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Missed Your Sales Quota? Get Your Mojo Back

By: Jeff Schmitt
Last updated 9/22/2010

It will be the longest night of your life. Normally, you enjoy the small talk and fancy cuisine, but you can barely crack a smile. You know how this night will end. The higher ups will call your peers on stage, one-by-one. They’ll publicize their successes, as the hugs and applause flow freely. Too bad you won’t be joining them.

Last year, you were the golden boy who caught all the breaks, but you’re not so cocky tonight. Instead, you dwell on everything that fell through. Sure, you scratched-and-clawed to salvage the year…but the higher ups will only remember your number. When you fall short of goal, you lose so much: your influence, earnings, and superiors’ respect—and you’ll have to wait another year to get it back.

It’s a vicious circle: you close more, so you work more. Then, the bar is raised higher and even more is expected. One year, it eventually catches up to you. Regardless, you’re only as good as your last sales year. If you plan to stay with sales, you can’t miss your target two consecutive years.

Here are some ways to make sure that doesn’t happen:

Don’t Make Excuses: You’ve listed every reason for falling short. The goal was arbitrary. Your peers had better territories, support, and luck. The product was inferior or the market wasn’t ready. Don’t forget the always-popular “sales is a crapshoot; it’s about being at the right place at the right time.”

These justifications have merit sometimes. Reality is, the higher-ups don’t care. Your job is to get them a number, regardless of circumstances or fairness. And they know a dirty little secret: sales requires persevering through the ups-and-downs. Over time, it all evens out; those with the right fundamentals inevitably rise to the top. The sooner you quit blaming, the more effective you’ll be.

Shake Things Up: Your current tools are only taking you so far. Maybe it’s time for a fresh perspective. Start by talking to your peers. Identify the habits and tactics that apply to close business. Similarly, consider spending a few days with top performers, to see how they manage time, build rapport, qualify, and move the sale forward. Or, invite them along with you, to evaluate your body language and questioning and presentation skills. In your spare time, expose yourself to new ideas by reading books or case studies.

Even more, re-evaluate everything you do, from targeting and strategy to closing and service. In particular, examine your priorities and where you spend your time. As part of this exercise, review the past sales year. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Why did you lose key opportunities? Based on what you’ve learned, what would you do differently? Are there any prospects who show similarities to these situations?
  • How did you maximize your company’s capabilities, along with referrals and your network? How will you integrate them into this year’s key leads?
  • Identify three times when you grew complacent or allowed something important to slide? How will you keep that from happening again this year?

Similarly, look at metrics like conversion rates, account value, and time-to-close to determine where you can more effectively devote your resources. Bottom line: missing quota is your wake-up call. Whatever you’re doing now…you need to do it differently or better.

Focus on the New Year: You’ve held your pity party and scrutinized the past year. Now, it’s time to hunker down. Start by getting out of the gate quickly. Build your pipeline with special emphasis on casting a wide net. Tap your existing customers to make calls on your behalf. Qualify deeper, to ensure you’re not devoting valuable time to tire kickers. Work smart, focusing on prospects that have urgency, buy-in, internal advocates, and a relatively transparent political process. Use every tool—high level attention, expert support, and special pricing—to get them deeper into the cycle earlier.

Of course, write a plan. Identify your top ten targets and develop a one-page strategy for closing each of them. Set measurable goals and benchmarks to gauge your progress. These goals may include:

  • Producing a percentage of goal attainment per quarter.
  • Closing certain accounts within a specified timeframe. 
  • Generating a pre-set number of accounts in a particular revenue range, market, or product line. 
  • Increasing stickiness and profitability by closing value-add ancillaries or services.

Similarly, set memorable soft goals, such as “friendly, flexible, and reliable,” to remain aware of what others should expect from you. Most important, follow up on your plan— tweak it even—so it’s a living document that doesn’t collect dust. It’s been said that a battle plan is the first casualty of any encounter with the enemy, but your plan is also the first place to return when the smoke clears and the manpower, weaponry, strategy, and terrain become clear.

Focus on the Client: It’s not the time you spend, but how you use it that determines your success. Look at your interactions: are you a professional visitor, a high pressure hose, …or a seasoned consultant who brings value to every interaction? With every call, do you have two or three ideas a client can apply, regardless of whether they buy? Are you asking them questions that force them to think…and grow a little uncomfortable? Are you framing issues so your solution is urgent, with real impact on long-term positioning and the bottom line?

Even more, focus on the fundamentals. Emphasize building relationships and providing same day response when you’re away. Work at all levels, to ensure a consistent message and consensus emerges. Conduct training to make change feel less threatening. Be willing to customize, so your solution aligns with their market, culture and unique challenges. Most important, reinforce your appreciation and long-term commitment in every interaction.

Use It as a Motivator: Last year, you had it all figured out, but sales have a funny way of humbling even the best. Sure, you can play the woulda-coulda-shoulda game. You may even doubt yourself, wondering if the business has passed you by. In the end, you need to move on. The only thing worth remembering is how you felt when that room was cheering for everyone…except you.

With every sales year, there are more demands and expectations. Even so, you can’t dwell on whether you’ll have a job next year. Sure, the higher ups will ride you all year. They’ll tell you what you’re doing isn’t enough. Tough it out anyway. That’ll just make your walk across stage next year that much sweeter.

About the Author(s)

Jeff Schmitt is a regular contributor to BusinessWeek (www.businessweek.com). He has spent 17 years in sales, marketing, project management, training, legal compliance, and recruiting. You can reach him via e-mail (jschmittdbq@mchsi.com) or follow him on Twitter (jefflschmitt).