With the current heat index of 100+, summer has unquestionably arrived. Summer is a single season in a natural cycle, just as the season you find your business in is also within a sequence. Since you are reading this magazine, you are probably not in an agricultural field, yet there are lessons to be learned following the seasons as a farmer would. Alternatively, maybe the heat has gotten to my brain. Either way, here we go.
My grandfather was a farmer. Plain and simple. Overalls, work boots and mesh “Dekalb” caps. His world revolved around natural elements like temperature, light, precipitation, and rest — both land and personal. Spring season brought planting, summer was for nurturing, fall for harvest and winter for rest, repair and recovery. He did not try to change the seasons; he understood and accepted what Mother Nature did was outside of his control. Instead, he focused on the only thing that was within his power: how he prepared for and reacted to each season.
He understood that the year began not with planting or harvesting but with the winter season, a time of rest, repair and preparation. The rewards of the efforts of the previous year provided the resources necessary for a healthy and restful winter. Spring became a time of intense action, capitalizing on the very moment that conditions were right for planting. Summer brought long hours of tending and nurturing — carefully maintaining and nourishing what had been planted. Finally, the beginning of fall signaled the upcoming time of intense harvest activities. Four seasons, each with unique needs but all tying together for success.
As a kid, I always believed that the winter season must have been my grandfather’s favorite, filled with trips to Florida, time spent leisurely repairing equipment, hanging out with the guys at the local donut shop, and more hours spent with family — a slower pace. After all, those other seasons were filled with long work hours, anxiety over the weather and hard work in the field.
Spring, summer and fall seemed like the opposite of having a good time to a kid who just wanted to ride his minibike and shoot his pellet gun. However, looking back I can see how antsy he was during this offseason. He wanted back in the action. He had a fourth grade education and earned a good living by providing value to others in the form of corn, beans and oats. He never went past the fourth grade because there was work to be done, and he didn’t have the luxury of staying in school like some of the other kids. He learned at a very young age what it’s like to contribute. His contribution went far beyond what he probably believed at the time. He would have told you he was simply doing what a man does to take care of his family. I doubt he would have ever never dreamed that what he taught would become foundational to my profession in sales. After all, he and I do the same thing; we create value for others and are rewarded based on that value.
Let’s explore the seasons and their reasons.
Winter — rest and restoration
This is a season of planning, preparation and restoration. All too often, we view spring as when everything starts. After all, no harvest comes without seeds being planted, right? However, planted seeds can’t thrive without proper planning and giving the ground time to recover. For those of us in non-agricultural businesses, rest and preparation times do not necessarily correlate to the seasons in nature, but are determined in other ways.
Business plans that develop during intense times of rapid growth or rapid decline often are reactionary and lack the emotional determination to refine until the most likely path of success is determined. There is a reason for vacations (physical, emotional, mental and relational recovery), sabbaticals (restoration and mental growth) and extended time off. Rest and restoration is the appropriate response to the energy consumption and drain experienced during periods of hypergrowth or hyperdecline. While we recognize the signs indicating a time of rest is needed for the business in terms of physical and emotional restoration, we all too often miss the need for relational repair after massively busy seasons.
We must step back and intentionally focus on repair. Abe Lincoln is quoted as saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” Winter is the season for sharpening our tools. Talk to other owners, explore new ideas, research the latest best practices or read a book. During the winter season ask yourself, “What needs to be rested? What needs to be repaired? Is there anything that needs extra attention before things heat up again in the spring?”
Spring — planting
Chomping at the bit, just as Abe did, we take the first swing of the hoe and feel it bite into the soil. Time for the fun to begin! Something is fascinating and all-consuming about spring. Fresh and new, this season is all about tilling the soil and making the first steps toward progress. After all, we’ve been standing back, staring at all of that beautiful land in front of us for an entire season. Launch the new prospecting campaigns, bring out the latest products, take the demos to the market and start chipping away at the new quota. It’s a season of “Git er done,” as Larry the Cable Guy would say. Yes, it’s exciting. All of those beautiful new seeds planted! Long and productive hours coming out of a season of rest; planning and excitement is high. And then …
Summer — nurturing
Say the phrase “summer doldrums” and we immediately understand what it means. The “dog days” of summer is no different. In the summer season the days are long and results haven’t started to pop up at first. The work is just plain hard. Most of us in the B2B space know precisely what this looks like. Contacts are on vacation, decisions are delayed or postponed, and there are family activities that require your presence. All of these lead to longer days, and if you’re an equipment, supplies or managed print provider you are painfully aware of those summer months. We either keep up the work we know we need to do or we acquiesce to the compulsion to slow down. After all, prospects and customers aren’t at work anyway. Right? Of course, this isn’t right!
Those willing to create success (rewards from value delivered) know that this is a time of working the field, tilling the soil, putting in the effort, and watching with expectation. The expectation of a harvest to come. A harvest to come because of the effort expended during the summer season.
Fall — harvest and hectic
Everything starts to hit at the same time! Time to start seeing the results of all of the previous three seasons. As exciting as the fall season is, it can also start to feel overwhelming. Everything seems to be happening at the same time. It’s explosive and exhausting — a season of massive growth. The marketing campaigns, the sales activities, the new product launches, the rebranding, the training and development, all bringing fresh new opportunities and a bountiful harvest. Without a moment to even celebrate the growth, exhausted and depleted, the season is suddenly over.
And winter returns.
And the cycle continues
Now, before you fall into the trap of seeing this cycle of seasons tied to a calendar or an arbitrary number of weeks, months or years, I urge you to consider that this is actually a cycle of business health. Each season or period is essential and integral to the overall health of the organization. Missing, shortening, lengthening or simply rushing a season can have disastrous results. We have seen companies with hypergrowth suddenly implode because they never understood that a healthy business runs in cycles, seasons specifically designed to be the foundation for sustainable business health.
In these cases, there may have been a false belief that the fall harvest would never end. They may have failed to recognize that a period of organizational recovery and restoration was needed. They may not have planted fresh seeds for a future harvest.
Before we leave this topic, for those of you engaged in revenue generation, there are lessons to be derived from these cycles as related to the development of major accounts. A time to prepare the approach, a time to plant, a time to nurture the relationship and a time to harvest. The only difference is that the fall harvest is never complete. We remain in a summer season of care while experiencing the fall harvest.
No, I don’t believe that my grandfather ever would have looked at the seasonal cycles the same way as I do, but I am pretty sure he would approve.
What cycle is your business in?
Winter. Check all of your vital signs, the essential signs of the company and your relationships with others. Make repairs where repair is needed. Restore areas that may have been neglected during the previous season. Enjoy the rewards of the harvest!
Spring. What new campaigns need to be deployed? How will you roll out that new product or solution? How will you reach the harvest goal? This is a time of extreme intentionality and focus. Name the accounts that can grow and how you will grow them. Name the new accounts you want to go after. Reach out. Plant those seeds!
Summer. Nothing has begun to spring up out of the ground. Everyone is taking time off. Prospects aren’t in the office. Customers are buying less. Wait! There’s new growth sprouting up. And then there’s more. Keep going! Stay in touch, follow up, deliver insights that people care about, find ways to improve lives and keep going because fall is just around the corner. As others slow down, you have a picture of the next season, so you double down and work harder.
Fall. The first signs of fall are great! Shortly after, the energy this season consumes, not to mention the resources of people, time and money are tremendous. Nearing exhaustion, you look around and bring others together to celebrate. A time to give thanks. A time to keep going while seeing the rewards. The rewards that come from delivering value to others.