How to Set Bad Quotas and Destroy Your Comp Plan

Checking the annual sales chart with ballpoint penAs February draws to a close, have you rolled out your sales quotas?

Sales quotas are critical to the performance of a staffing firm, why are they set with so little thought or methodology (with apologies to those who put in the thought and methodology)? Typically, a team spends months designing a sales strategy – even the compensation plan – and then hurriedly sets goal numbers based on financial information handed down by CFOs.

Poorly designed quotas can significantly weaken sales comp plans. If quotas don’t represent true market potential, the sales comp plan itself will break down. And if the plan doesn’t perform as designed, ultimately the business could be at risk.

So here are the top five ways to set bad quotas and accidentally sabotage your business:

1. Set quotas using historic information. According to a recent SalesGlobe survey, the top quota setting challenge companies are facing today is that quotas are driven by historic information; they don’t represent real opportunities in the market. Instead, quotas are set looking in the rear view mirror; we’re not looking at market potential – at both those positive opportunities and the places where prospects have dried up.

2. Don’t bother to have your quotas ready by month one. In about 30 percent of companies, quotas are not ready in the first month of a new comp plan. In fact, quotas actually may not be ready in the first quarter of the year. It happens because a lot of times the numbers aren’t ready until the end of the year, and the quota setting process can’t get started until those numbers are ready.

3. Adjust quotas mid-year. Because quotas aren’t ready by month one (and a few other reasons – legitimate and not) about half of companies will adjust quotas during the year – legitimate reasons and not. (Of course, when adjusting quotas, it’s really essential to have policies for why you would make those adjustments.)

4. Punish your best reps by giving them a higher quota every year. Companies that don’t have an effective quota setting process inadvertently create a performance penalty. The highest performing reps are rewarded with a higher quota each year, often in the same increasingly saturated territory.

5. Make the quota setting process top secret. About 29% of companies we surveyed said the process wasn’t transparent. People don’t have any idea how their quotas were set. And about 29 percent said they don’t believe in the process. Inequitable quotas weaken the effectiveness of the sales comp plan and raise questions about the accuracy of the information.

There’s a pattern in these bad practices, which I think is really fascinating. The top issue is about information: quotas don’t reflect market opportunity. So quotas are not good because they’re not representative of what the sales reps can do. But the other challenges are around people and around process. I think that’s a key point: is that as much as you get into the idea of the quota being a number, it’s very much about the process and abut the people.

How is your quota setting process?

Mark Donnolo

Mark Donnolo
Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe, a sales effectiveness consulting and services firm, and the author of What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation and The Innovative Sale. You can reach him at mdonnolo (at) salesglobe (dot) com.

Mark Donnolo
Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe, a sales effectiveness consulting and services firm, and the author of What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation and The Innovative Sale. You can reach him at mdonnolo (at) salesglobe (dot) com.

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