By Sean Gordon

The average sales pipeline for most organizations takes about 90 days. Broken down, that’s 30 days of prospecting, 30 days of sales execution and another 30 days to follow up and, hopefully, close the deal. While the New Year may seem far off, January 2016 is less than 90 days away, meaning sales teams need to start acting now in order to close as many deals as possible during the first month of the year.

This all begins with sales team leaders. They are tasked with making sure their sales teams are properly prepared for the year ahead, now. To ensure everyone is set up for success, leaders need to better understand the processes and people within their organization, which all impact sales goals, to determine changes or adjustments that need to be made before 2016. Here are three starting points for sales team leaders to begin preparing their teams for the coming year.

1. Analyze the past year

Because three of the four fiscal quarters of the year are behind us, it’s likely already known whether or not sales teams will meet their year-end goals. While it may seem premature, pulling data from the year before it concludes can help diagnose some of the biggest problems or challenges that plagued meeting these year-end goals. For example, was there a particularly weak month or quarter that had the biggest impact on sales goals? From there, leaders can look more closely at the strategies used during that timeframe to better understand the breakdown.

For sales teams well on their way to meeting their year-end goal, this analysis is still important. Was there a standout strategy that worked really well in 2015? A sales team that exceeded its goals each month or quarter? Look at what worked and apply that in 2016. This will also give you the opportunity to execute more experimental strategies in conjunction with these proven methods. For example, research new markets or verticals that have applications for your product or service but have previously never been a target market. Using successful strategies to reach a new audience may prove to be rewarding.

2. Have an Honest Conversation

While data can provide insight into what led to either successes or failures, sales leaders can’t forget to actually communicate with their teams face to face. Many times, they can share information data isn’t able to show. If a sales team was particularly prosperous, maybe their sales strategy plus high team morale and great leadership was the winning combination. Attitudes are often contagious among teams, and positive attitudes plus high morale can have a positive impact on sales goals, but are more subjective to measure. Conversations with both individual salespeople and sales teams as a group can provide these insights and give sales leaders a better idea of what the corporate culture looks like in everyday practice.

3. Set your sights on the future

Once sales leaders have a grasp on the challenges and accomplishments from the year prior, they can then begin creating a plan for the next year. If morale was low, does Human Resources need to be more involved? Also, they should evaluate the current systems in place. Do sales teams have access to all the necessary resources? Are they using all the tools available to them? Now is the time to set realistic goals for the coming year and explain to teams how they can successfully accomplish these goals.

Anyone who has ever been an athlete knows that in order to reach a goal, a lot of practice and preparation is required. This same principle can be applied to sales goals. It’s impossible for sales teams to reach their goals without a little prep. Therefore, sales leaders shouldn’t expect sales teams to start 2016 on the right foot without the proper training, practice and preparation.

Sean Gordon is the CEO of Intelliverse, a cloud communications company. Find Sean on Twitter @SeanGordon22.