January Is Hell
January. What a terrifying time for the business owner. Unless you work in some holiday-ish sector like ice creams, it’s your annual churning pit of self-doubt, tumbleweeds blowing down Revenue Street.
When I had my ad agency, I’d return all fired up for the best year ever, and smash into the Week 1 program.
Consider audacious growth goals for the coming year.
Hit up some clients, who are all away.
Tidy up all filing systems
Decide it’s the website’s fault. Draft new website. Contact web designer. They are away. Read long clickbait SEO infographics, as if there is a tsunami of demand out there, trawling for our product, but they just can’t find us.
Become fully convinced that nobody will ever hire us for a single project ever again.
A client sends some work over.
After a few (OK, eight) years of this I realised I should just stay on holidays longer. And most years we did have our best year ever but Januaries still freak me out.
You’re Going To Have To Call ?
There’s no magic formula. If you’re in B2B world, you’re going to have to call your old and existing clients. On the phone. Sure you can email them, and they will ignore you with no more guilt than walking past a vending machine. The email creates no sense of personal obligation at all.
It’s pretty exhausting doing the January call to a list of clients. They tend to go like this:
Business Owner: Hi how are you? How was your holiday? Did you get away? Get to the beach maybe? How was that weather? So, big year ahead eh?
Customer: Good. Fine. Sunny. Etc.
After about three minutes of banter, which feels like 20 minutes to the client, there’s the Awkward Pause. You both know it’s coming.
“Any-way … I was wondering … just thought I’d touch base … about maybe looking at your product needs going forward …”
It comes over like a teenage boy asking someone out over the landline back when that was a thing. With a lower strike rate. The Awkward Pause says: I’m not all that confident in my product.
The Awkward Pause Is Everywhere
The Awkward Pause pops up in all sorts of places. In our industry you see it in motivational speakers. Not the hustler ones, the ones who have actually clocked up some serious achievements. They weave a compelling tale of superhuman performance. They have done something a thousand times more difficult, brave or noble than anything you or I will ever do. You’re thinking: that is a great story. And then,
“Planning. Willpower. Painstaking practice. Those are the things that got me to Mars. And those are the things that you, too, *AWKWARD PAUSE* can use in your day to day mission … (surveys the unpromising sample of polo-shirted humanity before them) … of selling print cartridges!”
That gear-grinding moment when they go from spellbinding to pretending that we are the same as them. We are not and never will be. That pause just pricks the bubble and drops a clanging reminder that they’re doing this for money.
They should just stop at the end of their great story, because they’ve already achieved their useful purpose by making us average people think:
Wow, they make me want to be a better person.
Better in whatever way works for you. We don’t need a task list, we mostly know what to do. Telling them to be dedicated and focused etc is the corporate version of ‘eat your vegetables’. Just go back to your life and be better. (Side note, I’m no expert but I feel this is also how religions should work).
Don’t Take Prospects Out To Lunch
The awkward pause is also why we will never take prospective clients out for lunch. Existing clients, absolutely, go out and get to know each other outside the work pressure cooker. Celebrate your achievements together.
With a prospect you don’t know, it’s super-clunky. The hard-work banter through the whole meal, the unspoken pressure building up until the plates are cleared. They’re wondering what you want, you’re wondering how they’re going to take your proposition. The coffees are ordered, then it’s AP time.
“So, uh … we have a proposal for you.”
It’s like one of those high-stakes public wedding proposals that sometimes don’t end well. With a long buildup, the Awkward Pause develops a black hole density that freaks potential clients out.
The Vicken Technique
I’ve written about our Sydney business partner Vicken before. He gets a lot done in a short time, and he has a deceptively simple technique to get those January calls done.
Vic just calls up anyone we’ve done business with before, like this:
Vicken: Hi it’s Vic. How were your holidays?
Customer: Good thanks.
Vicken: Cool. Hey I’m just making a shameless sales call. Got any work on?
It’s really efficient and clients are grateful because it doesn’t waste their time. I’m always happy to talk to suppliers but God they test your patience when they go through three minutes of template relationshipping before they get to the damn point.
There’s a time for learning all about your client’s kids, hobbies and so on – it’s essential to do sales well – but NOW IS NOT THAT TIME.
You can’t use the Vicken Technique on people you don’t know, that would be quite weird. And those words only work if you’re the owner or manager, not an actual sales person. Just set an hour or so aside each morning to do it, then stop. That’ll keep you sounding perky and confident.
And if you have any events on, hit up Scene Change. Shameless.
If you liked this you might also enjoy Own The Screw-Up: How Bryce Courtenay Achieved More Than You And Me.
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