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Why Sales Deadlines Work and How You Can Implement Them

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Last Thursday was the final day for businesses to book an advert in the next issue of the Toddle About magazine.

The clock was ticking, the phones were buzzing, and our email inbox was going crazy with bookings.

It was hard work, and great fun – but the interesting thing is, most of our clients had known about this deadline for weeks. We didn’t spring it on them. And yet, despite this, a jaw-dropping 29% of them chose this very day, the eleventh hour, to make their move.

All in all, a staggering 66% of our new advert bookings were made in the week running up to the deadline.

Sound familiar? Whether it's filing taxes, submitting a project, or even doing the laundry, we've all been there. We seem to be addicted to leaving things to the last minute.

I wonder if those 66% would have booked at all without the deadline? Honestly, I suspect we'd still be waiting for most of them...

So, why do deadlines work? 

And, more importantly, how can you as a business owner leverage this human quirk to boost your sales by turning procrastinators into action-takers?


The Science of Urgency: Why Deadlines Work

Deadlines are not just arbitrary dates; they are psychological triggers deeply rooted in our cognitive wiring. According to research, the effectiveness of deadlines can be attributed to several psychological phenomena:

  1. The Scarcity Principle

When something is scarce, we perceive it as more valuable. Deadlines create a sense of scarcity by limiting the time available to make a decision or take action. This triggers our innate fear of missing out (FOMO), compelling us to act before it's too late.

  1. Parkinson's Law

This law states that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion." In other words, if you have two weeks to complete a task, it will take you two weeks. If you have two days, you'll get it done in two days. Deadlines force us to prioritize and focus, making us more efficient.

  1. The Zeigarnik Effect

Named after psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, this effect suggests that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones. A deadline serves as a constant reminder of an uncompleted task, keeping it at the forefront of our minds until it's done.

  1. The Endowment Effect

We tend to overvalue things we own or believe we can own. When a deadline is near, the possibility of "owning" a deal or opportunity feels more real, making us more committed to securing it.


The Deadline Effect in Sales: A Case Study

Going back to my Toddle About example - why did 66% of our bookings come in the week leading up to the deadline, and 29% on the last day?

It's not just about procrastination, though that’s part of it, for sure; it's about the psychological urgency that a deadline creates. People are more likely to take action when they feel that they are about to lose something valuable—be it a discount, an opportunity, or even a sense of accomplishment.


Implementing Sales Deadlines: Your Action Plan

At Toddle About, we’re lucky – deadlines are baked in to how we have to run our business. Want to be in the next magazine? You’ve got to book your advert before we go to print – there’s no way around it. Similarly for events: you can’t book in after it’s happened, or after all the seats have been taken.

However, for many businesses, deadlines don’t come naturally and need to be manufactured. So, how can you harness the power of deadlines to boost your sales? Here are some actionable strategies:

  • Limited-Time Offers

This is the Black Friday phenomenon: pick an event and create offers that are available for a limited period. Make sure to communicate the scarcity and value clearly. For example, "Get 30% off your first purchase. Offer ends in 48 hours!"

Rather than go with big national events like Black Friday though, I urge you to create your own – for your birthday, say. Then tell people it’s coming – build some anticipation so people get the date in their diary too.

  • Use Scarcity

Having a limited number of products or spaces available creates its own deadline – often more powerfully than a simple date because your customers don’t know when the cut off will happen.

Combine a limited-time offer with scarcity and your customers will be chomping at the bit to make sure they don’t miss out – if you promote it right.

  • Flash Sales

These are extreme versions of limited-time offers, usually lasting for just a few hours. Flash sales create a heightened sense of urgency and can drive massive traffic and conversions.

  • Pre-Order Deadlines

If you're launching a new product or service, set a pre-order deadline. Limit availability to 'pilot' your new offering, or because you're only producing so many units and you will add scarcity (and FOMO) to the deadline. You could offer special perks or discounts to those who commit before the deadline - creating 'mini-deadlines'.

  • Payment Plans or Membership Programmes with Enrolment Deadlines

Offering a payment plan can make your product or service more accessible. Adding an enrolment deadline to this plan can push fence-sitters to take the plunge.


Magic Happens When ‘Do It Later’ Isn’t an Option

We've all been there — staring at a ticking clock, heart pounding, as we scramble to meet a deadline. It's stressful, but also exhilarating.

That adrenaline rush is not just a random response; it's our body's way of pushing us to act. It's the same rush you feel when you snag the last item on sale, book the last available seat, or get to your meeting just in time.

That feeling of "just made it" is incredibly satisfying, and it's a feeling you can offer your customers through well-crafted sales deadlines.

So, the next time you're planning a sales strategy, don't underestimate the power of a well-placed deadline. It could be the difference between a customer thinking, "I'll do it later," and them actually doing it now. And in the world of business, "now" is infinitely more valuable than "later." 


About The Author

Tim FreedTim Freed is the Co-Founder of both Toddle About and Book That In.

Having built and managed a 50-strong team of door-to-door sales people in his early 20s, before joining the corporate world and building a multi-million pound recruitment team, Tim turned to entrepreneurship - founding Toddle About in 2010, which is now a thriving franchise business. He went on to launch Book That In in 2017 with his business partner, Alec Wadey, which is now one of the fastest growing online booking systems in the UK.

Tim is always learning and striving to improve and loves nothing more than sharing his hard-won knowledge and experience in sales, marketing, leadership and entrepreneurship with other business owners to help them on their own journeys.