From the December 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

As a sales manager, there are worse experiences than enduring a ceaseless loop of "O Tannenbaum" as you navigate the aisles of your neighborhood big-box store in search of holiday booty. You could discover your sales force has decided that the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year's is a poor time to close new deals.

But December need not be a listless sales month. As Marty Clarke, owner of Martin Production, a sales consulting and training company in Raleigh, North Carolina, explains, "Sales don't go dormant (during the holidays)-but poorly run sales teams might."

Expecting a sales dip in December is a cop-out used by marginal sales performers, Clarke contends. Here's what to do to ensure your team closes out the fourth quarter strongly:

  • Understand the client mind-set. There are genuine reasons why selling during December can be daunting. Budget issues are real, as companies on a calendar year may be near or at the end of their ability to spend money for the year. A simple way to counteract this objection is to offer deferred billing for sales booked in December.
  • Keep the pipeline chock-full o' leads. If your team has done its work well for the first three quarters, there should be sales opportunities in the fourth quarter, too. According to John Gregoire, director of sales and marketing for The Endurance Group, a sales consulting firm in Yarmouth, Maine, "Keep the sales force busy pursuing truly qualified leads from year-round efforts, and they won't have time to think about a holiday slowdown."
  • Set up a sales contest. Entice your reps to keep momentum cranking during the holidays with incentives such as a prize, money or time off. Clarke has had success in offering reps a full day off for holiday shopping if they hit their sales targets by December 21. "This goes over huge because reps are strapped for time-and it's an extremely low-cost incentive."
  • Squash competitors. Use the conventional thinking that December is a slow month against your competitors. Clarke likens holiday selling to rainy day selling. "Your competition is using every excuse to stay indoors," he says. A good philosophy for managers, Clarke continues, is: "Let [competitors] take December off. We're different, and we're better because we're going to be superactive and crush our sales target."
  • Deem December customer appreciation month. The holidays are a fine time to check in with all your customers to say "howdy," wish them a good season, and thank them for their business. Arm your reps with small gifts for clients-an excellent way to get an audience in a hectic month.

For an unusual selection of holiday cards, check out Top Executive Greetings. Rather than the traditional scenes of snow and gamboling reindeer, the cards have a more "salesy" feel and look. No time for cards? Top Executive Greetings will even sign and mail 'em for you.

  • Offer discounts and incentives to new clients. You may want to launch a strong offer to close new business deals before December 31, including special pricing and discounts. Clarke offers the caveat that special pricing may not be the sales panacea it seems if the sales team is not extra-active during the promotion. "Instead of dropping prices," Clarke counters, "wise business owners may want to increase commissions or reward particularly high sales activity."
  • Feather your first-quarter nest. Beyond expectations that sales will go on during December, encourage reps to use the 12th month to, as Clarke puts it, "fill up their first-quarter sales opportunity funnel-so when the world comes back to work, reps will be able to hit the ground running."

Kimberly L. McCall (aka Marketing Angel) is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc.) and author of Sell It, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales.