They say that in life, only two things are certain: Death and taxes. But whoever said that forgot about salespeople, who can count on a third thing — their quotas.
A quota is more than just the dollar amount of business each rep is tasked with bringing into the organization each month, quarter, or year. It represents the minimum standard of performance all salespeople must adhere to. More than that, it represents what happens when you don’t bring in that money: Delayed promotion, reprimands, or even termination. It’s scary stuff.
Buyers have a lot to say about salespeople, and it’s mostly negative. A recent HubSpot Research study revealed that only 3% of people consider salespeople trustworthy, and the #1 word buyers associate with sales reps is “pushy.”
It’s not as if salespeople are inherently noxious people. The bad sales habits that caused buyers to hate salespeople so much are born out of pressure to make their numbers. Singing for your supper is stressful (on top of that, 75% of top sales organizations raise quotas by 10% or more annually), and understanding the pressures salespeople face might do a lot to soften buyers’ attitudes toward reps.
You could argue that salespeople chose their profession — aren’t they reaping what they sowed?
Maybe. That doesn’t make the job any easier. Whether they asked for it or not, the pressure for salespeople to hit quota, and their fear of failing to do so, are incredibly real.
This doesn’t excuse salespeople who behave badly. There’s a non-pushy, non-interruptive, helpful way to sell — inbound sales. And inbound sales is good news for buyers and sellers alike. Reps who transition from outbound to inbound selling have better, more relevant conversations with happier prospects, while still hitting or exceeding quota.
Why? Because, ironically, achieving success in modern sales requires that reps de-prioritize the very thing they’re measured on each month — their quota.
I’m not arguing that reps stop paying attention to their pipelines, abandon their forecasts, and hope for the best. That’s ridiculous. On the contrary, salespeople should know as much about each deal as possible, from the dollar amount to the date they are likely to close.
But the problem with placing your quota front and center is that it skews your entire mindset. While crushing your number is obviously important, it shouldn’t be the driving force behind everything you do.
Sales reps who see every new prospect and every new deal as just another obstacle to hitting 125% aren’t going to be as attentive and helpful as sales reps who approach each new buyer as someone they can help. When every deal is reduced to a dollar amount, it’s harder to care about a buyer’s specific needs, challenges, and goals. And when salespeople don’t take the time to understand these crucial details of a prospect’s situation, they’re far less likely to come up with a comprehensive plan or offer tailored advice — the two things that make prospects want to buy your product in the first place.
A fixation on quota also presses salespeople to push prospects to buy who just aren’t ready. End-of-month pressure is real for salespeople and time-sensitive discounts have pushed buyers with real business pain to close a few days early, but when’s the last time a buyer with no established understanding of your product signed a deal because you told them you were at 70% of your number? If you don’t respect a prospect’s timeline, you’re far more likely to push them farther than they’re willing to go, which is likely to alienate them and lose you the deal in the long run.
But let’s be real. Your quota isn’t going anywhere, and the negative consequences of failing to meet it aren’t either. So what can you do to make sure you never need to resort to desperate tactics to meet your number?
The long and short of it: You need to prospect more. Modern salespeople need to have a larger pipeline than traditional salespeople would be used to, according to HubSpot sales director Dan Tyre.
“If you’re an inbound salesperson, you can’t push hard at the end of the month if it’s not what’s best for your prospect,” Tyre said. “So you need to create more new opportunities and prospect more to make sure you have enough deals to meet your number.”
And prospecting doesn’t just mean blasting through a cold call list. Getting really good at targeted prospecting is the only scalable way to bring new opportunities into your pipeline that stand a good chance of closing. To get started, check out HubSpot inbound marketing specialist Ali Powell’s comprehensive targeted sales prospecting guide.
Being an inbound salesperson doesn’t mean giving up on President’s Club, winning SPIFs, or a fat commission check. It’s about realizing that by putting buyers’ needs first and your needs second, you end up helping both of you more effectively. Because tailoring a sales process to a prospects’ needs means they’re more likely to see value in your product, and ultimately buy. Now that’s advice you can take to the bank.