Overcoming the Challenge of Summer

For many businesses, the summer is a particularly complicated time: it’s hard to keep sales and marketing momentum up when the beach beckons, prospect and customer email vacation autoreplies load up your inbox, and those you do manage to connect with are often reluctant to move things forward “until after Labor Day.”

On the other hand, there’s still the need to close business, somehow, and to keep the sales pipeline filled.  When I ran a sales team, I’d hear all manner of excuses about why deals were slipping, and usually summer-related excuses predominated. But just like time and tide, sales quota attainment waits for no one, so there is a need for smartly applied pressure to advance deals, but that has to be balanced against a fair recognition of the season.  A good sales and marketing team will work together to notch up the creativity a bit to keep things moving.  With that in mind, let’s consider what can be done in the summer months that will help sales efforts, if not perfectly in-period, at least near-term enough to make up for summer deficiencies in the months that follow.

First, think about ways in which you can engage with your prospects.  Now is the perfect time to suggest meeting up for coffee or lunch or a chat about future plans or just visiting because you were in the neighborhood.  Relationship building should never be put off, so use the summer’s slower pace to your advantage by working on the relationship at the same time you’re trying to advance the transaction. Summer is a good time to set up executive meetings to talk more deeply about the future product or service plans of the company.  It does take more work to coordinate, and you certainly want to avoid Friday meetings, but remember they run businesses as well, and they can’t just go fishing for the summer either. Use this time to inform, educate, and continue building bonds.

Second, don’t take customer or your team’s delays as an inevitable part of the season.  As I said earlier, there’s always work that can be done, and that’s as true for your prospects as it is for you. Yes, there’s seasonality in many industries, but chances are you already know that and have set your sales plans to match the dynamics of your industry.  Budgets still need to be worked.  Software still needs to be implemented.  Parts still need to be fabricated.  Shelves still need to be stocked and goods still need to be shipped.  So yes, it may be a little harder, and time frames might get stretched, but summer’s not the time to surrender productivity entirely.  If you’re a sales leader, hold your team accountable to perform to their commitments.  If you’re a sales rep, hold your prospects (politely but firmly) to their commitments.

Third, use the summer to do your own planning and organizing, especially the stuff you never seem to get to.  Reflecting on previous quarters’ performance, and thinking through what worked and what didn’t go as planned is enormously productive, and puts the business in a better position when everyone is back and engaged.  Pull your team together and think about who, where and how you will execute your next big push for sales.  Balance the frustration of out of office messages with your own proactive planning for success.

Summer is a particularly good time for the marketing team to step back and review results and refresh messaging.  Talking with the sales team to get the latest input about what is resonating with prospects and customers is easier to accomplish when the pace is a bit slower, and there’s an opportunity to test new things out of the glare of “prime time.”  Whether it’s a simple set of tweaks or a new program, summer is a great time to get the work done and tested—and it keeps your momentum going, something that is often overlooked.  Especially these days, even a short absence of active marketing makes you invisible faster than ever before.

Lastly, don’t forget to give yourself a break as well.  Far too much research says that we don’t take anywhere near the vacation time we have coming to us.  That doesn’t mean shutting down for most of the summer like our colleagues across the Atlantic do (though I wish it did), but do take some time off, even if it’s just long weekends.  Change up your routine.  You’ll find it freshens the mind, uncovers new ideas, provides more energy to get back to turning over rocks in search of new business, and herding cats to get the deal done.  Summer’s differently paced, for sure, but it can be a productive time as well.

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