As the holiday season approaches, make sure you have laid out your initial plans for 2011 and have taken the time to thank colleagues and clients for contributing to your success in 2010.

By this point in the year, the die is cast, and you’ll either be putting a cherry on top, maintaining your momentum, or looking for any way possible to salvage something from the difficult challenges you’ve faced.

During these last two months, the holiday season begins, and it is an opportunity for you and your team to make some extra sales, show appreciation to loyal clients, and take important steps for 2011.

Outstanding proposals review.There is no better time to review the status of outstanding proposals than now. Unless your client is on a fiscal year, it is natural for most of them to want to wrap up projects and purchases by the end of the calendar year.  Most shoot for late November or by December 10th; any later than that you will find that schedules are compromised by parties, vacations and various holidays.  

Are you going to get that job? Are you still under consideration? Did they receive funding to make the project work? More proposals are lost through neglect and lack of follow up than for any other reason. You might as well find out now if you have a chance; if you do, then what will it take to get the project?   

Get that short-term opportunity.When issuing a proposal, it is critical to know if the work needs to be done by calendar year-end. Your strategy for pricing and timely follow up may depend on this information. It is also a tip-off as to when your client may have to make the buying decision. For instance, for a quick-turn project, product delivery time may be 10 days, scheduling two days, installation time three days, and punch out one day.

In this scenario, the buyer really needs to make a decision during the first week of December to have any chance for an end of December wrap-up. Use this knowledge to push the buyer to give you the order.

Now is the time to plant the seeds for next year’s business.Make an effective sales call by asking questions about 2011. How is business stacking up for your client; how is their budget for replacement flooring looking; are they considering any specialty flooring; will they occupy additional office space?

It never hurts to talk about their plans; if you are genuinely interested, it will be conveyed through your questions. Take along a couple of new, cutting edge products, or be prepared to talk about a new niche business your company is promoting. Perhaps some new service for assets maintenance will interest them.   

As part of this sales call, get a grade on your performance from core clients. Ask how you’ve done and where you can improve. Consider asking these questions: “Jim, we try hard to make your dealing with us a painless rather than painful process. How are we doing on your contacts with our admin office; how about the ease of scheduling your work? How would you rate us overall on a 10-point scale?”  

You may get more feedback by handing them a one-page form with well thought out questions asking them to rate you on a 1-10 scale. Leave space for them to provide comments. A stamped, self-addressed envelope to someone in your office is better than something addressed to you by name. “Jill, I’d really appreciate your spending five minutes to fill this out and send it back to us. Your grade will help us do a better job.”

Plan for gift giving to show appreciation and promote business.I strongly suggest that you plan what items will be given to promote business. Choose a range of items that run the gamut from an inexpensive gift package of candy or coffee, to a bottle of nice wine, a large fruit basket, or a custom tray of cookies.

Will you be buying enough of an item to warrant special packaging complete with your company logo? Is that appropriate?  Maybe a coffee mug filled with candy or a thermal cup with your company’s name or logo will do. Generally, a low-cost per unit item, ordered in quantity, will keep your logo imprinting affordable.

The most effective method is to have each salesperson make a list of their clients, by name, and then decide what available item is appropriate for each. That way, you know exactly what to order, in what quantity, and can monitor what is being given. Some clients cannot accept anything of value; others are limited to gift values under $25 or $50; a few will only accept items that can be shared by all in the office. When possible, it is always best to have a variety of items (small, medium, and large sizes) that can be easily transported or carried in a large bag or briefcase.  

A plate of cookies, a box of candy, or a bottle of your client’s favorite drink may get you the five minutes you need to make the right contact for future business. I recall making this sales call in early December on a client who was difficult to see. Harry had always been difficult to see, and once in his office, spent most of his time telling me how busy he was and how satisfied he was with his current supplier.

This time, though, when I got into his office, I told Harry, “I didn’t come by to make a sales pitch or even show you new products, but rather, to let you know how much I appreciated the business you’ve given us this year. While it hasn’t been a lot, I know you could have given those two orders to someone else.” With that, I reached in my briefcase, pulled out a small bottle of Harry’s favorite bourbon, and put it on his desk. Quick as a flash, the bottle disappeared into his desk drawer.  

“You know, Dave, I’m glad you stopped by; I was just looking at drawings for some new office space and will need flooring. Here’s a set of plans; take a look and come up with a budget for me. I’ll be interested to see what you recommend. Okay?” With that, he handed me the blueprints and ushered me out the door. I had shown Harry some appreciation for his business and had taken the time to find out his favorite brand of whiskey. That was what counted, not the dollar amount of the gift. I got that project and continued to do business with Harry until his retirement.

Sometimes, a short, handwritten note of thanks is the most appropriate way to show appreciation, and when in doubt, I recommend that. In this day of e-mail communication, a handwritten note will stand out. It doesn’t have to be long or with fancy words. It just has to be sincere and genuine. Harrison Publishing Company has built their business with short, funny, personalized cards.

I once collected an overdue account at Christmas by sending a card with the picture of a deep-sea diver and the caption, “I’ve been looking everywhere for your check…” and when the card opened up, it continued with, “could it still be in your checkbook?” I had also handwritten, “Chris, thanks for the business this year, you’re an important client for us. Our team would really appreciate getting this bill paid before the end of December, okay?” We received the check the following week. When I saw Chris in January, he had tacked the card to his bulletin board.

Set up the framework for next year’s business.Where will it come from and how will you tweak your offering in 2011? It is about this time of year when sales forecasting, budgeting, and planning for next year should be done. Look at where you’ve been, how you’ve done in certain business segments, and what needs to be done differently in 2011. There is no substitute for this type of review by each salesperson and manager. Where did my business come from this year, how profitable was each piece of business, how competitive was each segment, how painful was each to deliver and collect, and have I built up a core business that I can count on for next year?  

Each person should be able to identify their top 10 or 15 clients and forecast business from them for the coming year. Tabulating their sales should be done on a monthly basis. This will allow a better forecast for each quarter and will provide a valuable insight, on a cumulative basis, for operations and installation personnel. If a large, multi-year purchase agreement (such as school systems) concentrates most purchases and installation in the third quarter, then all need to be prepared.  

Conversely, if prospective sales are light during a particular month or quarter, it’s better to know this several months in advance to plan aggressive sales promotions to even out the work flow. If you know what is coming you are always better prepared.

Finally, plan for ways to show your employees how much you appreciate what they have done to make the year a success.It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but thoughtful: Perhaps a special gift, an extra day off, or a holiday party. Do something to show your appreciation.

See you at Surfaces

If you’ve got questions about commercial business, I invite you to attend my Surfaces seminar, “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About the Commercial Flooring Business” MO175, Monday, Jan. 24, 2011. Along with me, this 90-minute seminar features Alan Beswick, coo of JW Floor Covering,  and Jeanne Matson, ceo of Starnet Worldwide. This presentation will be packed with valuable information for those who’ve decided to make their commercial business successful.  

Sponsored by:Flexco