How to Close 2016 to Start 2017 with a Bang

Sales Quota and Goals – Timo Rein, Pipedrive CEO

Having recently written a piece on Sales Hacker: You’re About to Miss your Quota? It’s Time to Close Faster and Better, I wanted to return to the idea of ‘saving the year’ on the Pipedrive blog. Except, this time, our focus is less on a salesperson hitting their personal sales quota, and more on setting your team up to hit the ground running before the new year begins.

My advice to salespeople included:

  • Close deals faster
  • Convert more deals
  • Don’t panic

But this advice won’t work for a sales manager or leader with a team that needs turning round. Hopefully, what follows will.

Analyze your run

The first step to improving the future performance of your sales team is to look at the recent past — the run that led you to this point. There are many questions you can ask, but the two I’ve found to be the most worthwhile asking are:

  1. Who was able to do it?
  2. When were we able to do it?

Who was able to do it?

More often than not, there is at least somebody in any sales group who has been hitting their share of the team’s sales quota. It is rare that nobody hits their personal sales quota, although I understand that this is more probable for smaller sales teams. However, if anybody is on track, or at least very close to being on track, the question we then ask is:

Why were they able to do that?

One part of your analysis could be based on the numbers you have. If you only have results — as opposed to detailed sales pipeline metrics — obviously that’s what you go with. But even then, you can dig deeper by interviewing your successful salespeople and trying to make sense of what it was they did that helped them. Then compare it to the results of interviewing others who were less successful, or use the numbers if you have them.

Try to figure out the difference. Is it their approach, their intensity or the types and pattern of actions they take?

Even such basic analysis should:

  • answer why those salespeople that are successful succeed
  • highlight what could be done to raise team performance and results
  • identify poor sales performance and missed actions that could be avoided

If you do have a good system that provides a detailed breakdown of your sales numbers — where you no longer only see results as a statistical view into the run so far, but also see some of the performance metrics leading to those results — review how each salesperson’s pipeline has developed and see what their conversion or winning ratio was for each of the past 10 months.

New won deals, Pipedrive, sales crm

Did they do more work? Were they able to work with more opportunities and close better, or some combination?

Based on your notes and the comparison and differences identified there, you should have really good insights that should be valuable to guide others in your team.

But with or without the numbers, now that you understand how your salespeople succeed (or fail) ask:

Can we go away and replicate that? Can all the other people replicate that?

There might be some people in your team you will be confident can definitely replicate the successful salespeople’s process and performance — if they know what it is they should each focus on more.

There may also be some members of your team you feel, ok, they will not be able to replicate that, and certainly not in the short time they have to make a serious impact on the team achieving its annual targets. You might think they could be able to replicate the successful salespeople given heavy coaching or training, but depending on your plans, that is more a staffing question for Q1.

When were we able to do it?

Even if you just look back to the beginning of the year, 10 months is a long time. You should be able to go in and see, ok, maybe Q1, we were right on track.

Perhaps you weren’t on track for any consistent period; time snuck up on you, and you found yourself asking where the year went. But, maybe you can point to an individual month, July say, where you were on track, or simply that sales were above quota for that period.

And similar questions from there. Anywhere you can go back to with good performance metrics, or any way you can put back together the reality that got you the results you need. Having conversations with people helps here, too, as long as you get answers to why you were on track.

sales stages pipeline

Did we do certain things more? Did we focus better? Did we collaborate?

Remember, if we were on track in July by results, then what we did right would have occurred much earlier, in the first half of the year or even at the tail end of the previous year. So consider how far back your results lag the effort that secured them.

And again ask:

If we know the reasons why, what can we replicate in November and December that can work as it did in the run-up to that solid July?

Recap of two simple steps to take straight away

So with some analysis and discussion, you should be able to answer the two simple questions:

  1. Who was able to do it?
  2. When were we able to do it?

And the common question whether or not individual and team successes can be replicated.

This quick exercise may come up empty. There may have been nobody able to sell at or above quota, and it may be your team wasn’t able to do so at any stage. If so, you may need to take a deeper dive, go further back with your analysis, or even look at your sales materials, product, service, website, marketing, UX and more.

But assuming there were moments or periods where you were able to perform to your sales quota, you can learn a lot.

What if you are the problem?

The purpose of this exercise is to get the team back on track, as well and as fast as you can — by identifying all blocks or problems that slowed the team down or held it back.

Sometimes, you will be the problem.

Deal with it.

Maybe it’s apparent from your own notes, your CRM data and dashboard, or by speaking with people, but get this insight.

Then ask:

  • What is the impact, and what is the solution?
  • What is your role in leading this team or being in charge?
  • Did you do the type of job that was necessary to ensure you got the run we wanted or expected?
  • Anything I did, was it urgent enough? Was I able to create enough urgency? Did I pass that urgency onto the team?

The problem with partial year performance — particularly for seasonal businesses — is that it is harder to gauge or monitor how well we’re doing as we go, especially for quarterly or six-month goals. But maybe the frequency or the quality of your updates weren’t sufficient, or you failed to tell your team in July that they’re off track. If so, this is something you yourself can improve in the last two months of the year, and continue in the new year.

