Breaking the hockey stick

Have you trained your customers in “the hockey stick”? Probably.

Do they beat you with it each and every quarter? Almost certainly.

In our quarter-driven world, with its emphasis on quarterly sales targets and reporting – designed primarily to feed stock analysts, we have created a monster. The desperate measures that many companies undertake in the last few days of each quarter in order to ‘make their numbers’ have trained the customer to ‘expect a big discount’ – with the predictable result that customers now wait until that time to place their orders so as to take that discount.

So, not only have we trained customers to expect a discount – i.e. to reduce our margin; we’ve also trained them: to expose us to massive personal stress; to place unduly heavy cyclical stress on our supply chain, and for that matter on their own organisation as they try to work their procurement processes into this unnatural cycle.

Curiously, some sales managers are actually OK with this state of affairs – they see the hockey stick as an ‘incentive’ to their sales staff – and they see the ‘certainty’ of (heavily) discounted business in the last 24 hours as a compensation for the beating they took!

Whilst a utopian view might be that we should just get rid of quarterly reporting (a top idea in my opinion, but one which is unlikely to gain any traction with the majority of people – what would the analysts do?) it is clear that we should strive to decouple customer purchasing from this cycle by other means.

Published by Malcolm Duffield

Malcolm Duffield provides advanced high-level sales coaching, ‘basic sales training’ and sales training for pre-sales and post-sales engineering staff. In ways markedly different to the typical classroom lecture approach. Like the game of ‘Go’ – selling is strategically complex, nuanced and more dependent on intuition than process. Sales – process alone is no guarantee of success because customers are humans, are fiendishly complex, intuitive and need to be met on their terms. Humans need to interact rather than merely transact. They have many needs, wants and aspirations – not all clearly stated. Having a proposal that is a good fit to the stated need is a start. Having a price that’s in the ball park will also help – but what will invariably make the difference between success and failure will be our ability to understand, connect with and provide value to the customer as a person. Focused primarily on IT sales, where solution and value, but above all human connection through respect, integrity and empathy, have to be brought together to win high-value deals - it would appear that other 'capital acquisitions' benefit from a similar approach. I have 30 years experience in such sales, and know what works and what doesn't work.