How to Prepare for Slow Quarters

For many of us, we’re seeing a glimpse at the end of a long tunnel. We’re catching sight of bits of warmer weather and are looking forward to myriad summer activities that lie ahead. Summer means it’s out with the old and in with the new. The old? The notion that summer months are a “write off” for sales and marketing initiatives. The new? Planning for the future with actions today.

Podcast: Justin Gilbert, senior director, channel marketing, AppRiver, a Zix company
Author: Justin Gilbert, senior director, channel marketing, Zix AppRiver.

However, slow periods aren’t just relegated to the summer, they can happen any time. If your IT company has experienced “slow” quarters (typical in the summer months), check your data. Are there activity gaps? If you understand your sales key performance indicators – things like the number of dials it takes you to get a sales meeting, or the number of interactions you have with a prospect prior to winning the deal – are you maintaining those activity levels through the entire quarter in question? If you notice even a small change in your activity levels (more than a ten percent reduction in any of the metrics you’re measuring) – don’t blame a slowdown on a given period of time, blame a lack of accountability to your sales process.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math

Do you have a defined, repeatable sales process?

Do you know your sales numbers (cost per lead, cost per appointment, cost of acquisition)?

If not, lack of knowledge will be the largest thing hurting your chances of hitting your sales targets. Understanding your key performance indicators greatly improves your chances of sales success in all quarters. Making decisions about your sales strategy based on feelings can result in a feast and famine approach to new business development. “Stop-start-stop-start” sales and marketing programs have two things in common: they are difficult to measure (and consequently difficult to improve), and they are ultimately very expensive.

Any time you stop a sales process for 30 days, you have eliminated a quarter of follow up activity from your sales pipeline. If you want to sign one new deal a month, even taking a one-week break from sales activities can get this annual goal off track. If you stop prospecting and marketing for a quarter you are burning a full year of necessary follow ups. The actions you take to change your sales process today will help your sales numbers remain consistent through any time of year.

Why Do Campaigns Fail During Slow Periods?

When reviewing historical data on outbound calling effectiveness and different seasons, there is only one thing that negatively impacts sales results in a typically slow quarter, and that is launching a first-time outbound campaign during the quarter. Simply put: If you want to have a productive quarter, you need to set that “flywheel” to start spinning a quarter ahead. If you start early, you will already have enough follow-up activity secured during the slow period to create that consistent sales pipeline.

This doesn’t mean if it is already in the middle of a down quarter you should just do nothing until the next one. If you want to hire and train a new sales team member, a time when lead flow is at a drip is the perfect time to do this. Are you looking to improve your own sales skills? This is a great time to take courses. There are dozens of sales and marketing certifications, webinars, and blogs online – start learning and practicing your skills so that next during the next you face a static month or quarter you it won’t mirror this one. The only way to change your outcome is to change your actions. If you’ve traditionally ignored the summer (or any other slow period) and can’t understand why you can’t move the needle, this is the year to change that.

What Are You Waiting For?

If you have invested more than a year in a partner or a process that isn’t getting you results, it’s time to change that, too.

One year is an appropriate and fair measuring stick.

It takes a full quarter to ramp up most sales and marketing initiatives, two full quarters of numbers to create a baseline, and then you will need a quarter to refine and improve the results. If your current process, sales team, or partner has not achieved acceptable results by the one-year mark, it is not likely it will improve further without intervention. Three-year agreements make sense for managed services firms. They don’t make sense for marketing partners so here is one more thing to keep in mind: do not begin a relationship with an outsourced sales or marketing partner at the beginning of a historically poor performing quarter. For the same reasons outlined above – starting a brand-new campaign in the middle of a slow quarter never makes sense. Stopping during those same months doesn’t make sense, either. The same rules apply to your marketing firm as apply to you – if you’re planning to outsource any part of your sales and marketing process to a third party, start right now or wait until after the downturn sorts itself out before you begin drawing down on the investment you’ve earmarked for this engagement.

Sales Success Is A Moving Target

What works at one phase in your growth may become less effective long term. Conversely, when you are measuring your results properly, you’ll know year-to-year which strategies you should double down on, and which of your ideas need a little more work to produce more sales. If you have been considering sales and marketing planning, and are still in the “planning” stages, it’s time for you to turn that plan in to action.

More Info: You can learn from leading experts how to build an effective sales and marketing strategy in only a few hours using our free MSP Masterclasses.

Author Justin Gilbert is senior director of channel marketing at Zix/AppRiver. Read more guest blogs from Zix/AppRiver here.