Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

An ode to end of Quarter

I must have now been through nearly 100 end of quarters, and more recently end of quarters with multiple companies in multiple time zones at the same time. Some quarters have been over before the end, both good and bad, but many have gone down to the wire, and always with that self imposed ‘be ready for anything’ attitude. For all those that pace the sales floor on those final days of the quarter, this phrase is for you ‘Good things come to those who wait’, as made famous by Guinness many years ago in their brilliant advert.

And yes the first 17 seconds are purposely uncomfortably silent, building to that crescendo of last day of quarter!

As a Commercial Leader we all start each quarter with perfect planning, mapping out through our Sales QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews) exactly how the deals will drop. Sales is an exact science right? Wrong! We live in a time where there has never been a larger selection of tools in the Sales and Marketing tech stack, and yet we all find ourselves stood by the fax machine on that last day of quarter — argh, I think I just aged myself there, I should say sat refreshing our dashboard in our favourite flavour of CRM. But this is where calm heads prevail and discipline takes over.

In Enterprise Software, good quarters are created two or more quarters ahead. All good Commercial leaders will know very quickly the essential run rate stats of their business and enter a quarter knowing what’s already in their sanitised pipeline plus:

  • What Marketing spend and activities do I have this quarter?
  • How many MQL’s (Marketing Qualified Leads) will result?
  • What percentage of MQLs will convert to SQOs (Sales Qualified Opportunities) and how will my Inside Sales Team perform?
  • Are my Sales Team active enough and do they have a good balance of new and existing SQOs?
  • What new territories, upsells, product release and special bonuses can I release this quarter?
  • Have I scrubbed each deal to within an inch of its life using MEDDIC or similar?
  • Do I have have enough wood behind the arrow with technical pre-sales, system architects, compliance and privacy expertise and professional services.

And finally …

  • Where do my team need sponsorship from the Executive Team?

This is your classic sales funnel, or your revenue fuel, which at the start of each quarter essentially tells you who has what deal closing when to hit your number. You can map out the months of your quarter and determine what will fall when very methodically, and by the way, my simple rule of thumb is that you need to close at least half of your number by the end of month two in the quarter to sleep easy in the last month.

Now in selling larger Enterprise deals it’s rare to create and close a deal in 90 days ie. in the same quarter. The deals you’re forecasting will have been created many quarters before, and in my previous companies we’ve had a special prize for closing the deal that’s been the longest in pipeline (I think the record was 2.5 years?!). So now we can create our forecast to the executive leadership including our long cycle large deals, in quarter smaller deals, upsells, expansions and renewals:

  • Commit: These deals will happen no matter what — guaranteed.
  • Forecast: These are my likely deals and my nearest to the pin estimate.
  • Upside: With a fair wind and a little luck we may get these deals.

I’ve always believed that the rubber meets the road at first level sales leadership, and for these professionals the science of forecasting now needs to be blended with the art of sales management. The very best sales leaders I’ve worked with have a sixth sense (or some would say paranoia) around where their best laid plans will fail. And if you’ve covered the basics above it often fails around the most indeterminate part of selling — People.

Ever heard the phrase ‘Happy Ears’? Well Sales People often have them, and will substitute a structured well tested account plan with any of the following:

  • They promised only they need to sign and they said they will
  • Yes they’re going on holiday but our deal will get done
  • The budget was approved ages ago ready to sign
  • I’m sure they’ll do the deal on our paper
  • And even — it’s just a problem with the scanner

An experienced sales leader will have heard every one these, and many, many more. But here we are going into the last week of the quarter with deals not closing — time to panic yet?

Nope. Sales leaders will have stress tested every deal, looking for every weakness, every failing, and most importantly created a human executive connection in advance of possible failure. More importantly they’ll know their sales people intimately — where are they good, where are they weaker, and where do I need to complement their weaknesses. A good sales person will put their hand up very quickly if a deal starts to go astray — failing as a team is forgivable, but failing alone is inexcusable.

So next week is where cool heads prevail (and if you’re one of those SaaS companies where you slid your fiscal year by a month — come back and read this in one month’s time!). Some deals are out for signature, some need a gentle push and others need open heart surgery — time to bring in the cavalry!

This is where human connections matter, and getting your executive sponsor to use their trusted bond with a customer will pay dividends. Nothing will be as a powerful as an executive to executive conversation to remind a customer as to why this matters, why it’s important and why it needs to happen this coming week. Note, in a Hail Mary situation, don’t let an executive’s finger prints on a deal be a substitute for a poor account plan!

So it’s done. It’s the last day, everythings out for signature, all the executive calls are made. This is where ‘Good Things Come to Those Who Wait’. I think the drum beat from the Guinness advert will forever play in my head. I can’t help but be superstitious around calling deals before they’re done, and all my very best sales people have been the same over the years — and they each had their little good luck rituals. I’ll never forget one used to call me and say ‘I’m going to cut the grass’ which was code for ‘it’s in for signature’. That’s all he ever needed to say and it always happened!

I wish you nothing but the very best of luck as you close out Q3, which is always a tricky close coming off the back of the summer recess and heading into what is often the largest quarter in Q4. I’ve walked in your shoes and know the feeling of leaving the office on that final day of the quarter with a smile, a frown and everything in the middle. Discipline, planning and a cool head will always prevail — good selling!

And if you want to know more from professionals who’ve lived this in a scaling organisation, then please come join us on 1 November at FLIGHT 2018. It’s your chance to hear founders and practitioners talk through their experiences and offer insightful and relevant advice.