Featuring Ken Stout, CRO, True Influence
The holiday season is a notorious dead zone for B2B Sales and Marketing teams.
You know the story. Clients are either on vacation, at the company holiday party, or recovering from both. And the lull drags on until the end of January, as business decision-makers play catch-up on their emails, and scramble to get a handle on their annual budgets; something that always seems to get approved a few months later than they ideally should.
It’s this second factor – late-in-the-game budget approval – that I find to be the main obstacle to keeping the Sales and Marketing pipelines moving through December and January. Or, perhaps I should say, the most manageable obstacle, since with a little foresight, and smart budgeting, you can keep your B2B sales cycle rolling toward a solid Q1.
Keep the Funnel Moving as Budgeting Drags
Clients aren’t the only ones with trouble finalizing annual budgets. Many B2B suppliers don’t approve their budgets until well into Q4, thus making it impossible to shore up definite plans to keep quality leads flowing into the funnel each January and February.
With the extended Sales cycle, most B2B company’s face, this annual lull in creating new opportunities can be a real killer for revenue which extends into Q2 and even Q3 of your new year.
My best advice for Marketing and Sales teams to tackle the holiday blues is three-fold:
- Push for a bridge budget for January/February, so you can tackle what are actually solid new business opportunities for Q1.
- “Over-deliver” on quality leads in early Q4.
- Capitalize on unexpected revenue from existing clients throughout the month of December.
With these three strategies, Marketing can continue to push qualified leads to Sales, and Sales can continue booking revenue while your competition is trying make plans a couple months too late.
Early Q1: A Bridge Budget Keeps the Ball Rolling
As previously noted, delays in annual budget approvals can leave Marketers in limbo, which can potentially undermine the B2B pipeline for months.
In Q3, Marketing team leaders should push the executive team to approve a bridge budget for the first two months of the coming year. This still gives the company room to manage annual Marketing expenses – mostly likely over the summer months, which present their own challenges in lead generation – without hobbling early Q1 efforts due to nothing more than uncertainty.
In making the case for a Marketing bridge budget, be sure to emphasize that January and February present great opportunities to get in front of business decision-makers, as they begin developing vendor preferences for their spend in the coming year. Remember, they probably got their annual budget late, too, and are just entering this phase of research in Q1.
These first two months of the year may not be Marketing’s peak season for generating Sales-Qualified Leads (SQLs), but they do deserve a robust plan for reaching new prospects. After the holiday blur of gift baskets and vendor parties, the noise level in January dies off quite a bit, while serious prospects will be ready to get back to business. (More on creating successful Q1 messaging a little later.) With adequate budgeting and the planning it supports in place, your team can be opening doors to new business while the competition is sleeping off all that turkey and champagne.
Q3/Early Q4: You Can Never Have Too Many Quality Leads
When you know lean times are coming, you have to plan ahead.
There’s just no way to get around the fact that December is a lousy time for trying to create new prospect relationships or booking new business. Like everybody else, decision-makers get distracted by the holiday rush. And, as I may have mentioned earlier, they might well be waiting for their own final budget approval, and so aren’t in the mindset to seriously research vendor preference for new purchases.
Marketing and Sales (but particularly Marketing) should aim to over-deliver during the fall months. With a B2B Sales cycle of six months or more, a high volume of leads entering the pipeline in September will result in a healthy number of SQLs primed to be closed in Q1. It’s basically another form of bridge budgeting and expenses incurred now will result in sustained revenue later.
In addition to your own in-house engagement and brand-extension program, Q3/early Q4 is great time frame to consider supplementing your funnel with third-party generated leads, such as those available through True Influence’s InsightBASE® Managed Services. Such leads can be easily mapped to positive ROI for early Q1 of the following year, particularly if you factor in the alternative of lost opportunity for a Sales team with few leads to pursue for a couple months.
December: Look for Unexpected Opportunities & Solidify Your Plan
December may be a lousy time to court new prospects, but your existing clients and contacts may well be looking to dump remaining budget, so that they don’t lose funding in the coming year.
In addition to the personal touch from your Sales team, be sure to monitor existing clients’ interest levels with Intent Signal Monitoring data from services like our InsightBASE. You can never have too much information about your customers, and the Account-Based Marketing (ABM) intelligence you’ll get from InsightBASE can clue you in on Internet-based research being done on those over-due budgets for next year.
For new lead generation, the best bet for December marketing messaging may well be brand awareness and high-level engagement. Your Marketing team certainly shouldn’t just go dark for December, but remember that most businesses simply aren’t going to be in a position to pull the trigger on a new provider in late Q4.
Lastly, I’ll add that the relative lull of new client activity in December creates a great opportunity to optimize your marketing collateral for a push in January and February. Serious prospects are ready to do business when the holiday noise has died down, giving you a great chance to introduce yourself with high-quality messaging and new learning about the challenges for the coming year.
Hitting early Q1 with both budget and on-point messaging will make a huge difference in revenue six months later.
A Consistent Pipeline Means Consistent Revenue
Year-end has always been a slow season for B2B Sales and Marketing, and there will always be challenges as you look to maintain a healthy revenue pipeline headed into the new year. But with a little strategic planning, you can keep your business moving ahead while the competition is still trying to figure out its next steps.