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It’s always a challenge for a sales rep to look ahead to the following year, often because of a lack of information.
We tend to wait until we have our goals before we start planning. This is a mistake. The success of the coming year is prepared well in advance. If you wait until the new year to do so, you’re starting out with a sizeable backlog that will be hard to make up.
This can be avoided by treating the end of the year and the beginning of the year as one continuous event, rather than two unrelated stages.
Let’s see how.
End the year on a high note
The way you finish one year often influences the start of the next. If you finish strong, there’s a good chance you’ll start strong too.
On the other hand, if you finish on a downward slope, it’ll be harder to climb back up. It’ll take more energy to get back on the right foot the following year.
The first thing to do to end the year well is to leave nothing on the table.
First, we must ask ourselves:
- How did my year end?
- Have I achieved my goals?
- If not, how much time do I have left to make them?
Secondly, we need to close the gap between last quarter’s target and what remains to be achieved.
First of all, you can look for quick and easy sales (low-hanging fruit). What opportunities are within your reach, knowing that time is running out?
Ideally, the sales rep should be able to rely on the CRM. If the opportunities are well qualified, the CRM should indicate those that are close to closing. This means that these opportunities have already successfully passed the first hurdle.
The customer has recognized the importance of the problem and sees the urgency of taking action. Normally, we’ve reached the third goal: the customer has been identified, is ready to invest further and is keen to solve the problem.
We understand his decision-making process and we know his timetable. So everything between second and third base should be covered. We’re really in the closing stages.
If the customer is ready to decide, and we’ve gone all the way to the third goal, all that’s left is to find the urgency to act.
To really create a sense of urgency, you need to make the customer feel it. To do this, it can be useful to take him or her back to previous exchanges. The sales rep might say: “At our first meeting, you gave very specific reasons for moving forward quickly. You even identified a potential return on investment. Do you still consider this urgent? If so, when do you plan to make a decision?”
But beware: an exceptional year can sometimes have unforeseen effects. Some reps, when they have an exceptional year, decide to save a few opportunities to get the next year off to a good start. We call this “sand bagging.” They choose to put something off until next year.
The problem is that this often happens without the sales manager or VP knowing about it. They might need these sales for the whole team, but the sales rep doesn’t care because he or she has already reached his or her targets. It’s a way for the sales rep to start the new year strong, with sales virtually assured. But this may be to the detriment of the team.
As a sales manager, you can still ask a member of your team to close sales in the current year. This allows you to counterbalance those who didn’t reach their targets, and to better plan for the following year.
Plan for next year
At the end of the year, it’s time to take stock. The following questions can help you do just that:
- Did you have an account plan in place and initiatives planned for the year just ended? If you didn’t implement them, chances are you’ll have to carry them over to next year. Take the time to review these initiatives, especially if they are still relevant.
- Did you follow your game plan? If not, is it because you chose the wrong initiatives? Did you forget them? Or did you run out of time for some of them?
- Did you set yourself unrealistic goals? Or did you forget to take certain elements of the context into account, so that in the end, your plan turned out to be unfeasible?
The best representatives, those who really stand out, draw up a plan and define a series of actions to be taken. They should be able to identify the actions they were unable to carry out as they had hoped. If so, they can carry them over to the following year and prioritize them.
Start the next year immediately
As a sales representative, you should start a new year with a clear objective that has been communicated to you. But sometimes, this objective is only communicated to you at the kick-off, which may not take place until February or March.
That means it can take up to two months to reach that goal. Does that stop you from planning your year? Absolutely not!
If you delay planning, you’ll lose a lot of time that could have been devoted to prospecting or managing your accounts. You can therefore take the lead by anticipating the target that will be set.
Very often, you can expect to have the same target as the previous year. But you need to be aware that the company will probably aim to increase this target by 10, 15 or even 20%. The idea is to prepare for this now.
This doesn’t mean you should automatically assign a 20% increase in objectives to the team. But, at the very least, you should anticipate an increase for the coming year.
Review your initiatives
If you want to plan your year effectively, you need to start by determining the breakdown of your sales revenue. What percentage and what value will come from existing customers?
What is the growth potential of your current accounts? If the expected growth of these accounts isn’t sufficient, you’ll need to find revenue elsewhere, probably by acquiring new accounts.
What’s more, you need to plan for the loss of certain accounts that generate recurring sales. This means subtracting them from your growth potential. This may mean that you’ll need more opportunities in your funnel in terms of monetary value.
Once you’ve assessed the potential of your accounts, it’s time to analyze your funnel. You’ll need to decide what you’re going to focus on in the coming year.
Naturally, you’ll be looking for the right balance in terms of customer size, verticals and product families.
However, it’s important not to lose sight of the criteria that define your ideal customer. By analyzing your funnel, you’ll be able to determine exactly which prospects to focus on.
For other prospects, you can enlist the help of the marketing team, for example. Your colleagues could then take charge of guiding these prospects through the buying process.
After analyzing your figures, plan the initiatives you need to implement. Identify the three key actions you absolutely must take this year to meet or exceed your sales targets.
These initiatives can generally be divided into four categories:
- Encourage the generation of leads.
- Increase your presence among your existing customers by increasing the volume of purchases (upsell) or by proposing complements to your usual offers (cross-sell).
- Acquire new accounts.
- Retain existing customers.
The specific initiatives you define will be linked to one of these four areas. Your role is to guide your team in this process.
You can start by helping everyone take stock of their year:
- was the territory strategy effective?
- If not, why not?
- What could have been done differently?
Next, determine which accounts the team should focus on. And finally, plan the best initiatives for the coming year.
Plan the sales cycle
To have an excellent start to the year, your team needs to take into account the length of the sales cycle. If this cycle lasts three months, to close sales in January the first meetings must take place in late September or early October at the latest.
There’s always a time lag between first contact and making a sale. Too many sales reps forget this. They think they’ll get results in January without having started prospecting three months, six months or even a year in advance.
If the first quarter gets off to a slow start, check your team members’ understanding of the sales cycle. Before the end of the year, make sure there’s no let-up in prospecting. Some people focus so much on the last quarter of the year that they forget to prepare for the first quarter of the following year.
By ensuring that the right actions are taken at the end of the year, you can get the results you want at the start of the following year.
Don’t rely on luck
Some sales reps rely heavily on fate, thinking they have the whole year to achieve their goals. But, all too often, a delay accumulates until it’s insurmountable. At some point, the person gets discouraged and gives up.
To avoid this, set shorter-term objectives, ideally monthly or quarterly. Some companies even set weekly targets. It all depends on the intensity or length of the sales cycle.
If your sales cycle is short, it would be preferable to set a target every week. On the other hand, for a sales cycle of three, six or twelve months, the minimum would be monthly.
The end of the current year is intimately linked to the start of the following year. If you don’t take the necessary measures at the end of the year, you’re in trouble.
At the end of the year, we’re often overwhelmed by following up existing customers or closing sales at all costs. You play the fireman and, unfortunately, you can forget to sell. The result is a slow start to the new year, and a whole host of problems.
Take a look at your latest results from the beginning of the year. If you don’t perform well until February or March, you may be letting a lot of opportunities slip through your fingers.