When thinking of advice for this piece, I turned to some of my trusted colleagues first. What do they think is the best way to prepare your business for a slow season?
"Don't have one," said Justin Gray, CEO of LeadMD.
Well, that solves it. Unfortunately, not all tech companies can make it through each year without experiencing some dip in sales, often in the leaner summer months. Whether your company is brand new or you've already experienced some success, the fact of the matter is that situations beyond your control - weather, current events, Mercury's relative position to the other planets (half joking) - can send you into a temporary sales rut.
"Early in my career I tried to blame low sales on a slow season. A board member laughed and told me it was a crock to use a season as an excuse when we were a company earning less than $10M annually. It stung then but he was absolutely right," said Mike Barbeau, VP of business development at Ethology.
"In a growing company, to say there is a slow sales season is a lame excuse. Any good leader with a sales system that honestly and consistently tracks leads, conversion and close timelines should be able to get to 90 percent predictive, 90 days out. Which means you can be a season ahead of your slow sales season.' And if you can't adjust for that, blame yourself, not the season," said Barbeau.
Short of not having a slow season at all, here are some ways to best leverage down days on the calendar so you can set yourself up for more success to follow.
1. Make the most noise when everyone else is quiet.
If you don't know what a dry time looks like or the toll it takes physically and emotionally, sometimes trial by fire is the best motivation. Just don't make slow seasons an annual occurrence.
Your sales cycle will give you the answers. If it takes you three months to close a deal, then start pounding the pavement in March so your June won't be bleak. Likewise, if you know you can expect a big rush around the same time every year, re-focus your efforts on owning a completely different part of the calendar.
Try a strategy of over delivering at a time when no one is expecting it. In truth, to over deliver requires very little extra effort on your part - simply piping up when everyone else is silent is something, and something can lead to sales. Companies can become so locked in trying to make the biggest splash among all the pool-divers (during holiday season, big cultural events, etc.) that they miss the everyday opportunities to make an impact and stay more consistent throughout the year.
2. Don't create your own slow season.
Gray talks from his own experience when his company spent a large chunk of its budget and devoted extra time and effort to attend and sponsor an important industry conference. The summit was a success, but being so heads down in this task pulled valuable resources off of securing leads. Once the conference ended, the company had to work twice as hard to hit goals.
"Oftentimes causal items like this are viewed as seasonality, when in fact, there is an underlying cause that is completely manageable," explains Gray.
If you properly anticipate a slow season and make sure you've properly delegated so you don't make your own, you can actually be extremely productive during supposed down months by taking a more long-term approach.
Start by taking inventory of your current customers and potential customers from the past with whom you never closed. Reach out to both groups - your current crop to check in, make sure their needs are being met and (tactfully) ask for referrals, and your older leads to revisit the conversation. Maybe you were both swept up during the busy months, and now those older targets will be more amenable to making a purchase.
Don't think quick fix during slow times, think about laying the groundwork for the seasons ahead.
3. Do a little summer cleaning.
With the right attitude (read: not totally freaking out about a sales drought), you can actually spin a slow season into a positive for your business. And the way to do that is with a little bit of "me-time." If you're coming off a highly successful quarter or three, then you probably didn't find time to take a step back and consider your perspective. When things are rolling, it's hard to keep all ducks in a row.
Slower seasons can be stressful, but they can also provide business owners with some clarity. Look inward during this time so you can re-evaluate some of your internal processes and tighten up parts of the business. For example, when was the last time you updated your email list? Your database can degrade by as much as 20 percent in a year, so use this time to prepare it for the next big rush. It also doesn't hurt to check in on customers you haven't heard from in a while.
Summer can also be a great time to put some social media posts and marketing ideas in the hopper. Whether you take advantage of the slower season to put out messages when others are quiet, or you hold off until later, you're in a part of the calendar when you can free your mind up a little more to think creatively.