The Five-Part Sanity Check

By Frank Visgatis, President and COO, CustomerCentric Selling

It’s astounding how much leeway salespeople are given in how they go about making calls and making their numbers each year. In many companies, selling is considered more an art than a science. Sales calls are as unique as snowflakes. I find it ironic, in light of the varied approaches to selling, that measuring performance is so precise. Seller achievement is calculated to decimal places throughout every year by dividing YTD revenue booked by YTD quota. The journey is uncertain but the desired outcome of clients paying invoices is clearly defined.

Analogous to a baseball player’s batting average, percentage of quota is the way sellers are stack ranked, evaluated and considered for promotions. Baseball players and sellers performing poorly halfway through a season or year are convinced major improvements will take place in the second half and they will make up ground.

Students often have to make up ground while attending college. Some are “just-in-time” learners. That’s a euphemistic way of saying there are many semesters that students might spend early morning or late evening hours cramming. Still many students get where they need to be at their own pace. At times it can be stressful but can work for some.

The reason I raise the issue of cramming is that many sellers go through quota years in much the same way. You won’t find a more optimistic salesperson than one who enters the fourth quarter at 36 percent of quota YTD. He or she is convinced (and hoping their manager is too) they can and will make their annual number in the next 90 days. By October 31, they’re at 41 percent YTD. On November 30 they’ve reached 50 percent YTD. Somewhere in mid-December, at 54 percent of their annual quota, they realize it’s time to push business into January to jumpstart next year. The ongoing problem with this is that even if year-end cramming is successful it often means the following year is effectively only nine or 10 months long as you start in January with little or nothing in the pipeline.

Performing A Sanity Check

As a sales manager, I learned a long time ago that train wrecks happen a month at a time. Looking in the rear view mirror at YTD achievement means you’re tracking a lagging indicator. Doing some simple math on a monthly basis allows a sales manager to get a sanity check as to the likelihood of attaining quota for the year. It amounts to a glance in the rear view mirror (YTD position) with a fierce focus on projecting future performance – a leading indicator.

Here are the pieces of the mid-year five-part sanity check:

1. Let’s assume a seller has an annual quota of $3,000,000, an average sales cycle of four months and a 33 percent chance of closing opportunities in their pipeline. That means to track at quota during a single sales cycle the seller must close $1,000,000. Because there is a 33 percent closing rate at any given time, the sales manager would like to see $3,000,000 in pipeline opportunities.

2. Regardless of how much a seller is above YTD, the minimum pipeline target will remain at $3,000,000. Let’s say, however, as of January 31, a seller is $50K below YTD. That shortfall must be tripled (to $150K) and added to the base so that the new target moving forward will be a have a pipeline of $3,150,000. The target ratchets up when sellers fall below quota.

As you can imagine, sellers less than YTD should focus on finding new opportunities (whether they be prospects or add-on business). By doing this each month the seller and manager have greater visibility and hopefully ample time to take corrective action so that cramming at the end of the year can be minimized.

3. There are two powerful levers that can reduce the target pipeline amounts. In the example above, if the length of sales cycles could be reduced to three months (i.e. by starting opportunities at higher levels) and the win rate could be increased to 50 percent (i.e. with more stringent qualification) the target, assuming a seller is YTD, would be $1,500,000 rather than $3,000,000!

4. There are other ways to calculate pipeline targets. For example, if historic flow business from an existing territory generates $1,000,000 each year the seller and manager may want to do calculations on the seller finding $2,000,000 in new business during a given year. If your offering uses a SaaS model, the numbers have to be tweaked accordingly because revenue will be spread out over the current year (and possibly in future years).

5. Managers should be aware that, in addition to quotas varying by salesperson, the win rates and length of sales cycles often vary as well. You may have to look back within your CRM system to find actual numbers, or make intelligent guesses that can be monitored and adjusted over time.

One of the advantages of implementing these steps and having these targets in place for every seller is that you can go from an individual to an enterprise view. From first line sales managers, district managers, regional managers and up to the CSO, the target pipeline will be the total for all sellers that report up the chain of command to a given title.

Most sellers are now more than halfway through 2015. It’s time to have a look at where you are year to date and project a sales cycle ahead to optimize the chances that you’ll meet or exceed your number without having to cram.

Frank Visgatis is President & Chief Operating Officer of CustomerCentric Systems®, LLC and co-author of the   sales methodology.