In Defence of the Quarter

Originally posted on my LinkedIn page…

I always start QBRs with our main regional distributor with the phrase, ‘the quarter is dead, long live the quarter’. As one passes away, we continue straight into the next – the King is dead, long live the King. It can be exhausting, but we all have the choice to give up our commission based pay structures and go into the operations side of things, should we wish to…

No one I’ve met in sales particularly enjoys the quarterly rhythm, but we all thrive on it and, working for the most part in regional sales offices in this part of the world, we have no choice but to knuckle down and get on with it. We can’t change Wall Street or the London Stock Exchange and, if we’re lucky enough to have share options, we might benefit from a jump after a good quarter’s results come in and are made public, even whilst we bemoan yet another forecasting and end of Q scramble.

In defence of the quarter, I’ve never seen an alternative that ensures the right sales pressure and rhythm is applied. Despite having been through plenty of them, I’m always pleasantly reminded each quarter what people can achieve when that pressure really is on. Seeing what happens when that pressure relents is always a disappointment.

It all comes down to management of course, getting that balance between long and short term-ism, as well as personal responsibility from individual sales reps.

The worst end of quarters I’ve experienced were when working for a company whose financial year matched the calendar year. Christmas would be ruined and I would be messaging our distributor about placing final orders whilst the fireworks would be going off around the Burj Khalifa. After apologising to Mrs Saul for ruining the Christmas and New Year period, I was then off to a sales kick off miles away, returning jet-lagged and grumpy, jumping straight back into a plane to make the best out of the most productive time of the year for customers and partners.

This accounting choice made no sense for customers, partners or the company itself. Christmas was the worst, chasing down people who were on holiday, with the same pattern repeating itself for Easter, then the beginning of the summer holidays. All we did was exhaust ourselves and irritate everyone else unnecessarily. I don’t think the situation helped our sales in the slightest.

End of quarter classics for me, regardless of when the deadline loomed, have been distributors suddenly deciding partners whose deals had been forecasted for months have no credit and a customer in West Africa who’d committed to a large purchase literally disappearing off the face of the earth. My perennial favourite is procurement managers deciding a week before the end of quarter that they know more about IT than the vendor, partner and their datacentre team combined – after all, if that person’s brother-in-law can get a 1TB USB drive for $99 in their local electronics store, why are the disks in the $250,000 cluster being purchased so expensive?

A dark moment was a forecast in the last week of a quarter where a colleague reported that the decision maker at a certain customer had sadly died of a heart attack the day before. After a few moments of hesitation, the sales manager running the call sighed and came straight out with it – ‘did he sign off the PO before this happened’. He had.

We have the usual pressures where I am now, but the timing of the financial year and the current atmosphere we are working in all contribute to making the best out of a system that may not be the best, but which is better than all the alternatives. The sales equivalent to Winston Churchill’s comment on democracy.

What are your end of quarter horror stories or suggestions for making the situation work better for everyone?

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