When I was a lad, the signs in the High Street shops that used to stop me in my tracks from early August read: “Back to school”.
I always thought those stocks of school uniforms, lunch boxes and protractors were a nasty harbinger of impending autumn and a rotten trick of retail marketing. As Shakespeare said: “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date”.
It all feeds into the notion that, whereas the calendar year in many western countries begins in January and (in the UK at least) the financial year begins in April, the real sense of everything getting underway again after a hiatus actually occurs in September. My colleague Steve Thurlow has blogged recently on the fallacy of regarding high summer as a barren time for sales activity and he’s right. But, if there are many things to be getting on with while the sun is out, the sense of people really rolling their sleeves up and getting on with things in September also presents both challenges and opportunities.
If you are thinking people will come to your marketing event, make time to meet you, read your highly persuasive email or finally rubber-stamp that long-postponed buying decision in your favour, infused with a fresh sense of enthusiasm and post-holiday focus, so are all your competitors. In my experience, September is actually quite a crowded and stressful time, when customers want a bit of space to take a deep breath, deal with the email backlog and prepare for what is, in many businesses, their busiest quarter.
So, a bit of skill is required. It’s worth thinking about what specific concerns customers or prospects have that are particular to this time of year. We recently extended our research into what constitutes a measurably effective value proposition, from the UK to a further dozen countries. The results universally and comprehensively reinforced the eternal truth that the best market-level value propositions describe (and where possible quantify) the potential business benefits of buying a particular product or service, in the most specific terms, as your current level of customer knowledge permits. So, a call, tweet, email, advertisement, a video message, an unsolicited proposal or face-to-face conversation that specifically investigates and recognises the need for your prospect or customer to make a fast start to the business resumption, and then shows how you can help them do that, is likely to stand out from the early autumn crowd.
What does that mean in practice?
An accountancy firm might ask the finance director of a manufacturing company whether the post-summer pick-up in activity (co-incident, it would seem, with generally increased confidence in the industrial sector) might present cash flow or overtrading risks, and whether they are getting best advice from their incumbent firm.
A search engine optimisation specialist might remind the wider market that if more people than usual are in the early stages of thinking about buying decisions when they get back after the summer, the first place they tend to look when compiling a long list of potential suppliers is the web. So the SEO company should be asking people if they want to be front and centre of those searches and showing how working with them now will bring quick payoffs.
A sales performance company like ours might be discussing, with existing accounts and new targets alike, whether their sales teams could be refreshing or augmenting their skills to go along with the renewed energy they bring to the post vacation season.
Your company (and mine) will probably have some distinct value that we can bring to companies – and extract value in return – that is specific to this unique moment in the business year. The challenge is to find the needs lurking within the prospective client and articulate a timely response before everyone starts thinking about Christmas.
Huthwaite International is the headline sponsor for the National Sales Awards.