The First-Quarter Sales Slump: 6 Ways to Avoid It

Michelle Martin
Michelle Martin
Michelle Martin
Michelle Martin
Michelle Martin
Michelle Martin

Whether you’re brick and mortar, ecommerce, business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C), you know how the last quarter is. You’ve got Black Friday. You’ve got Cyber Monday. Then you’ve got … nothing.

It’s crickets in terms of sales from January to March. Not surprising, right? The after-holiday shopping sprees are over for the B2C crowd. And, the “using up all the budget before the end of the year so we don’t lose it next year” sprees are over for the B2B crowd.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

You can avoid the dreaded annual sales slump. Here are 6 ways you can rock your first-quarter sales goals.

A frustrated man sits at the bottom of a bar chart with a line trending down, but a hand with an extended finger sends the line upward.

6 Ways to Avoid a Sales Slump

What defines a sales slump is relative to each company. Maybe a 5% decline in sales is a slump to you, or maybe it’s 10% when you start to get worried. A slump is defined as a significant drop in sales, either for a particular sales representative or the whole company.

Whatever it is for you, avoid the stress by taking action to combat a slump before it even happens.

1. Go Heavy on Marketing in the First Quarter

As the saying goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

The best way to avoid a first-quarter sales slump is to increase your marketing efforts before January, and during the first-quarter stretch.

Key Areas of Focus

1. Repeat customers: Go all out on email campaigns and paid media targeting your returning and loyal customer base. Get all the orders you can from your “bread and butter.”

2. Paid ads: Hit your ad campaigns hard and get your products out there. According to Google, businesses see an average return on investment (ROI) of 200% on Google Ads campaigns.

3. Invest in personalization: Segmented email campaigns, for example, bring in 760% more revenue according to data from Campaign Monitor. They command attention in crowded inboxes and sometimes, that second glance is enough to get an open, a click and an order.

Ensure your social media feeds are highlighting what your customers actually want to see. For example, a study by Sprout Social found the No. 1 thing consumers wanted to see from brands on social media was discounts and sale announcements. 72% of consumers surveyed wanted this.

However, 18% of brands post discounts and sales regularly.

Figure out what your customers want then honestly evaluate your social media to weed out the content they don’t want to see, even if you think it’s good content.

A study by Sprout Social found the No. 1 thing consumers wanted to see from brands on social media was discounts and sale announcements. 72% of consumers surveyed wanted this.

2. Figure Out How to ‘New Year, New You’ Your Product

This depends a lot on what you’re selling, but if it’s anything that could tie into the New Year, make that the focus of your marketing for the first quarter.

For example: health and wellness. Many people make resolutions to better their eating habits, fitness or mental health at the start of the year so if your product helps with that, shout it from the rooftops.

This also applies to technology or cool gadgets. Frame your campaign around gearing up for the New Year, starting the year off right with the latest tech for work, etc.

3. Have a Big Annual Sale in January

Consider running a promotion in January to kickstart the year’s sales and build momentum in the first quarter. This could be your only sale all year to build up the hype with your loyal customer base, so they come to expect it each year.

While sales can slump a bit in the first quarter, many people also have gift cards or gifted cash from the holidays burning a hole in their pocket. Your big January sale could be the perfect opportunity for them to spend that with you.

4. Ask for Referrals

If your business sells services, or you acquire the majority of your sales through salespeople, the first quarter is time to ramp up the outreach.

Less time signing deals means more time to find new prospects and book those first discovery calls and meetings. The easiest way to do that? Ask for referrals.

Referrals should always be one of your sales strategies but especially so in slow times. According to research by Heinz Marketing, referrals are 75% more likely to convert, and close 69% faster than nonreferral deals.

According to research by Heinz Marketing, referrals are 75% more likely to convert, and close 69% faster than nonreferral deals.

Reach out to your best customers and simply ask them to either send you 1-3 contacts to reach out to, or to pass on your information to their colleagues. You’d be surprised how much people want to help if you simply ask. Don’t forget to follow up if they tell you to ask them another time.

