the holidays throw everyone’s schedules into flux. You may think you have a customer who’s ready to sign the contract, only to find she’s in Vail skiing for the holidays. That deal you thought was a sure thing is going to slip into the next quarter.
This is where time management and preparation comes in. Make sure you have your customers’ vacation schedules in advance. Ask:
When will they be out of the office?
Will purchasing be available at the end of the quarter?
Is anyone else required to sign the contract - a VP, legal, board member, etc? If so, what is their schedule?
Do you have permission to call them in the evenings or on the weekends if something goes wrong?
Resources (both your customers’ and your own) are often strained at the end of the quarter; and that you’re not the only rep relying on them. Getting your deals in as early as possible in the quarter ensures you can lock up the resources you need and close the deal in time to hit your number.
Will your customer need a demo, configuration, or an implementation plan? You’ll need tech support.
Everyone will be bringing contracts to their legal teams at the end of the quarter. Can you get yours to legal with enough time to spare in case of revisions?
Depending on the size of the deal and budget requirements, your customer may need it to be financed. Have you given your finance team enough time to structure an offer and to negotiate it with the customer?
Outline all the resources you need from your team and your customers, and document the amount of time these steps typically take. Calendar all of this information and work from there. For example, determine when you need to get the contract to legal to get it signed before offices are closed and people are gone for the holidays.
Every customer’s needs and requirements are different, so make sure you know what they are so you’re not caught off guard at the end of the quarter.
Problem #4: Getting Sucked into a Slow No
There’s nothing worse in sales than getting pulled into a slow no, but it can happen to the best of us. Maybe the customer keeps rescheduling appointments, or maybe they’re stringing you along while weighing other options.
Whatever the case may be, keep a keen eye out for the wild goose chases. They’re too easy to get sucked into, and you’ll just be burning precious time and resources.
If you fear you might be getting sucked down this dangerous road, you need to work to create a sense of urgency for your buyer. What can you offer to get them to give you a quick yes or no answer? A price option? Extra resources? Add-on services?
A limited-time offer can make the difference between a long, drawn-out no and a perfectly-timed Q4 sale.
Some customers may be avoiding saying no because they want to seem nice, avoid confrontation, or keep the door open for a future deal. If this is happening, let them know that it’s okay to say no and that they can come to you down the road if and when the time is right.
Problem #5: Lack of Goal Alignment With Your Partners
Reaching your Q4 quota is your priority, not your partners’. We’ve seen partners hold a deal that we were counting on closing if they didn’t have the bench or the finances, or if they simply didn’t need it to make their numbers this quarter.
The first step in avoiding this is making sure you have the best-fit partners for your company. This starts with an effective channel partner recruitment plan. Develop a partner enablement strategy to ensure they have the resources they need to be as effective as possible.
Once you have partners you know you can depend on, communicate with them openly to make sure your goals are aligned. Your priorities, commitments, and investments should be shared. Make sure the partner is right there with you, committed to closing on your timeline. Understand what they need this quarter, and identify gaps that you can address early in the quarter before it’s too late.
If some of your deals are being managed by partners that you’re not as comfortable with, all hope isn’t lost. Provide them with additional resources to get the job done, whether it’s marketing support, additional technical help, executive presence, or whatever else they may need.
The key is open communication to ensure you and your partner are on the same page with closing the customer.
Problem #6: Missing the Trial Close
The trial close is one of the easiest ways to pave the way to a sale, but one that’s missed far too often. We’ve seen so many sales people avoid it, believing they already know what their customer would say.
The truth, though, is that you never know unless you ask. You don’t know what you don’t know. And if you don’t ask, you could miss a major opportunity.
The premise behind a trial close is simple - you’re essentially making a mental contract with your buyer. After a discussion about their needs, ask them: “If I can take care of [whatever they asked for] by the end of the week, can we get our agreement signed next week?” In an ideal world, the answer is yes.
In reality, they might need more. If the answer to your question is no, ask what else they need. Then, “If I do [whatever else they need], then do we have a deal?” At this point, the answer should be yes.
The trial close is the only way to truly understand what your customer is hesitant or concerned about, so skipping this step can be the difference between a deal or no deal.
Don’t just take it for granted that you have all the right information. Do a trial close, and know for sure.
No matter which of these problems you’re facing, the key to a strong Q4 finish is organization, discipline, and quick responses to roadblocks that stand in your way.
This article was originally published in October 2018 and has been updated.