Avoid the End of the Month Fire Drill

Avoid the End of the Month Fire Drill

Why are most salespeople hair-on-fire busy at the end of the month? It’s like a four-alarm fire without the smoke and flames. When the last days of the month roll around, we scurry through our pipeline trying to find the straggling deals to save our numbers. We barely pull it off, and then we can take a deep breath, catch up on our paperwork, and repeat the process next month. If this sounds too familiar and you want to break the end-of-the-month fire drill, this article is for you.

In March, I wrote an article on time management and how much selling we actually do as salespeople. It covered the basics on time management for salespeople, but it ignored the end-of-the-month ritual known as the proverbial fire drill. Here’s the problem with fire drills, even if you are successful with putting out the fire (hitting your number). If you don’t figure out what caused the fire in the first place, you can’t eliminate it. Hence, why salespeople month-in and month-out perform fire drills to hit their targets. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like scrambling at the end of the month, end of the quarter, or end of the year to hit my numbers. It’s not fun, it’s stressful, and emotionally draining. Personally, I think it is one of the biggest causes of burnout in sales and why turnover is so high in many sales organizations. But what if there’s a way where you can remove fire drills and hit your numbers regularly.   

I hear what you are thinking, “Nick, come on, if we hit our numbers and are always ahead of quota, of course, selling would be fun. But that’s not always the case.” I agree, for common sales reps, the end of the period fire drill will be the standard. But for those who want to be uncommon, I challenge you to look at the problem through a different lens.

My position is that the end-of-the-period fire drill is a self-inflicted, self-created, and company perpetuated phenomenon. We’ve all heard the line, “Deadlines drive decisions” and for the most part, that is true. We’ve been conditioned since grade school to complete projects by the deadline. Most of us are 100% comfortable with that. But some kids disregard deadlines and go at their own pace, which is how some kids end up skipping a few grades or taking college courses while still in high school.

My theory is that once you fall behind, whether in sales, school, finances, or fitness, you are always playing catch up. Playing catch up as hard deadlines approach is what leads to the fire drill. If there was no deadline, or we were well ahead of it, how stressful would it be? Unfortunately, this is the sad state many sales reps (and businesses) find themselves in. They blew through their pipeline last month, looking for a quick deal, and started the next month with zero pipeline. Worse, they likely offered discounts or crazy incentives to squeeze every deal out of their sales funnel. This is a continuous cycle that drives sales reps, sales managers, and leadership crazy.

In a nutshell, this is akin to the concept of Economics 101 – supply and demand. If the salesperson uses up their demand (pipeline) every month but supply remains the same, prices drop. As sales reps (or companies), once we satisfy all our demand, we soon discover that we’ve killed the golden goose and have to start over from scratch. But as long as demand balances with supply, prices will remain stable. In other words, instead of cutting prices to create demand at the end of the month, try focusing on building your pipeline instead. 

I am not trying to oversimplify the complex relationship between price and market demand. There are certainly many other factors that can influence pricing. But it’s dangerous if sales reps forget basic economics every month and wonder why they have to offer discounts to generate those end-of-the-month sales. 

If you’re still with me, you’ll probably agree that avoiding the fire drill is good and cutting prices at the end-of-the-month to generate demand is bad. The solution is to ensure to have more demand at the end of the month. Remember how I said earlier that the problem is self-inflicted? That’s because once we complete the fire drill at the end of the month, the emotional toll on the sales rep (not to mention the pipeline), is exhausting. So they start the month in recovery mode, playing catchup and unable to perform the one thing that will prevent this cycle from repeating, building pipeline.

Sales has often been compared to a marathon, and if you have never run one, you won’t know what the ideal pace should be. Most runners start out too fast or too slow and end up struggling at the end. Even experienced marathoners can find it challenging to run marathons. If you blow all your energy in the beginning, you will not have anything left for the last mile.

For sales reps, we know the finish line. We know the number we want to cross the line at. We want to avoid the crazy sprint at the end and the only way to do that is dedicate ourselves to the hard stuff early. That means building pipeline. Devotion is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you achieve what you desire. Runners that don’t train for marathons fail at the finish line. Sales reps who are not dedicated to building pipeline will struggle at the end of the month.

My point is that if we take all the energy and effort we would normally put in a fire drill but apply it to our pipeline instead, we can flip the script. Think about this for a moment. Do you want to cannibalize your pipeline again this month, or double down on building your pipeline and start the new month with surplus demand and leads? At worst, you will stop discounting deals, which will increase your average profit. As sales reps, when we align our interests with our activities, selling will become fun again.

This sounds simple, but in the real world, here is what usually happens: The sales rep doubles down and gives pipeline building the same effort at the end of the month that they used to give to the fire drill. But then the next month rolls around, and unable to help themselves, they blow the current pipeline and have a record month. They were unable to pump the brakes on their selling efforts and get back to pipeline building. They cannibalize their pipeline like the marathon runner who sprints at the beginning only to crawl across the finish line at the end. 

Alternatively, let’s say it’s the 25th of the month, and you have already reached your quota. You have a few options. First, you could take the rest of the month off, but your sales manager won’t like that.  Second, you could keep selling everything in your pipeline, because that’s what you’ve always done, and perpetuate the cycle. Third, you could focus exclusively on building a pipeline for the next week and sandbag a few deals. 

Wait, what??? Did a sales trainer just say to sandbag a few deals? If you can win the deal without discounting or providing extra incentives, then close the business. But if you can’t, let those deals percolate and focus on your pipeline. Until you pass on a deal you could have closed, you can’t call yourself a professional salesperson. 

Imagine yourself showing up to work to start the new month, and the first thing you do is put another deal on the board to start the month. All the other sales reps have zilch in their pipeline and here you are, starting the month with a deal before lunch. Now, your new month starts with a smile and a quick win. Which is the exact opposite of the end-of-the-month fire drill you, your sales manager and CEO want to avoid.