Another great strategy to get referrals is to set up a formal referral reward program at your company, just like an affiliate program. If an existing customer refers someone new, they can earn points, money off their orders, accrue credit, or any other reward you know would motivate your customers.

Easy Ways to Get More Referrals

1. Add a note asking for referrals to your email signature.

Another great strategy to get referrals is to set up a formal referral reward program at your company, just like an affiliate program.

2. Set up an automated referral program.

Your customers can send out a link that automatically registers them as the referrer and gives them credit if someone places an order through their link or code. This works the best with ecommerce and product-based businesses, but can apply to B2B and services as well. Software like ReferralCandy can help with the logistics of setting this up.

3. Host a referral contest.

This can be an internal contest: which sales representative can get the most leads in a certain timeframe. Or, an external contest: which customer can refer the most leads.

Either way, you’re getting top-quality leads fueled by healthy competition. And in the end, more profit, too: Referred customers have a 16% higher lifetime value, according to research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and Goethe University.

Percentages differences in customer lifetime value according to research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and Goethe University.

5. Work on Your Mindset

99% of sales is a mind game. That’s not an officially researched statistic, but surely it rings true to you, right?

The last thing you want to come across as when trying to close sales is desperate. You need to project a confident, measured and professional attitude at all times. No one wants to place their trust in someone too desperate to get the sale instead of someone who actually cares about their needs.

Customers want to know you’re on their side and providing a solution to their problem. Approach your sales calls from a service perspective: “What is this person’s problem and how can I help solve it?” Instead of a, “I want to close this sale,” perspective.

6. Revamp Your Content Marketing

If the first quarter is slow, use it as an opportunity to revamp outdated marketing materials. Everything from your website copy and blog posts to any printed materials you hand out to customers, or how-to guides, or anything else your customers interact with from your company.

If you’re like most companies, content marketing is a huge part of your marketing strategy. The average company spends 46% of its budget on content creation alone, according to HubSpot.

Make sure that content is still working for you to attract new leads and speak to your existing customers. Getting these materials updated at the beginning of the year will pay off for the rest of the year.

How to Perform a Content Audit

1. Create a spreadsheet of all your content channels and pieces.

For example: website, Facebook, Instagram, blog posts, videos, brochures — everything your company has.

2. For website and blog content, you need to find each individual article and page on your website and list that in the sheet.

You can use a tool such as Web Scraper to automate this.

3. Once you have all those pages and posts listed, you need to track the variables you care about.

“Care about” is a relative term because it depends on your content goals. Do you want to improve your organic search engine optimization (SEO) ranking? Then you would track variables such as Page Title, Keywords, Keyword Ranking, Image ALT Descriptions, etc.

If your goal is to get more ecommerce sales, then your variables to track could be: Product Links, Keywords, Images, Social Shares, Call to Action, etc.

4. Analyze and rewrite your content as needed.

The tough part: reworking your content. How you do that will depend on your goal. If you want more ecommerce sales, you could start by editing your calls to action and A/B testing the new variants.

You also could review the images you use in your product pages and blog posts. Are they aesthetically pleasing? Do they showcase your product well? Are they professional and well-lit? Do they fit your brand? If not, book a photographer and do a reshoot.

You get the idea. It’s a long process but worth it.

Dump the Slump: Take Action Now

Don’t let a first-quarter sales slump get in your way. If you do these 6 things right, you won’t have any slump to worry about.

Ramp up your marketing in December and through the first quarter, have a big sale, ask for referrals and most of all: don’t lose hope. Keep your mindset positive to avoid coming across as desperate for sales (even if you are).

Start the first quarter strong and you’ll have no problem keeping it that way all year.

Michelle Martin
Michelle Martin Michelle Martin
Michelle Martin is a freelance copywriter for business-to-business, software-as-a-service companies looking to stand out and scale up. She is an ex-agency producer and marketing strategist known for quickly understanding and distilling complicated technical topics into conversational copy that gets results.