‘Tis the season of celebration and giving thanks. A season built around family, friends, traditions and blessings. It’s also a season, known in sales circles, as the “mad dash;” crunch time to nail year-end sales numbers and focus ahead to the new first quarter.

2017 is Only 45 Days Away

I know what it feels like to be energized, focused, and ready to sprint toward the end-of-the-year. I used a run a sales force. Right around this time, I would rally my sales team to focus on finishing the year off strong, and building plans for starting stronger in the upcoming year.

One of the many things I’ve learned during my long career in sales is just how important it is to begin the year on solid footing. Strong first quarter numbers give you (the head of sales, sales manager, or sales rep) the ability to confidently drive your business without fretting over the question, “Why are sales are not on track?” When numbers get sidetracked in the new year, far too many companies will spend those months answering questions to senior management about why sales aren’t coming in rather than focusing on what’s important: Executing business plans.

No time is better spent than on driving sales. Explaining and coming up with reasons why sales are not on track is a waste of time.

What Top Companies Do in the First Quarter

As we’ve seen in recent years, business acumen and planning are critical skills that sales reps and managers must possess to compete and win. Top companies are focused on being ready to start 2017 right out of the gate — their first day back from the holiday break.

This means that all sales reps:

  • Should have a final business plan that they have reviewed with their sales manager.

  • Should have a clear idea of any new marketing programs available to help kick off Q1.

  • Know which customers they need to be reaching out to in the first week of the year.

Top companies have already built their tactical plans to hit the ground running in 2017. They have identified their key growth targets, have booked meetings, and are in the process of polishing their customer-focused business plans.

Are You Ready for 2017? See How Well You Score Using Steven Rosen’s 3-Point Indicator

1. Have you or your sales team clearly identified Key Success Factors?

Don’t try to do too much. Remember: Slow and steady wins the race.

By taking the time to do a SWOT analysis you can take an objective look at your territory/region. The goal of the SWOT analysis is to identify the two or three things that you need to do to be successful. Salespeople who can clearly articulate their 2-3 key success factors and have a plan to address these factors are truly focused on success.

2. Have your reps identified their top 10-20 accounts?

Sharp sales reps not only understand the 80/20 rule, they live it. Targeting is one of the most critical steps to focus your efforts on the right accounts. By clearly identifying your top accounts you know where to spend your time to get the biggest return.

3. Have your sales reps built a detailed plan of action?

Nothing happens unless you have a plan in place. I strongly believe that sales people who build specific plans by account are always more successful than those who don’t. A well thought out plan of action is like measuring twice and cutting once.

Pen to paper has two advantages: You crystallise your thoughts, and you make a specific

If you have said yes to all 3 points: Congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy your holiday! You are well on your way to soaring into the first quarter with strong sales.

If you did not say yes to all 3 points — don’t worry! You can use the month of December to get yourself and your team ready.

For those of you who are not ready and will not be ready by New Years, all I can say is the sooner you put the fundamentals for success in place the better chances you have of succeeding in 2017.

Please share with me where you are in the process. I am happy to help you hit the ground running in 2017.

Steven A. Rosen, MBA is the founder of STAR Results, a leading sales management training and leadership coaching company. He one of the sales world's most prominent thought leaders, is now a Salesforce Sales Community contributor. This community is a new collaborative networking group for sales executives sharing best practices and innovations in sales leadership. We encourage all Salesforce customers to join Steven and other top sales thought leaders in the new Salesforce Sales Community.