Do You Know Why You Had A Slow Q1/2014?

If you can't answer this question right away, then you need a better review process and more accurate metrics.

Everyone seemed to have had a slow start to the calendar year. There are many reasons: horribly frigid winter, high expectations after a strong 2013, etc. Unfortunately, many bad decisions and indecisions have been made because of bad results or bad excuses - not because of data. The results: some good sales people have been let go and some bad sales people are still employed.

How about you? Whether a sales person or manager, I'm very curious what you've found so far in your debriefing of Q1, and how it's influenced your activity today.

[IPVM Editor's Note: This was originally posted in Chris's group. I asked him to cross post it here so we can discuss.]

In my experience, it's hard for management teams to agree what the cause of missed numbers are. It's easiest to blame the sales team, ergo why sales execs firing are an early sign of bigger problems :)

As for Q1, there are two other non-sales issues that are in play for certain companies:

  • Declining product competitiveness - rivals have added in features / models that are now as good or better than ones
  • Declining market price points - rivals have dropped pricing or new rivals have entered with lower prices

This is where I think it gets hard. Management, especially engineering focused ones, hate to admit either of those two issues. And, sales people, frequently as confident as they are, will often dismiss those issues ("Bob says the pricing is too high but that's because he's not a closer. If I was in charge ....").

Curious to hear specific accounts. Of course, undisclosed postings are fine.

John - I love the "... he's not a closer" comment.

I'll share some of the conclusions I've seen, from both manufacturers and integrators...

  • After a decent 2013, many companies had pretty aggressive goals for 2014, which led to them falling behind. One example, an integrator, actually showed respectable growth over last year, but fell very short of their budget in Q1.
  • The weather really did have an impact. I know this from the spike I'm seeing in Q2 - most of the activity didn't disappear, it just pushed a couple of months. I know of a manufacturer's RSM with 14 years tenure in his region. February was his worst month ever, and April was his best.
  • A lot of hiring seemed to happen in 2013, and I think the fall-out of ramp-up and bad decisions have led to some of the firings we're seeing.
  • One manufacturer I know of actually had a break-out quarter because they have a feature rich product. Knowing the competition will catch up soon, they've been pushing it hard and started seeing positive results in Q1.

My perspective is from about 60-80 integrators and manufacturers I talk with on a regular basis; so it's a decent sample, but not a comprehensive market study.

IMO, the answers to this would be very different if you're asking manufacturers or integrators. It sounds like it's orginally targeted to the integrator market?

I don't agree that you can always conclusively "know" the answer to this, especially if it was a single quarter that was off. It takes some time and trend analysis to really see the commonalities, especially in a business like this where quarter to quarter you see very uneven business.

I do agree that anyone who wants to grow and/or maintain their sales needs to have some solid tracking tools and habits in place, but that won't always give you the exact answers why a single quarter was off. It should give you some theories or possible things to be sure to pay attention to in coming months.

I had the same problem with the question, I was not really clear on who it was being directed to... A or B or all of the above.

Answer to one's own situation.

I agree on both of your comments:

1. The answer will be different for manufacturers and integrators. It's not as straightforward for manufacturers as it is for integrators, but you can use historical data and channel tendancies to balance the questions. However, the analysis of data (metrics, historical orders, and macro info) will help create accurate KPIs; and everyone can use the appropriate coaching on their forecasting.

2. All of this data can be utilized as a tool, but it's not a silver bullet and rarely if ever will you know the answer. You need this data as a resource to make the judgments necessary.

We've had a good first quarter that is continuing, but we had nowhere to go but up. It started by ending on a somewhat decent 2013Q3. This is what I've seen from the engineering side.

We (manufacturer) were up nicely both in Q1 over the prior year's Q1 and up in Q1/2014 vs. Q4 2013 and we have grown at an average of 20%/year the last five years through when the industry shrank. It's easy to have a bad quarter, look around a little and jump to the conclusion that everyone is down. It's then a short road from there to it being ok to be down because everyone else is, so beware of the herd mentality.

Challenge assumptions, even when an industry is down, that rarely means everyone is down, and most importantly have a clear plan for growth, knowing where you expect growth to come from goes a long way to realizing that growth. I'm a big fan of bottoms up planning instead of top down where growth targets are imposed with little guidance on how to get there. Every year we look at the business in detail and where we think growth will come from. We assign each product/strategy a growth value and make sure the sum of our strategies is greater than our growth target. Then we go execute on those products/strategies knowing they don't all have to hit to be successful. At the end of the year we go back and look at how we did on each strategy and take that learning forward for the next year.

Not all strategies are directly related to selling. As an example, we know that because of our growth our tech support group is more green than we'd like and that improving their skills and knowledge will ultimately result in happier, more loyal integrators and therefore increased repeat business. We're working hard on this mainly because we want our integrators to have a great experience, but also know at the back of our minds that it should start to pay off in sales in 2015. Because this takes what is typically a cost center, and makes it a strategic advantage it changes how the spend in that group is perceived from being a drag on earnings to an investment. (IMHO this is where Pelco went wrong, they took a strategic advantage, their fanatical customer support and turned it into a cost center to be managed as efficiently as possible.)

We are also trying to gather as much information as possible about who our end users are. This is not easy as a manufacturer because we sell through both distributors and direct to integrators, but never direct to customer. However, from a product development perspective, if you don't know who your users are, how do you navigate the many decisions you make on what to develop next. Add more features for big customers? Make it simpler for the end user? Knowing who our end users are helps us keep our focus.

I've never been an integrator in this industry, but would expect the same approach can be applied. One key as a leader in the process is to be willing to listen when folks say something can't be done and not get upset or defensive. Those working daily in the business often have a better feel for what can be accomplished, but can be afraid to express it.

Your last two sentences should be framed and placed in every manager's office - very in touch and true. Thank you for your comments!

I'm curious - you didn't mention A&Es. Your business seems to be very strategic, so I assume you have a strong A&E plan.