For retailers Black Friday generally refers to the point in the year when their balance sheets go from “in the red” to a positive “in the black” due to the huge increase in sales from holiday shoppers. (For a larger context on the origins of the term, History.com has a nice summary).
For B2B companies, whether you’re in the SaaS space, B2B product sales, or some form of professional services, the holiday season means something a little different. Not every brand will benefit from a cheeky holiday themed promotion (in fact, most won’t). Sure, you can run a culture-focused holiday themed newsletter, or run some fun and spritely social media plays featuring the office dog wearing reindeer antlers, but when push comes to shove these will do little to impact your end of year performance.
With all that said, Q4 is still a critical moment for B2B brands to be thinking about their sales and marketing approach, and despite the alignment of many marketing and sales operations, we often see the end of the year push sales people and marketers in different directions.
B2B Sales in Q4
While Thanksgiving through the new year are typically slow for B2B brands, early september through Thanksgiving are some of the hottest selling and closing months of the year. With January 1st fast approaching, sales reps are pushing hard to make their end of year numbers before the holiday season begins in full and they run out of runway to close
Why is this such a good time for B2B sales?
- Budgets are expiring at the end of the year, so your customer has some “use it or lose it” cash to spend. (Tip: Think about how your product or service fits into your audience’s end of year spending story. Give them ideas as to how they might use that budget effectively.)
- Decision-makers are planning for next year (just look at your marketing team), so they’ll be identifying the tools to help them become more effective in the new year.
- As you get closer and closer to the holidays you may have less active competition in your space – making it easier to be heard.
If your top of funnel efforts have been driving real qualified opportunities to the plate, the end of the year is a critical time for sales reps to be laser focused on closing business.
For those sales people with a less active pipeline and longer sales cycles, this time is well spent setting up meetings for early in the new year. With the craziness of the holiday season, and the rude awakening that often comes with going back to work January 2nd, it’s easy to lose momentum in your pipeline. Having a meeting already on the books is a great way to ensure you get back in front of your prospects as soon as their head is back in the game.
What Should Marketing Focus on at EOY?
For B2B marketers on the other hand, the end of the year tends to be more reflective and strategic. While the sales team is trying their hardest to close out their pipelines and bump their yearly numbers, marketers are trying to evaluate the effectiveness of the past year’s marketing campaigns and make sure they confidently enter the new year with a cohesive marketing and media plan
Your annual marketing plan
The most obvious end of year activity is building your annual marketing plan for the following year. Presenting your marketing plan to leadership will involve reflecting on the past year’s performance and identifying your most (and least) successful campaigns, laying out your goals for the new year and the approach for reaching them, and asking for the budget required to execute the plan.
Building your annual marketing plan can be very time consuming and stressful, and it’s common for marketing teams to halt progress on everything else while working on it. But the end of the year is also a great time to tackle some of these less obvious marketing projects that can ensure you start the new year strong.
Re-prioritize your KPIs
The new year is a logical time to change how you quantify your marketing success. Over the last 10 years the phrase “data driven decision making” has lost a lot of it’s meaning, and the mindset that behind it has caused a lot of marketing leaders to only execute on KPIs that are easy to measure. It feels good to report to leadership that “MQLs increased 45% year over year” – but often these metrics aren’t linearly correlated with an increase in proposals, subscriptions, sales, or revenue. Especially when we start to tailor our campaigns to maximize our KPIs, and think less about our bottom line.
Your brand marketing amplifies the reach and throughput of your intent driven campaigns, but it can feel risky to invest heavily in channels and media types that aren’t begging for a leads, and can’t be measured as easily as your performance channels. Since you’re already working on your annual plan and setting goals for the new year, the end of the year is a great time to ask yourself: is how you measure marketing effectiveness right now truly representative of the value it brings to your companies’ bottom line?
Clean up your data
Over the course of a year, a lot of useless contact and account data can make it’s way into your CRM. Now is a great time to clean up your marketing data to ensure it isn’t bogging down your automation, sending unnecessary messages, and mis-identifying your contacts when you start next year’s campaigns. There are a few easy things you can do to clean up your marketing data…
- Find and delete duplicate contacts
- Validate your contact list
- Unify formatting across your database (Are you using title case on all names? Do you have first and last names broken into two fields for every contact?)
- Set up rules and automation to maintain a clean contact database
Get feedback from your sales team
Sometimes the most efficient way to get feedback on your performance is to go straight to the people it impacts most, your sales team. As we mentioned before when discussing the possibility of making changes to your KPIs, all of those MQLs don’t mean anything if none of them turn into real opportunities or closed deals. Oftentimes salespeople have valuable subjective feedback that gets swept aside in our quest to be “data-driven”.
So while your sales and marketing teams may be focused on different things this time of year, it’s important for sales and marketing leadership to set aside time to review this year’s performance, next year’s goals, and ways that the teams can be supporting each other.
Thank your customers
In the craziness that comes with the end of the year it’s easy to forget that you already have paying customers. Customers you worked hard to get. Customers who PAY YOU MONEY. Marketing isn’t just about new business. If you have a dedicated client success team that lives outside of your marketing org, they should already have this covered, but the end of the year is a great time to reach out to your valued customers with a thoughtful and authentic message of thanks.