Ah, the end of the fiscal sales year! Anyone in business development – sales folks and engineers alike – knows that it’s open season for that favorite non-Olympic business sport: customer-induced hoop jumping!
Hoop jumping is defined as customers and prospects putting business development folks through their paces over and over again, holding an impending renewal or new business contract in front of their nose like a proverbial carrot. No matter how well you have done your homework. No matter how adamantly you have advocated on their behalf. No matter how hard you have tried to understand the offline factors that impact that customer’s decision making process. No matter how good your engineering solutions have been. No matter how many extras you have incorporated into service quality delivery – at no charge.
What’s this all about?
Seasoned business development professionals anticipate this activity and leave wiggle room for hoop jumping… so that they have the time to honor the real stuff. After all, these same customers do this to you, year after year. And I hope you or your company doesn’t have a book of business that’s full of this type of customer persona. Especially if you have done your homework and made your numbers and completed your projects for the customers and prospects who are authentic.
Are you ready to jump through hoops for your customers? (Note: this activity is not the same as going the distance for your customers or prospects.)
End of year hoop jumping has several different formats. And some of us find ourselves participating in several different events:
1.“Because I said so Hoop Jumping” – Your current customer waits until the 11th hour to decide whether to renew your services, just because he or she can, because you know they will renew your contract. But still they do this year after year, in spite of your superlative service quality delivery. Which makes you wonder whether it’s the value of your solution, or your ability to jump through last-minute hoops, that is the basis for your relationship with this customer. And yeah, you let them do this to you, once again, because of the size of their account and their longevity with your company. And remember, they treat everyone this way – including their own employees.
2.“Something is better than nothing Hoop Jumping” – Your prospective customer just can’t make up their mind. And you really don’t want to tell them about pending deadlines, which makes you sound like a typical, commission-hungry sales person. Yet if they don’t start their service contract with you by the deadline, their business development strategy for 2010 will be compromised. Really. But they can’t seem to get to “yes.” This situation compromises your own ethics of managing the process and taking the high road. So you go for some small fraction of the total solution, hoping to get a year end sale.
3.“You never had me from ‘hello’ Hoop Jumping” – Your prospect seems like they are going to sign the contract.Yet multiple visits later, they are still asking you to rationalize why they should “go” with your solution vs. the competition’s, who is giving away free trials (and probably will include a Christmas ham if the prospect plays their cards right.) Depending on how new at this sales game you are (since this type of prospect equates value with getting something for nothing), you keep gathering more competitive data to show the prospect how you offer the superior solution. They figure they are the customer and they have the right to make you jump through hoops to win their business.They won’t ever sign with you. It takes less energy to walk away from this type of prospect than to jump through their hoops.
4.“What have you done for me lately Hoop Jumping” – Your corporate hierarchy is all over you to make your numbers. This situation has been especially interesting in 2009. You’ve been churning and burning, calling any and every prospect, cramming your schedule with visits to anyone who will speak to you. Which goes back to what does your book of business look like and how well do you manage the sales process during the course of your sales year? Selling something to anyone results in a lot of business that goes down to the wire all of the time. And probably won’t renew next year. This sales strategy is the most energy-intensive and has the hoops that are the most difficult to jump through. It is ready-fire-aim selling.
Keep in mind that hoop jumping stresses your offline relationships with your support folks. If you can anticipate which customers and prospects are going to take things down to the wire – and let your support and engineering staff know about this possibility ahead of time – at least you can control that part of the “process. “ Manage the stuff that you can manage, control the variables that can be controlled. And minimize this type of performance art in the future.
I don’t like hoop jumping. I don’t recommend it as either a sales or a customer service strategy. I can’t deny that no matter how well I feel I’ve managed my client relationships during the course of the year, there are still those few customers who feel the need to put me – and my support folks – through my paces at the end of sales year, year after year. And while I duly anticipate this activity, I still don’t care to stress out my support staff because of this type of behavior.
I prefer to provide superlative business development solutions that drive revenue to my customers via their internet initiatives, branding and innovation. There’s no room for hoop jumping when you are doing your best work for these best-in-class type of customers, year in and year out.
OK. Now back to end of year hoop jumping. Which is at its absolute maximum. Sigh…..
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.