The economy may have improved, but sales reps still have an uphill battle when it comes to making their quotas -- and it may not be entirely their fault.
Companies continue to raise their sales reps' quotas but often provide little training and support to help them reach those goals, say experts.
Last year, only 58 percent of sales reps made their quotas, down from 63 percent in 2011 and 2012, according to a study by CSO Insights, a Boulder, Colorado, sales and marketing effectiveness research firm.
"We've got to start putting as much emphasis on how we sell as we do on what we sell," says Jim Dickie, managing partner at CSO Insights. "We have to help [sales people] work smarter."
This means identifying what's holding them back, he says. One question he likes to ask sales teams is "Why can't I double your quota?"
"They start telling you what's in the way," says Dickie. This opens the dialogue to start working on issues preventing them from reaching their goals. If they identify multiple issues, pare it down to the three that have the biggest impact and work on fixing those, he suggests.
TRAINING IS KEY
Provide training in areas that need improvement.
"People say sales training is expensive," Dickie says. "But it's never as expensive as the cost of doing nothing."
At Coffee Distributing Corp., a Garden City Park-based supplier of office refreshment products, sales training is given on an ongoing basis, says Lou Giordano, the company's New York sales manager.
In addition, Coffee Distributing encourages its sales reps to join networking groups with other reps in complementary, but not competing, industries. And if they don't find a fit, in some cases, they've even created their own networking groups, says Giordano.
"We have a full telemarketing team that provides quality leads for them," he adds. And the firm has a system in place to ask existing customers for referrals.
When setting quotas Coffee Distributing helps each rep identify the number of calls, hours and leads necessary to meet his or her goal.
"It's all broken down," says Giordano, noting the seven reps on his team are either reaching or exceeding their quotas. "We do it together."
Providing support is critical, says Jeff Goldberg, lead sales trainer for The Entrepreneur Center in Melville, whose corporate division offers sales training, coaching and consulting.
"A smart sales manager has a sales meeting every week and is consistently offering and reinforcing training as part of that meeting," he notes.
SET REALISTIC GOALS
When assessing quotas make sure they're realistic, says Goldberg, co-author of "Leverage Your Laziness" (Sound Wisdom; $9.99).
"I think often quotas are based on how much money the company needs to make, rather than the abilities and skills of a particular sales person and the territory they are working in," he says, noting there shouldn't be a blanket quota but one that's specific to each salesperson.
Beyond that, make sure you're hiring the right people to begin with, says John Sena, president of JAS Consulting Inc., a Port Washington-based sales management and sales force consulting firm.
Companies often make poor hiring choices, compromising on sales positions, he notes.
"Many companies don't think about their requirements," says Sena. For instance, they don't have a position description or haven't identified key criteria needed to be successful in the job.
Decide which skills are most important, suggests Sena; then "if they don't have four out of five of your criteria, don't even talk to them on the telephone."
"You've got to find the right fit," he says. "Otherwise they're not going to make it."