"You hear people say it all the time: business is just slow in the summer," says Steve Johnson, co-author of Selling Is Everyone's Business: What It Takes to Create a Great Salesperson (Wiley, 2006, ISBN: 0-471-77673-4, $24.95). "For many sales organizations, it seems acceptable to slack off, to cut corners, to put off making the tough calls because 'everyone's on vacation' or 'no one's in the mood to make big decisions.' Well, naturally if you expect business to be slow, it will be slow."
So how can you keep your sales force from falling prey to the self-fulfilling slow summer prophecy? Johnson offers the following tips:
- Tell your salespeople that summer is actually the best time to prospect. Yes, it's true. Here's why. Although it's true that many people do take time off in the summer, someone is watching the store. And usually that "someone" is a head honcho--the person your rep needs to talk to in the first place. "The people who are in the office when everyone else is out tend to be the ones who have to make things happen," reflects Johnson. "In other words, they are the most qualified, most discerning buyers of all. You know how people whine, 'But I can't make sales calls on a Friday afternoon'? I say, baloney! That's the best time to do it because even if no one else is in a buying mood, the decision makers will be."
- Impending vacations are not stumbling blocks; they're catalysts. When a salesperson calls a prospect and she says, "I'm getting ready to go on vacation so I can't meet with you," tell him not to give up. Instead, he should say, "It's great that you're going on vacation. That makes it even more critical that we meet right now, before you go." Likewise, it's okay for a salesperson to use his own upcoming vacation to speed things along. For example: "Look, I'm going on vacation in two weeks so we really need to get the ball rolling in the next few days." Vacations create a natural sense of urgency and spur people to get as much done as they can before they leave town, notes Johnson.
- Urge salespeople to work smarter so they can take advantage of the summer weather. "Look, it's understandable that people want to get outside and work in the garden or spend a few hours fishing," says Johnson. "There's nothing wrong with that. Tell your salespeople that if they want to take off early one afternoon, that's fine. They can come in a few hours early and make lots of progress before they leave. It's amazing how much gets accomplished when people really focus on their work, and those quiet, early-morning hours are usually highly productive ones."
- Give your salespeople spontaneous days off when they've earned them. Even if you do this only on very rare occasions, it's a gesture that packs a big wallop. Johnson, who coaches the Los Angeles Clippers sales organization, relays this story: "Everyone on the Clippers' sales team had been working extra hard for weeks breaking records left and right. On the Thursday before Memorial Day, the executive vice president, pleased with their performance, came in and jokingly made this announcement, 'If anyone shows up for work tomorrow, you're fired.' He gave them a four-day weekend on the spot that was totally unexpected--and highly effective."
- For short bursts of motivation, create summer promotions. "Contests are tried and true motivational tools, but they seem to be especially effective in the summer when people are naturally focused on having fun," says Johnson. "Say 'Meet this goal and you'll get a three-day weekend, or a cash prize, or get in a drawing for a luxury cruise for the family,' and watch how fast your sales team shakes off the summer blahs."
- But remember, creating true motivation is a long-term process. Work all year long to instill good sales habits in your people. As Johnson discusses over and over in Selling Is Everyone's Business, you must create systems that ensure your salespeople are developing and perfecting the right sales habits. For example, regular goal-setting meetings (GSMs)--in which coach and salesperson meet one-on-one to review performance from the previous period and commit to a game plan and short-term action steps for the upcoming period--help you keep an eye on what your salespeople are doing consistently. "Of course, you hold these meetings all year long," he points out. "If you as a sales coach are doing your job right, your people won't slack off during the summer in the first place. They'll have an innate sense of motivation that knows no season."
Of course, none of this is meant to suggest that your salespeople don't need a vacation. Perhaps what you're interpreting as a lack of motivation is something entirely different: burnout.
"We all need to walk away from the daily grind once in awhile," says Johnson, who, practicing what he preaches, took his family to Europe this summer. "As a sales manager, you know when someone has worked his fingers to the bone and needs a break. Insist that he take a vacation this summer and he'll come back more motivated than ever, not to mention grateful that you care about him as a person. It's your job to keep your best people in fighting shape--so take it seriously."