The Challenge of December

Every industry and business has its own rhythm and cycles, with slow periods interspersed with times of exhausting activity.  Making sure you understand, anticipate and plan for both is the difference between a good year and, well, a not so good one.  While there’s an argument for any number of months being a candidate for toughest time to get work done, I think many companies would vote for December (or more properly, the week before Thanksgiving through the New Year holiday). Distractions are many, the stresses of personal lives inject themselves into the workplace, and frankly, no one’s really in the mood to work.  That said, the business of business needs to continue, and therein lies the challenge.

Even with creative pressure-reducing solutions like non-calendar year-ends and offset quarters, there’s no getting away from what the season is.  Summer months can be slow and hard to get things done because of the weather and vacations, the fall can be tough because people are just coming back from those vacations and reluctantly getting back into the swing of things, but this time of year is a festive season for pretty much everyone.  It’s natural, after a long year’s effort to want to slow down a bit and enjoy the lights, displays, office decorations and such.  It’s a time for breaking what can be a tedious routine for most of the year and peoples’ moods change.

When I managed sales and marketing teams, my weekly status meetings around this time of year were filled with excuses for slowing activity. To be fair, it is hard to break through your prospect’s own holiday lethargy, and the number of times I personally heard, “well, at this point, let’s just get things finished after the first of the year…” is hard to count—but it was a lot.  I’ve learned, and I passed the same onto my teams, that this time of year is a great time to reach out to customers and prospects, not to try and extract more business (though that’s always worth the try), but to connect and say thanks for the business they’ve already given you or the time they’ve allocated you in the past year to pitch your wares.

Of course there’s a secondary reason: people by from people they like and trust.  And the only way you can build trust is for prospects and customers to get to know you, not just as a representative of your company, but as a person.  At the end of the day, just as all politics is local, all business is personal.  So if you’re feeling festive, now is a great time to help your counterpart break up their routine even as you are able to modify yours.  If you can get the deal done before the end of the year, great.  But if not, you’re at least well-positioned to get the job done as soon as the last glass of champagne has been finished at the turn of the year.

For marketers December should be a time of both planning and preparation for the next year’s set of activities, but also a time to burnish the business’s image a bit.  Thanking customers publicly in the media, demonstrating pride in the relationship, offering up messages of thanks to the communities in which you operate are all useful ways to keep focused on the business objectives without having to put aside the spirit of the season.

Lastly, if you’re the owner or an executive of the business, now is the best time of all to show employees and the public what you’re made of.  For so many, this is a time of need and worry. Take some of the good fortune your business enjoys and share it around in some way.  You don’t need to make a big deal about what you do, but organizing events that benefit the community and involve employees and management, donating to help those less fortunate, even extending those efforts to include customers and partners if they wish to participate, not only does a wonderful thing for the community, but sends an important business message to customers about what kind of a company they are partnered with.  Doing well by doing good is a powerful way to build loyalty, and that’s a foundation for future growth.

Yes, this is a difficult time to stay focused and get stuff done, but by going with the flow of the season and incorporating it into your work effort, that stuff will get done, and you’ll be able to demonstrate to all that business isn’t, well, all business.

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