I remember running my first half marathon. It looked a lot like a typical sales year.

I charged out of the starting gate with 30,000 of my new best friends, lost steam midway through the race, considered quitting at mile ten, then sprinted through the finish line at the end, collapsing in exhaustion.

Most of your salespeople will experience the exact same thing this year.

Inspired by new goals and sales kick-off celebrations, they’ll also charge out of the starting gate. But soon this mojo will wear off and they’ll lose their way somewhere in Q2 or Q3 (And, yes, consider quitting). Then with year-end in sight and the pressure to make quota and commission intensifying, there’ll be a frantic sprint to the finish line, followed by emotional exhaustion.

This process will repeat itself year after year, like a bad rollercoaster ride at an amusement park (Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but the imagery is apt.).

There’s a better way to achieve your company’s sales goals. A way that spreads out the year more evenly and avoids the mad dash at the end that often falls short. Quarterly sprints.

What Are Quarterly Sprints?

Quarterly sprints take the sales year, and, instead of having just one finish line in December, create four finish lines at the end of each quarter, or four 12 week “years.”

Quarterly sprints recognize that deadlines drive behavior change, who among us would complete our taxes apart from an April 15 deadline? I shopped online for a present for my wife late last night so it would arrive at our house in time for our anniversary. Deadlines. Drive. Behavior change.

Quarterly sprints also cooperate with human nature. They recognize that deadlines with shorter time frames are more effective than deadlines with longer time frames, because, like yours truly running a half-marathon, we tend to lose our way when finish lines are too far from sight.

Finally, quarterly sprints provide flexibility within your sales year. Every sales year I’ve experienced had unique twists and turns that a one-year plan couldn’t predict. Quarterly sprints, however, allow you to pivot your plan to meet marketplace challenges.

How Do You Conduct Quarterly Sprints?

Here are four practices I’ve found in helping my clients implement the “secret” of quarterly sprints:

ONE: Pick a Theme

Periodization. That’s what endurance athletes call what I’ve been referring to here as quarterly sprints. An athlete preparing for a triathlon, for instance, would run, cycle, and swim continuously, but for one period of time—about eight to twelve weeks—she would put greater emphasis on one of those activities, expanding strength in that area and preparing her to compete at the highest level of excellence.

Periodization has become the gold standard for training endurance athletes. It should be your gold standard in leading sales professionals.

Picking a theme for a quarterly sprint involves selecting a strategic activity in your sales process  that you want to emphasize in a 12-week period of time.

For example, a first quarter sprint could focus on building pipeline and a fourth quarter sprint could focus on closing open opportunities. A second quarter sprint could focus on deepening partner relationships and a third quarter sprint could focus on expanding business with existing customers (or anything else that makes sense for the seasonality of your sales year).

Just like triathletes, your salespeople continue to execute the steps of your sales process, but the emphasis on one key activity allows you to expand your team’s strength in that area. It also equips them to compete in the marketplace at the highest level of excellence.

TWO: Run a Contest

Now that you’ve picked a theme for a quarterly sprint, it’s time to have some fun with it. Run a contest!

What a contest does is track and reward performance for the sales activity that’s the focus of a quarterly sprint. A well run contest has weekly individual and team winners, monthly individual and team winners. Then, of course, it recognizes quarterly overall winners as well.

For example, if for the second quarter of the year you want to emphasize utilizing partner relationships in generating and closing deals, you could run a contest around:

  • The number of partner meetings scheduled
  • The number of partner leads shared
  • The amount of appointments scheduled due to a partner lead
  • The amount of partner generated deals closed
  • The largest partner generated deal closed

A contest like this has plenty of things to track and plenty of milestones to celebrate, injecting enthusiasm into the quarter and strengthening the partner muscles of your sales team.

I usually make the rewards I distribute during my quarterly sprints more about pride than money. I suggest you do the same. Give away simple prizes and affordable gift cards, celebrating together as a group at the end of the quarter with a fun team-building event. Spend your big dollars on comp and commission.

THREE: Take a Break

Yes, take a break. Salespeople can get contest fatigue and burn out completely if you don’t provide some rest from sprinting. The rhythm of a quarter allows for this with twelve weeks on and one week off. Some quarters have natural breaks for holidays and vacations. Often I’ll take a 3-4 weeks off from a contest and run a quarterly sprint for 8-10 weeks only.

Again, these aren’t weeks where your salespeople stop selling. Neither are they weeks where you skip your one-on-one’s, forecast calls, and team meetings. They’re just weeks where you’re taking a break from the overlay of a quarterly sprint to this specific period of time.

FOUR: Rinse and Repeat

Like anything in life, quarterly sprints are a skill that must be learned. The first one or two my clients conduct usually have mixed results. That’s okay. Rinse and repeat. In other words, learn from each quarterly sprint. Keep what worked, get rid of what didn’t, and move on.

That’s another great benefit of quarterly sprints, more frequent assessment and analysis. Asking, “What worked?” “What didn’t work?” and “What can we do better?” is a good thing to do at the end of every sales year, but all too often it’s too late to do anything about the answers to those questions.

Quarterly sprints followed by quarterly assessment and analysis quickly closes the learning gap and helps your sales team get better faster. Imagine learning what’s working with partnerships, what’s not working with partnerships, and fixing it early in the sales year rather than waiting until after the year is over and quota is missed (again). That’s what quarterly sprints provide you.

A Better Half-Marathon. A Successful Sales Year.

I ran another half marathon about six months after my first one.

This time I paced myself better and hit my three mile markers exactly as planned. Not only did I cut 15 minutes off my previous time, but I placed in my age group and didn’t think about quitting the race. Not even once.

You can achieve the same with quarterly sprints. Pick a theme for each one and have fun by running a simple contest. Take a break and have fun all over again. This is the secret to having a successful sales year.