How Would Santa Close the Year?

At this time of year, it’s only natural that our thoughts turn to stuffing:

  1. My mom makes killer stuffing, with the cranberries and everything.  (Mmmm, stuffing.)
  2. Santa and helpers around the world are preparing to do a little stocking stuffing.
  3. Sellers everywhere are busily stuffing the channel in the hope that St. BigBonus soon will be here.

One of these “stuffings” is a lot different than the others, especially in terms of “value to the recipient.”

Initiated by Santa and  helpers Initiated by sellers and sales managers
Delivering toys for good little girls and boys Asking for a big, giant order right now
Customers lay awake at night in anticipation Customers are not typically looking forward to it
Giving a gift Asking for a present
About meeting the customer’s needs About meeting the seller’s needs
Contributes to long-term relationships (except maybe coal) Could hurt long-term relationships
Easy to do if you know the customer Hard to do no matter how well you know the customer
Christmas Parallel:  Santa Claus Christmas Parallel:  The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Channel Stuffers Look Like the Grinch 

Remember the anti-hero in the Seuss classic, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”?  How often do sellers resemble the “before” picture of this ugly green account rep?

• Making the rounds at the last minute

•  Trying to fill our own sleigh at the customer’s expense

•  Gobbling up every little last bit we can find

•  Overburdening our faithful little dog assistant

•  Lying to Little Cindy Lou Who

Even if you’re not lying, you’re violating a key tenet of relationship selling:  Focusing on mutual value. The pre-epiphany Grinch was purely focused on economics – loading his own sleigh – and not relationships. And customers are onto these tactics – be prepared for a “No.”

But Dan, I Have a Quota to Make! 

I know you do – me too. (Remember, my pay is 100% commission). And I want both of us to make our quota – this quarter, this year, and NEXT QUARTER too.

And that’s possibly the number one problem with stuffing the channel now – there’s nothing under the tree (which you also took) come January.  What remains is executives expecting you to make quota.

Listen, I know it’s a Catch-22 for many sellers, particularly in companies hyper-focused on short-term results (I’m looking at you, VC-owned companies trying to get to IPO). So much of my advice may be difficult to implement…and yet I offer it in case I can help make the case for change in your organization.

Year-End Strategies Santa Would Appreciate**

Start with the Customer’s WHY

Ask yourself, “Why would they NEED to buy more or differently just because it’s the end of the year?” This is just sound relationship-centric selling – we call it “Leading With the Need.”

And there could be good answers – for example, I recently helped a client uncover a hidden “use it or lose it” opportunity where the customer needed to spend 2016 money to justify 2017 budgeting.  If only there were more of those!

Think Beyond Price

Of course, the easy answer to the “Why would they buy?” question is…TO SAVE MONEY. But in my previous example, discounting was unnecessary!  Before you go right to price, ask yourself, “Why ELSE – besides a discount – would they need to buy more or differently now?”

Example: A client who sells manufacturing technology just made a major end-of-year sale by tying into their customer’s need to train operators on a new process. We found a new opportunity in part by asking “Why else?” and not immediately taking the obvious path of discounting. The end-of year sale we made – which put the rep over goal for the year, by the way – was at FULL PRICE.

Focus on Helping

In relationship sales, getting value starts with giving value – what present are you delivering? Ask yourself, “What problem can I help my customer solve?” If you want to ask a favor, start with offering a favor!

B2B Example:  An enterprise sales team I’m working with is funding a third-party resource to help a major client complete a redesign in time for Q1 rollout. Because they’re now on track to launch in Q1, the client is releasing POs (purchase orders) they were holding due to uncertainty.

Direct Selling Example:  At this time of year, Rodan + Fields consultants (like me) also help our clients help those around them through the gift of healthier skin.  Where can your product or service solve a seasonal problem or offer a time-specific opportunity?

Offer Healthy Incentives 

Discounts are like high-fructose corn syrup:  Getting a sweet deal tastes so good when you get it. You instinctively want to get as much as you can, as soon as you can.  But the purchase price (how easy it is to swallow) and the total cost of ownership (how it affects the whole system) are sometimes vastly different, and the discrepancy may lead to heartbreak.

Example:  I’m working with a client who’s heavily promoting their BOGO (Buy One, Get One) incentive. Tastes great on the 2016 budget, but all the risk has now transferred to the customer. If consumption drops, the customer is holding the a bunch of unused product.  At the least, the customer is now absorbing the carrying costs of having products sooner than needed.  If you really care about their overall health, don’t offer a sugar sandwich without a plan to work it off.  (This concludes the analogy-torturing portion of the article.)

Leverage Loyalty and Levels

One reason why a customer might buy more or differently now is to maintain or achieve a level of either buying power or customer experience. If you have these programs in place, simply informing customers of their current status – and what they need to do to keep/achieve status – may be enough to stimulate additional commerce.

Personal example:  I may or may not have ever booked December air travel for the sole reason of maintaining my frequent flyer status.

Have “Too Many” Options

Of course, in sales there’s no such thing as “too many” prospects.  And at year-end, there is no better alternative to channel-stuffing than having so many opportunities that you don’t need any single opportunity.  That’s a strategy of abundance, and those seeds were sown back in the spring and summer.

Summary:  Sell Like Santa

If you’re focused on customer’s agenda and offering to help meet a need and solve a problem, your year-end conversations simply sound different.  You’re more like a kindly elf helping customers order more strategically, and less like the Grinch trying to load his own sleigh with the customer’s goodies.

So keep it on the Santa side – ask yourself, “How would Kris Kringle sell it?” After all, you could have a worse role model than Santa – the original king of Free Freight.