How to Achieve Fourth Quarter Selling Success
The fourth quarter, no matter the context, means one thing most of all—it’s crunch time. Whether that entails a quarterback stepping back in the pocket to launch a prayer into space, or a salesperson making the calls and visits necessary to meet the year’s quota, actions taken in the fourth quarter are always crucial when gunning for success.
In sales, this ticking clock is compounded by the inevitable closings, holidays and vacations that always coincide with the end of the calendar year. While some may see fourth-quarter selling as a daunting task, others, especially experienced salespeople, see in it a tremendous opportunity. To get an idea about how one can turn Q4 from trial to triumph, we got in touch with Jamie Dickens, vice president of sales for PrintGlobe, Austin, Texas, and David McNeer, president of Maxim Advertising, Newton, Iowa.
A Step Above the Rest
While the end of the year can be a relaxing time for many, it can often be difficult for salespeople working in the promotional products industry. What exactly is it that makes the fourth quarter such a test? Dickens provided her thoughts on the matter.
“The fourth quarter presents its challenges mostly in the month of December,” she explained. “We’re contending with end-of-the-year office closings, vacations and holiday time off and the general ‘holiday-itis’ that we all go through that time of year.
“The end of the year also means the end of budget seasons, and many projects are planned and quoted but won’t be able to be started or invoiced until the start of the next calendar year,” she elaborated. “So while you may feel busy as can be quoting for the January trade shows, you’re not putting up sales numbers you do in the other months of the year.”
Though holidays and the like can be an obstacle to doing business, according to McNeer, they actually provide a great opportunity as well.
“Obviously, many clients want to say ‘thanks’ at the end of the year—or wish their customers ‘Happy Holidays,’ ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy New Year’ etc.—and there’s no better way to do that than with a promotional product that is useful, longlasting and appreciated. We’ve been doing this 34 years now, so, to be truthful, I’m sure it gets busier, but it’s something that we are very used to, and we ramp up accordingly to be ready—whatever it takes!”
Despite these challenges, salespeople persist. After all, it’s just the nature of the business. That being said, selling is a complex game of give-and-take, and one of the most important pieces of the puzzle can be found in convincing a customer—or prospective customer—that your business is right for them. One way of doing so, according to our professionals, is to prove the quality of your product versus that of what the competition is selling.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to work with top-quality clients with high-end brands, so, naturally, they want to promote their brands with high quality promotional products,” McNeer explained. “Most consumers already have travel tumblers, pens and T-shirts, so it’s vital that if our clients want to promote their brand with one of these types of items, it needs to be unique, higher quality, trendy or something that will make their clients prefer to use that promotional product over the ones they already have. At the end of the day, our clients want their branded products to be their customer’s favorite, and it should be our goal to help them achieve that.”
Quality is key, of course, and, according to Dickens, in order to prove that your product is a cut above the rest, there are certain steps a salesperson can take that will ensure success.
“I find it helps to explain that they can make a perceived difference in quality between a gift and a giveaway without a dramatic impact on the budget,” she said. “The rest of the year, they may be focused on giveaway projects, but the end of the year calls for something with a little more presentation and ‘wow’ factor. It can be as simple as custom packaging or putting the item in a branded gift bag with a custom note card.
“Also,” she added, “for those buyers who are saying they may turn away from promo as a gift item, I like to suggest items with a more retail feel, with very subtle branding. I will also show them virtuals with tone-on-tone logos, or very small understated imprints instead of the brand colors and maxed-out imprint areas they use for their other marketing pieces. The value of the item changes when the focus is on the gift’s thoughtfulness and usefulness and the company logo is understated.”
Spreading Holiday Sales
Because the fourth quarter falls in the holiday season, there are various ways—as pointed out briefly by McNeer—for a salesperson to turn that season into a selling smorgasbord.
“Don’t forget the company holiday parties,” Dickens cautioned. “While you’re talking about those employee gifts, ask about the party itself. Do they decorate for it? Where do they hold it? Will there be a bar that they can outfit with custom drinkware or napkins to add that little extra polish? How about branded balloons and custom tablecloths at the main entry? Are they going to have a photo station? Do they want a step-and-repeat backdrop or selfie-station props? Odds are they’re thinking about party store decorations, and you can help them personalize and elevate the whole event with a few smart suggestions.”
For McNeer, standing out also has a great deal to do with positioning oneself steadily within the season of joy and cheer in order to reap the abundant positive brand impressions the time has to offer. In doing so, one can obtain the gift that keeps on giving—business that will sustain itself throughout the entirety of the following year.
“First and foremost, [we take advantage] by using this time to promote our own business, which in turn gets our clients thinking about doing the same,” he explained. “After that, it’s an easy time to reach out to customers simply because so many of our clients like to do something at the end of the year even if they don’t promote during the rest of the year.”
It’s the Right Time
Just because it comes at the end of the year, the fourth quarter shouldn’t simply go unaddressed until those chilly months roll around. Rather, according to Dickens, the process has to begin in the early fall, at the very latest.
“If you’re not thinking about Q4 strategy all year, by the time October rolls around, you’re pretty much too late,” she forewarned. “I’ll frequently apologize to customers for even bringing up the holidays in the dead of summer, but it’s important to keep them thinking about what they are going to do for end-of-the-year appreciation and thank-you gifts. Usually, it’s as simple as reminding them of the crunch-stress they had last year trying to get all their shopping done in time and offering to relieve that anxiety by suggesting we start looking at options the first few weeks of fall.”
As for McNeer, preparation for the fourth quarter shouldn’t just begin and end with a promotional distributor’s customers. Following up on his assertion that salespeople should use the season of goodwill for their own promotional needs, he explained how they can prepare in advance for them. After all, sales professionals are only as successful as their brand.
“In today’s crazy busy world, where order time has shortened tremendously, it’s really important to plan ahead, but probably tougher than ever,” he explained. “Sometimes, the only way is to schedule an internal marketing meeting a few months ahead of time and treat our own promotional needs with the same importance as our clients. We all know the saying about the doctor [who] is the last person to take care of themselves...Sometimes that’s true in our industry, too. If we truly believe in our industry, we should be promoting our businesses as often as possible.”
Related story: Are You a Proficient End-of-Year Seller?