This is the second in a two-part series of Ten Success Factors for Better Quotas. Click here for Part I.
Not setting effective quotas can critically injure even the best sales compensation plans, according to SalesGlobe research, including de-motivation, missing growth targets, and loss of high performers within the sales organization. Below are five additional steps to consider when designing quotas for your sales organization. (You can find the first 5 here.)
- Move Beyond History
Most organizations set quotas by looking backwards. Historic sales performance may be the primary driver of the quota, which is usually determined by taking a snapshot of the most recent year’s performance and applying a fairly standard growth rate on top of that performance. This historic approach is the source of most performance penalties that simply add a bigger expectation on top of a rep that had a great sales year. Historic quota-setting may also create a “porpoise pattern,” where sales and quota attainment leap up and then dive in alternating years. For example, a rep with great revenue performance (a leap) in year one resulting in an inflated quota in year two will often have low attainment of that inflated quota (a dive) in year two. Of course, this may then lead to a lower quota in year three followed by another leap in great performance over that low quota. And so the pattern continues. Challenge your team to acknowledge history but to lean toward forward-looking indicators of market opportunity.
- Balance Market Opportunity with Sales Capacity
Market opportunity should be a primary driver of the quota. More specifically, territory opportunity relative to other similar territories can give you a good indication of what portion of the total goal should be allocated to each territory.
Indicators of territory opportunity may be characteristics of accounts that correlate with revenue potential. For instance, a company in the bar-code scanning business determined that the square footage of a retail grocery store and the number of beds in a hospital were both metrics that were predictive of the potential annual sales for its scanning solutions. By applying a formula to all customers and prospects in a market or territory, the company got a relative sense of the sales potential across all markets or territories. But that indicator of market opportunity was only half of the answer. The other half was the practical physical ability, or capacity, of the sales force to close a certain amount of business. This sales capacity considers the number of hours each rep works in a year, the percentage of that time that is spent actually selling versus handling other operations and administrative activities, and the productivity of those selling hours given the time it takes to manage or close an account and close rates.
Fifteen years ago, Jeff Connor, chief growth officer for ARAMARK, had a sales force that was cut from 25 reps to 15, but the quota went up. “The executive for whom I was working at the time had some bold leadership traits. He walked into the meeting and said, ‘I’m doing away with quotas. I don’t know what the right number is. I know you guys are the best of the best and it’s a big market. Now, my number, is $100 million, and there are 15 of you. So you can all go figure it out if you want. But there are no quotas, and I’m not measuring to a quota. I want to see what we’re capable of as a team,” Connor describes.
“And guess what happened that year? That team sold about $127 million. It was the best number ever – highest per person – and we never set a quota for anybody. The organization had a target and there were a certain number of people, but there were no incentives at the target. The compensation plan paid off of what they drove home for the business. To some extent he set the people free. It was a powerful enabler to say to your people, ‘You’re the best of the best, and I just don’t know how good you can be.’ He’s a motivator and a very good team builder, and kind of an impassioned leader. I don’t think everybody can get away with that,” says Connor.
By understanding and balancing the two sides of market opportunity and sales capacity, you can get a multi-dimensional view on how to allocate the quota.
- Fit the Methodology to the Account Type
One quota-setting approach does not fit all situations. While a more analytically-driven, standardized quota may work well for small accounts with a transactional sales process, a more bottom-up market opportunity approach might be better suited for a mid-sized account segment. Near the top of the account pyramid, national account quotas may be more accurately based on the information and strategies developed in an account plan. That account plan might provide input for quotas and also serve as a planning and coaching tool for sales managers to use with their account managers. Apply an appropriate approach for each type of segment or market.
- Make Your Approach Scalable
A telecommunications organization we worked with had reengineered and piloted its new quota process that incorporated top-down and bottom-up inputs, predictive market data, and precise steps for the entire team to work through the process. It all worked well during the pilot phase only for the company to find out after full introduction that the process was just too complicated, delicate, and unwieldy. The process that worked perfectly in a contained environment just couldn’t scale in the organization without coming apart at the seams. Further, it was creating workload demands to manually manage steps and exceptions that weren’t captured in a non-scaled environment. Err toward the side of simplicity. Accounting for every possibility may not be much more accurate but can certainly be much more manpower-intensive than using a simpler, streamlined approach.
- Don’t Over, Over-Allocate
A sales leader in a Fortune 100 transportation company recently asked me a very straightforward question: “Why is it that our CFO reported to Wall Street that we were on plan for revenue for the quarter, yet leadership is beating on us because we’re behind plan in the field?” As we examined the question, the answer became clear. It was a case of over, over-allocation of the quota.
Over-allocation refers to the approach of taking the sales goal for the business overall and, as it is allocated to the next level of management, adding a little extra to that goal. The sum of all unique, non-overlapping front line sales quotas compared to the company’s goal is a simple measure of quota over-allocation. For example, a company with a $1 billion corporate goal with a sum of all front line quotas of $1.05 billion has over-allocated its goal by five percent. Most organizations over-allocate quotas by about three percent to five percent from top goal to front line. That little extra allocation acts like an insurance policy. If the manager has a sales position that remains unfilled for a period of time with no one to effectively cover that territory, the over-allocation makes up for some of that loss. If a rep falls dramatically short on his quota, the over-allocation also makes up for some of that performance shortfall.
Over-allocation, within limits, can keep the organization on-track with its quota. However, when the quota is over-allocated too much at too many levels, it can lead to distortion on the front-line. In the case of the transportation company, the company had over-allocated its goal to a point where the C-level and the front line had two different realities. The sun was shining at the C-level while the front line saw only cloudy skies. Keep your quota allocation trim so that executives and reps all participate in the company’s success.
Next week I’ll write about 5 different quota-setting methodologies. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.