By all means, look at problems outside of yourself, but don’t ignore problems there may be with you, your actions or the direction you provide.

How quickly can you reset?

As many of our readers know, I started my career in door-to-door sales. Due to the transactional nature of such sales, every door was a chance to try something new to see what works. Then every day was a chance to reset, and every week, and so on.

I remember my first week like it was yesterday — because it’s a week that changed my life.

I got to the middle of the first week out in the field and realized I was clocking 17 demos per day at most during the first three days of the week. I knew I needed to hit a performance metric of the number of demos made every day, and it was 30. Ideally beyond 30, but hitting that number was the minimum expectation.

I was at 17 at best, but whatever the exact number, I felt I was not breaking through.

And the question I asked at that time — as a salesperson — was what I could do to close this daily gap. I spoke to my sales manager, and she said:

“Listen, you can follow me,” because she was the type of sales manager who was doing sales work herself, “you can follow me for a day.”

I knew that was a good move because she was able to hit or surpass her sales quota 99% of the time — I knew she had more experience and was always on her game.

So I followed her on Thursday, and on Friday I recorded 28 demos.

I may not have hit quota that Friday, or that week, but I never went back to the level I was at before.

Whatever type of sales you practice, and no matter the size of your team, you don’t have to wait until the end of the month, or the end of the year to make changes or to simply see what’s going on. If things could be going better, and you have a quicker way to reset your actions and your metrics, take the opportunity as early as you can.

How soon a business can start seeing changes depends very much on the frequency resets are considered and applied. Because poor sales performance often centers on the individual, you have to consider how quickly you, as manager, can see changes in individuals’ behavior — and then see how quickly everyone on your team and in the company see it too.

Practical steps to isolate problems

You may be wondering, if a business does something now, how soon will they see a change?

With two months to go, this is a very important point, and it comes back to the question of how frequently and well your team resets.

Most companies reset as a business at the beginning of their financial year. They report the year and then go back to zero. But as a sales manager, end-of-year numbers are unlikely to act sufficiently as a guide throughout the year.

Instead, you might want to set partial targets every quarter. Give each quarterly target the importance of an annual sales quota, then make sure everyone on your team strives to hit their quarterly targets and do the same throughout the year. If going back to zero every month or every week works then go to zero that often. Do it for all performance metrics, while still tracking monthly sales metrics cumulatively yourself.

You can look at:

  • the number of new calls made to create new opportunities
  • the number of meetings you’ve held to discover prospect’s needs

Pipedrive statistics, features, sales intelligence

If you’re in crisis mode or trying to catch up to close the year, it may make sense to reset and refine every week, as it will give you a quicker understanding of what’s going wrong and hopefully that some things are going right. With weeks to go, it doesn’t make sense to calculate monthly targets; each week gives you perspective, and you’ll see some kind of a change if your efforts are working.

While a frequent reset is needed for rapid change, realize it can be tough mentally on some salespeople — some people may feel they’re going back to the start, and losing their foundation. Some people aren’t happy never going past a weekly ‘maximum’, however hard they push, or not having the opportunity to ‘fix’ a result they don’t feel good about in upcoming weeks.

But if your team can take it, your sales process will be much more activity-oriented, your salespeople will be more likely to hit their goals, and you will have a better chance of hitting your targets.

If you feel you can get back on track

State your intention of hitting your annual sales quota to the team.

Tell them what need they need to do to hit the annual goals, including individual performance expectations. Maybe instead of setting two discovery meetings per week per rep, each rep needs to hit four. Maybe you set each rep their own target. But tell them that’s what’s needed. And tell them if the numbers are expected or ambitious.

Share the results of your earlier analysis as you see fit, but it’s important to state that if one person is able to do it with more volume due to their intensity, other people who convert at the same level should push for greater volume.

Maybe some salespeople converted better on lower volume. Have people with poor conversion metrics follow them, to convert existing opportunities better than before and to get their conversion numbers up for the new year.

If you do assess that you can get back on track, involve the team in the necessary changes. Explain that you intend to achieve the yearly goal, just as the team set out to at the beginning of the year, even though you’re currently behind and urgently need to get back on track.

If you feel you can’t get back on track

In a situation where there are just two months to go, and there is no way your team can get back on track to achieve the annual sales quota, what are you going to do? Stand there and let it bake?

Of course not.

You can still have a very worthy goal and plan to get on the pace that would have got you to your annual goal, had you done that for 12 months in a row. Even though you know that you are not able to get to that annual goal this year, at least getting back on that pace helps you:

  1. Set yourself up for the new year at the pace your team needs in order to achieve your goals
  2. Show others that you and your team are able to achieve required monthly output and results

Now you can operate without any pretense of making or pressure to make your annual goal, and can focus on getting on pace. Better to admit you came up short and weren’t able to deliver in 2016, know you have fixed things in the last two months to ensure you get a running start into the next sales cycle, and reassure everyone you will deliver in 2017.

This is the best approach to take if you discover — when you look at the numbers, resources and capabilities in your team — it’s just not possible to get back on track at this point.

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Timo Rein

CEO and Co-Founder of Pipedrive