Is End of Quarter the Grinch that Stole Christmas?

Last Quarter Sales Performance Cramped
Sales Research

Is End of Quarter really the Grinch who stole the sales org’s Christmas?

Grinch Sales Manager Wants to Know: “Are you going to get that deal across the line?”

“Ugh. I’m grinding straight through the end of the year, again.”

Alongside “the leads are weak”, one of the most time-honored things for sales folks to complain about is the end of quarter / year crush at Christmastime.

“I have to work through Christmas to get my deals across the line. Aren’t I admirable?!? You should feel bad for me!”

Well, we wanted to see if this actually holds up to scrutiny, or is it just one of those handy things to throw around to get some extra sympathy.

Conveniently, like when we looked at the impact of the election on sales performance, we actually have the data to prove it!

Thanks to my having access to anonymized Customer Facing Email and Customer Facing Meeting data from a dozen or so organizations I’m consulting with, we can see that for the most part that sales has a similarly big decline in work activity as the rest of their colleagues focusing on hanging out with their families and stuffing themselves with gingerbread cookies!

Let’s go to the tape

First I looked at the average number of customer facing emails sent per rep per week in a variety of sales orgs I’m working with.

100-rep Outside Sales Org:

20-rep Inside Sales Org (note the higher weekly baseline of customer facing email):

40-rep Inside Sales Org:

30-rep Inside Sales Org:

General “Holidaze” Trend: As you can see, there’s a distinct downward trend across these orgs from Thanksgiving onwards. That is, it’s not just “Christmas” where there’s a lull. Reps start chilling out pretty much across the board starting the week after Thanksgiving.

Uniform Declines: The above images are only a couple examples, but across a couple dozen orgs, with occasional exceptions, in the week before Christmas there was a fairly uniform 35% decline from “Q4 weekly averages” and a 70% decline for the week after Christmas.

This is reminiscent of the consistent 20% reduction in Customer Facing Email we saw the Wednesday after the 2016 Presidential election. Some things are very consistent across sales orgs left to their own devices!

Quarterly Ramp Up: Also interesting to see the fairly uniform “ramp up”, where orgs didn’t hit their peak performance until a couple of weeks into the quarter. As in, folks were pretty uniform in the luxurious way in which they started their quarter.

Meetings Take Two To Tango: Customer Facing Meetings had similarly interesting patterns. A mildly more substantial 40% reduction in customer facing meetings the week ahead of Christmas, followed by a mildly more substantial 80% reduction the week following Christmas.

The more dramatic decline in customer facing meetings isn’t surprising, in that getting prospects and clients on the phone/to meet face-to-face is going to be a challenge given their own holiday schedules.

So this is a harder challenge to surmount, but it potentially points to an interesting solution in the form of email. Customer facing email only takes the rep to execute. And while prospects may not be as consistently in the office, and less likely to get on the phone, they’re frequently still reading and responding to email (thanks smartphones!)

100-rep Outside Sales Org:

20-rep Inside Sales Org (note the higher baseline of customer facing email):

40-rep Inside Sales Org:

30-rep Inside Sales Org:

What can we take away from this?

Well, first, sales folks, let’s do away with that “OMG the end of the year ruined my holidays!” storyline. Because it sure isn’t showing up in that email and meeting behavior! 😉

That said, often it’s not really a question of having a full workload, and more about getting some last straggler deals across the line.

What can we do about this to put our teams in the best position possible?

  1. Be more proactive: The slow ramp at the beginning of the quarter, and the decline of activity starting immediately after Thanksgiving shows us that there’s likely opportunity to pull forward activity that otherwise can’t happen at the end of the year.
  2. Get January set up right: While prospects aren’t super receptive to meetings during the holiday period, they are answering email. So that means there’s an opportunity for you to get time on the calendar at the beginning of January (while that calendar is empty because other reps are slacking off!). And scheduling that time means engaging them by email! So get yourself ready to burst out of the starting blocks come January!
  3. Fix that pipe: Those final weeks are usually consumed in bird dogging a handful of high probability deals across the line. That means that attention has been pulled from the rest of your pipe. So in between dealing with those red-lines on the contract and dealing with procurement, take the opportunity to look at your untouched opportunities and less frequently in engaged opps, and engage them via email so you’re top of mind for Q1.
  4. Move your fiscal year: If reps aren’t doing real levels of activity, and customers aren’t willing to meet, then why even have reps pretend to be “on call?” Well, because maybe leadership thinks that by “being in the office” you might get an extra deal across the line. So you essentially ruin the holidays for your sales staff for no upside. Why do that? A better strategy might be to move your fiscal year. Salesforce and others end their fiscal year in January precisely to avoid this. Not to mention when seasoned buyers think they have your reps up against quota at the end of the year, and over a negotiating barrel, well, your reps can actually take the time to let that play out in January. Further, often organizations are in need of pushing through budget at the end of Q4. Other orgs suddenly have “new” budget at the beginning of Q1. By straddling the line, your reps can use either scenario to their advantage.

This isn’t to say we want to see folks working through the holidays, but rather to provide some clarity on the true nature of end of year sales behavior.

That is, if you’re going to be in the office to bird dog some deals across the line, well, why not make the most of it and get the most bang for your buck?

And if you’re not under the gun, well, let’s not pretend otherwise, eh? Because that’s just going to chew up your credibility for when you need it!

As usual, the data don’t lie.