When playing golf, have you ever noticed how quickly one bad hole can lead to a complete unraveling of your game? It could be that you’ve become reacquainted with an old friend – the slice – or maybe you’ve caught a case of the putting yips. These things are tough to fix on the golf course. There’s no time or place to practice.

Worse yet, if your game continues trending downward you become frustrated, which only makes matters worse. You start to grip the clubs tighter, leading to an array of even worse shots and results – and your mind fills with distracting chatter, throwing off your rhythm. I speak from experience on this.

This happens to many sales organizations at the end of the year. I haven’t come up with a trendy nickname or cliché for it, but it certainly deserves one.

The End-of-Year Crunch

As you face the end of the year, you probably start pushing for strong results. As a sales leader, you’ve probably done the following:

  • Taken stock of how much more you have to sell to hit your annual goal, plan or budget.
  • Dissected your funnel to determine if the depth and quality of your sales opportunities will support your goal.
  • Reallocated your time to focus on certain areas, like finding low-hanging fruit or squeezing whatever you have in the funnel until it either crumbles or runs for its life.
  • Scheduled a consistent series of deal (account) reviews, 1:1 progress discussions and other performance checkpoints with your sales reps.

Unfortunately, by the time January 1st rolls around, you and your sales team are worn out. Everyone is mentally and physically exhausted by the time you need to start over. Reality is, you truly need to rejuvenate and fill the tank again. The transition from the end-of-year to the new year can cost your sales organization two to three months of sales productivity.

What Happens When Your Sales Team Burns Out

  • Next year’s pipeline is reduced to a trickle.

    You’re so focused on a strong end-of-year finish that you take your eye off planning for next year. As a result, you end up playing catch-up from day one of the new year. If your sales cycle is more than two months you’re already starting at a disadvantage.

  • Your team becomes unproductive and unfocused.

    The end-of-year sprint takes a lot of your focus and that of your sales team. There’s little left but recovery the first 60 days of the new year. Swinging hard with all that urgency is mentally and physically exhausting, and if the score doesn’t match the effort, then what?

  • You teach the wrong lessons.

    The only lesson you and your sales team learn is that doing more of the same with more urgency is a good plan of attack. It reinforces bad habits because, in the short-term, the effort can appear to have worked. If success is measured in terms of effort, focus or short-term results, it can be perceived — falsely — as effective.

  • You repeat the cycle.

    You start the whole sales cycle over again. You condensed twelve months of sales productivity into ten months. That’s like playing a golf tournament where your score is based on 24 holes and everyone else’s is based on 18. At some point in the last four to five months of the year, you’ll start gripping again.

How to Handle End of Year Pressures, and Still Have Energy Left for the Next Cycle

  • Stop gripping the club so tightly.

    Avoid the tendency to approach the sales process more aggressively and with greater urgency. If the underlying mechanics of your sales approach are weak and the routine (swing) is ineffective, you won’t achieve your goals. You’ll end up swinging harder and with too many thoughts cluttering your head and interfering with your game.

  • Focus only on mission-critical opportunities.

    As a sales leader, identify the short-term opportunities worth the most focus. Create an actionable list of next steps or questions, per deal, with each of your sales team members. Focus on the questions needed to be asked. The following two questions can really shake out the 50/50 shots:

    • Why does the decision-maker need to take this particular action this year?

    • Can he or she push this decision to next year?