The Day-After-Labor-Day Syndrome

When I was the manager/director/vice president/head of marketing for B2B companies, the day after Labor Day was often a crazy day.  Why? I frequently had sales executives call because the year was two-thirds over and they had only one-third to one-half of their sales goal on the books.  The conversation went something like this:

Sales Executive: We need some marketing help so we can bring in the year on plan.

Me:  Sure, how much do you need in sales to make plan (I already knew this because I had the projected sales numbers through August).

Sales Executive:  Um, we’re at about $25 million through August ((an exaggeration: more like $23 million and change, according to the August report)).

Me: What does your pipeline look like?

Sales Executive:  We have some great prospects.

Me:  Great, what are you projecting you’ll sell to them by year end?

Sales Executive: Best case scenario: $25 million, conservative estimate: $20 million

Me: What about current clients?

Sales Executive:  We’ve been pushing hard on some project extensions and a few clients traditionally buy additional product to use their budget before year end.  I think we’ll do another $25 million with current clients.

Me:  Okay.  So you’re projecting $70 – $75 million from all known sources to meet a $100 million sales plan.  You expect to sell an additional $25 – $30 million to people you don’t even know within four months?  And our average time from initial prospect contact to billing is eight-plus months?  Buddy, you’re screwed!

I never said the last part, but I often wanted to.  Instead, I played the good corporate soldier and set up a meeting to start working on marketing plans, knowing full well that most of what we did would not pay off until the next year.  Mind you this was often the same sales executive I had been trying to meet with since early in the year.  He never had time, cancelled meetings or left messages that they were having a great year and wouldn’t need any marketing help.  When some of those hoped for deals didn’t happen it was summer and they had a hard time getting any traction with prospects in the pipeline.  So I viewed the marketing planning meeting that happened in September as getting a jump on first-half sales for next year.  Besides, if I had some secret formula for going from marketing planning to converted sale in three or four months, wouldn’t we be using it all year?

Our September meeting focused on plans to close as many pipeline deals as possible.  By segmenting the pipeline prospects as high, medium and low probability of conversion, we put plans in place for each prospect in the high and medium probability segments.  We didn’t want to put all our energy into marketing to attract new prospects while letting these high and medium probability prospects wither on the vine.

When we were sure we were doing everything we could to bring in these sales currently in the pipeline, we laid the groundwork for marketing that would start filling the pipeline for the future.  Usually the sales executive learned the lesson that marketing is not a short-term spigot you turn on and off as you need to fill the pipeline.  Instead, marketing is an ongoing process that creates an interest in your products or services so prospects know you can meet their needs or wants.

By the way, the other crazy marketing day of the year was the day after New Year’s Day.  This was the day when everyone came back to work with their new year resolutions, which usually meant dumping a bunch of “to dos” on the marketing department.  At least this was proactive and avoided the dreaded Day-After-Labor-Day Syndrome.

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