Managing the Sprint to the Finish

Even with solid sales planning, sometimes hitting your company’s quarterly sales quota can be a sprint to the finish. Navigate through these urgent times in a way that not only brings in revenue today, but paves a smoother road for the future, too.

Every sales leader has had a conversation with senior management that goes something like this:

“Of course I have a plan to bring in the last 10% of revenue. Show it to you? Ah, sure! Can I have a few minutes to get prepared?”

“Get prepared” here tends to mean “pull a plan together.” Scrambling and panic ensue, and not-so-well-thought-out plans are produced.

Bottom line results rule in sales, but the subtext honored by the wise is that the journey is as important as the destination.

A sprint to the finish taxes the entire organization in unhealthy ways. Sales’ demands of accounting and admin spike as they hurry to push orders through the system. Procurement, production, and shipping are stressed to max capacity to fulfill those orders, and customer service braces for the aftermath.

Some classic ­— and bad — strategies to deal with a sales sprint to the finish are…

  • Discounting to incent immediate purchase. This kills margin and puts your business at risk. Business won on price will ultimately be lost on price
  • Asking good customers to accept “beefed-up” orders. This results in excess inventory to be managed, and credits follow. Not good.
  • Asking good customers to place regular orders early as a “favor.” See the previous item to learn why this is risky. Also, aren’t we the ones who should be doling out favors, not our buyers?

Managing the sprint to the finish requires forethought. Healthy ways to handle the sprint to the finish are…

  • Take the pressure off your team to produce rosy 30-day sales forecasts. Allow them to get real. Get a true picture of your funnel by asking to see only business with a 90%+ chance of closing within the month. This one action will identify much of what is working or not in your sales process overall.
  • Measure sales results against quota as frequently as is prudent. Track transactional sales results daily. Track key account sales weekly. Compare actual results to the 30-day forecast. Linking these will make both better.
  • Share the results. Let everyone know how they and their colleagues are doing. Done appropriately this builds a culture of achievement. It also promotes observance of trends, which will supplant waiting for alarms to sound.
  • Act early. Create strategies to address projected shortfalls by increasing sales velocity where it can be done. Implement immediately.
  • Meet often to check on tactical implementation. How is the sales situation unfolding? Poor implementation of good sales plans is a classic pitfall that can easily be avoided.
  • Set your marketing calendar appropriately. Marketing pushes at quarter end promote a sprint to the finish. Customers also get trained to curtail purchasing until the end of the quarter since that is when the deals hit.

Even with great planning and execution you may still be in a sprint to the finish. A good place to look for stray revenue is in your reps’ pending order files. Are there orders there waiting to get entered? Get them processed.

And what about your customers’ pending order files? Call your online or phone-in orderers to ensure they get the on-time service they, and you, require.

How about your shipping room? Are there any backorders or “on hold” orders that can be unstuck and shipped?

When all these avenues are exhausted take the remaining revenue shortfall and spread it among all your reps. Give each person a small hill to climb rather than having a few folks scale a mountain.

In the short term, leading your team like this will provide a good chance of hitting quota. For the long term, you will identify the root causes of your sprint to the finish cycle and create strategies to avoid it in future.

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