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If you’re like many organizations, the sales team tends to slow or “wind down” this time of year. But should they? For those of us that don’t sell Christmas presents, sales activity can start to slow just before Thanksgiving and not get going strong again until January. But think about it… That accounts for about 10% of our year. Should we as organizations or salespeople accept strongly diminished productivity for that amount of time? There are certainly challenges to selling during the holiday season, but there are many things that we can still do to be productive.

This week I’m providing training/coaching/consulting for organizations in the areas of Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. It’s not common for me to work in-person with three different organizations, in three different cities, in the same week. But many organizations requested this specific week. What’s going on? It’s the holiday season. Many companies look to schedule their programs for the first week of December before they wind things down until after the holidays. Actually, five or six organizations asked about this week and then literally zero for the following week and until after the first of the year. Now should this mentality carry over for salespeople? Should sales productivity wind down too until after the holidays? Many salespeople believe that it has to. It certainly can be more challenging to get in contact with prospects during this time, with them often responding by asking us to touch base again after the holidays. But does that mean that we can’t still be sales productive? Well, Christmas isn’t for another three weeks and New Year’s is only one or two days in the week after that. That leaves a lot of time to be productive if we want to be, while still celebrating the holidays.

How can we stay in the holiday spirit, respect our prospects and still be productive?

Follow Up: Continue to follow up with your current prospects. Don’t push your follow ups to after the first of the year. Follow your same (hopefully) strong follow-up cadence, and find out what communication level that your individual prospects want right now. If they want to halt communication until after the holidays, great. “Absolutely, I will follow up with you again after the first of the year.” Momentum continued. Some might not want to slow things down and we can get closer to a positive result for them. The key is continuing the positive sales momentum when and where we can. I’m not suggesting to call them on Christmas, but what’s wrong with December 10th, 15th, 28th and so on? So many salespeople don’t follow up on these normal working days of the year and kill the relationship building momentum, resulting in fewer sales. We want to avoid being in the situation of trying to reignite relationships after the first of the year. Keep fostering them as much as we can.

Prospecting: Understanding that there is a reality to some people’s availability over the holidays, let’s also understand that they will be over soon enough. As a career salesperson (and CEO), I have found this time period to be the best in developing and creating new prospecting and marketing campaigns for the next year. If we can’t talk to as many people, we can use this time to create opportunities to more than make up for it when the next year begins. Hit the ground running. Now is a great time to do prospect and marketing work to help us succeed in the new year. If we don’t, we may lose even more time as we try to get things revved back up in January.

The holiday season has a number of great sales productivity opportunities, but if we can at least focus on the two above, we will be much further ahead than the majority of salespeople and organizations that “wind down” from late November to early January. Happy Holidays!

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This month I wanted to break from the normal sales strategy focus and talk about one of the most common and consistent things that comes up when organizations hire outside sales trainers. Whether they do it once a year as part of an annual sales meeting, or every few years at their office, the most common problem that I hear, is that the sales trainer did not meet expectations. And this is where the best and most important advice when hiring a sales team trainer/coach comes in.

Talk with and get the sales success resume of the actual sales coach/trainer that will be working with your team, prior to hiring them/the firm. Often, the person selling the sales training will not be the one providing it. And, did you know that the vast majority of sales trainers/coaches have never had elite or even lasting successful sales careers?

Most trainers work for large franchises, with up to hundreds of locations and thousands of trainers. And what percentage of people are actually the best and elite at what they do? 1%? 2%? If you want the best and most effective sales team training, invest your training dollars in the best individual trainer/coach. Only those capable of consistently closing the deals that they are training your team on, should be training them. First, because they will have the successful insight to help them succeed. And second, because your team will only fully buy into the training if they believe that the person coaching/training them is qualified to teach them sales success.

As I travel the country working with sales teams, I regularly hear stories from prospect experiences. I recently completed a training with a company that explained that their previous trainer (from a well-known firm) started the training by blowing up a large beach ball, rolling it across the room and saying, “Now let's get the ball rolling!” Their training with them did not go well. I just had another conversation with a prospect on LinkedIn (abridged below):

Prospect: Hey Jason - we just did some sales training with X (well-known firm), ultimately picking them over XX (well-known firm). Do you have some information comparing & contrasting your approach to others?

Me: Hi X, thank you for your reply… The disadvantage with both (other) firms is that they are so large that they typically provide you with hired trainers that aren’t or weren’t elite salespeople. They train them on sales to train your team on sales and could not consistently close the deals that they are training on. The trainer, their experience and success at sales is the most important part. Sales philosophy/program is next and that can be discussed in advance with the trainer before hiring them. Hiring sales training is like choosing the large franchise (McDonald's) or a boutique restaurant with a great chef.

Prospect: Thank you, Jason. Your point resonates - there was a marked gap between those who were selling the training and those actually doing the classes which was frankly disappointing. Let me bring this back to my group...

The best sales coaches/trainers are current and or former elite salespeople with a strong and proven sales team training program. My advice is to not accept any less.

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As I travel the country working with companies of all sizes, in virtually all industries, one of the most common things that I see is, most salespeople could use significant improvement at Follow-Up. I have seen many that are talented at other facets of the sales process, but then their Follow-Up process alone keeps them from reaching their true potential. Where are they falling short? Often, it’s the lack of a specific, defined, strategic process that they follow day in and day out. Since this is a “Five Minute” insight, I won’t break down what that could or should look like as that is based on a number of different factors and it would take a while. What I would like to focus on today is more about the psychological why. More specifically, why salespeople can be apprehensive to have an often and consistent Follow-Up approach, and how that only hurts their results over the long run.

Although I do work with companies that sell products/services where Prospect buying decisions can be made quickly, most of my clients have sales cycles that take weeks, months and in some cases, even years. This can make Follow-Up the most important aspect of the sales process as it is what happens during all of that time between the appointment/proposal and close that most determines the outcome. So, why do salespeople take their time or wait to follow up with people? Beyond not having a defined process that makes them accountable to doing it, they are often worried that they are bothering the Prospect. They have the mindset that they are serving them well by giving them lots of time and space to make a decision. The truth is, it is quite the contrary.

Sales is about trust. Unless we are selling a pack of gum, a big part of the Prospect’s decision has to do with “What’s it going to be like if I choose to work with this company/salesperson? If I have a problem, who is going to go to bat and work hard for me?” It’s important that we realize that every Prospect is always comparing us against someone or something else. Even if that something else is not buying anything at all. And who will they trust to be on it and after it for them when they need it? Not the person that started a relationship with them and then gave them space. They are going to trust the person that consistently follows up with them and asks if they can help in their process. There is a specific art to it and if done right, it does not make the Prospect feel bothered, it makes them trust the salesperson. If as salespeople we don’t show a strong effort to bring on a new client for even our own benefit as well, why would they believe that if they choose us, we will provide that strong effort for them? Our Follow-Up process is our ultimate audition for the Prospect. It’s crucial that we create a strong and consistent process so that they can see how great we are going to be when they choose us.

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