For business owners in the retail sector, now is your opportunity to shine as you prepare for the biggest sale time of the year. But in the business-to-business (B2B) environment, discussing the best ways to find new customers around the holidays doesn’t produce much yuletide cheer among entrepreneurs.
As many sectors of the B2B world shut down during the holiday season, affected small business owners generally resign themselves to the fact that new business must wait until the New Year. Adhering to that conventional wisdom, though, can rob you of sales and give an edge to your more aggressive competitors.
Offer Incentives for Closing the Deal Now
How can you convince prospects—many of whom have already mentally “checked out” for the season—to make a purchase decision now rather than the new year?
Full disclosure: This task isn’t easy. But you can follow these few time-tested sales methods that incentivize prospects to buy now rather than later:
- Offer a special price or free upgrade tied to an impending deadline. When prospects have a business need to act on during the holiday season, they usually can magically gain approval from their co-workers on vacation.
- If you have a sales force, give your reps a little more leeway to break protocol without your direct approval. Perhaps that means authorizing them to give slightly larger discounts than normal or shortening the length of the contract without delaying the sales process to contact you for your blessing. Be sure to delineate these new parameters lest your reps abuse this new freedom.
- Be flexible with payments. If it’s feasible for your business, allow prospects to pay in the New Year and start using the product now. You can offer a satisfaction guarantee or opt-out in the contract that lets them cancel service before the first payment is due. Odds are they’ll become so dependent upon your service that they’ll stay customers.
- Send handwritten holiday cards to prospects you’ve deemed legitimate but inactive or stalled. If your roster is too large, pick the top 20 or 30 prospects and start writing. Don’t include a hard sell. Simply wish them well during the holidays and the New Year. Include your contact information in the P.S. (often the first-read part of a letter) and an invitation to contact you with any questions. Depending upon how much contact you had with these prospects, following up with a phone call may be welcome.
Downtime Activities that Help Yield New Customers
The holiday season is the time to plan for the upcoming year, but it’s also time to focus on sales indirectly through marketing and finance tactics. As you implement the tips in the previous section, keep these at the forefront:
- Think about how you’re spending your end-of-year time. Odds are, your prospects are doing likewise. You’re probably both combing Google, blogs, and industry web sites searching for content to help you improve your business in the new year, reduce overhead...you get the picture. Create that content and launch it now. Show how your products or services are a smart investment for the upcoming year. When appropriate, include contact information or a special offer. Demonstrating your authority as an expert in your field plays a big role in earning sales over less experienced competitors.
- Use upcoming social engagements to network. Whether it’s holiday get-togethers through industry associations, family gatherings, or your office’s annual Christmas party, keep an eye out for new contacts. If you’re at a cocktail party, offer to be the designated driver or arrange for rides. People want to do business with entrepreneurs who can be responsible while having a good time.
- Tinker with your offer. This marketing exercise is probably something you consider before every year, but now you can try a new idea with a few stalled or inactive prospects. Perform an informal test among a couple leads to test the waters of your new offer. You’ll have a better sense of how a real test will fair next year, and you might help close a few deals in the process.
- Sell your stock-piled inventory. If you’re feeling pressure to increase sales now because you’ve built up inventory, try selling the inventory rather than your product or service. It can relieve some pressure while putting you in a better financial position.
Finding new business when business is the last thing on everyone’s mind is, as we mentioned earlier, no easy task. But if you can shift people to think about a little business by following these year-end tips, you’ll make the case for your business much easier. As Mad Men’s Don Draper says, “If you don't like what is being said, then change the conversation.”