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It’s an all-too-common predicament for salespeople: You’re assigned a seemingly astronomical sales quota with the expectation that it can be met or even exceeded. For the salesperson, however, the path to meet or exceed that quota varies from somewhat unclear to outright bewilderment. In my case, and for the purposes of this article, let’s say that number was $50 million.

 

After a few years in professional services, I had taken a job as a Solution Specialist at a large global software company. One of the skills my new manager loved was that I had experience in solution selling, a new approach at the time. Although I had never really done classic packaged software sales, I was excited by the opportunity. To put it mildly, I wasn’t at all prepared for what I had gotten myself into. After the initial orientations and introductions were over, I faced the cold, hard reality of signing off on a very simple and short email. It was something called a “Quota Sheet,” and by signing it, I was formally accepting a $50 million quota across the five accounts I was assigned.

 

In the weeks that followed, I became obsessed with understanding where this revenue was going to come from. I knew I had some existing deals to renew that were large but didn’t know what that meant in terms of my workday. I did a bunch of things. I looked at historical sales and tried to forecast how much customers might spend this year. I dove into products and tried to determine which to pitch and to whom. I held a ton of customer meetings. I even calculated how much I would need to sell per hour: $24,000. This realization was mind numbing. Although I was busy, I had no idea how to translate that activity into sales. What I developed was ultimately used as part of the standard sales methodology at my company and was rolled out worldwide.

My New Reality Sets In

Initially, my days were filled with getting up at 5:30 a.m. to beat traffic so I could attend a customer meeting at 8:30 a.m. and go through the product pitch that I had been trained to do. Customers were almost always very positive and would say things like, "This is great. I'd love for you to work with this person in my org on this." We would sometimes start a pilot or some other project, which seemed like a great next step. Then, the pilot would end and customer priorities would change. The bottom line was that I wasn’t seeing any sales coming in. It was an unnerving experience.

I would meet with my manager, who was awesome, and he’d say, "How's it going? How can I help?" Although this sounded like a good time to raise my concerns, I didn't really know what help to ask for. I was nervous because the question looming in my mind was "How do I take all of these meetings, hundreds of emails, dozens of events, and turn them into sales?” I was worried about admitting how I was feeling and was worried that soon someone would come up to me and say, "We made a mistake. You obviously don't know what you're doing."

Our one-on-ones would always follow a similar pattern. My manager would ask "How's your week going?" I was putting in lots of hours, and I would talk about all of the activity that was keeping me busy. He would say, "That's great.” We would downshift into small talk, like where he was playing golf this weekend. At the time, I took it as a positive sign, as he didn’t raise any concerns, and hey, we were bonding. Besides, he was ultimately responsible for our team sales, so wouldn’t he say something if there was an issue?

Then one day, things got very real. I got an email from someone in sales operations. Attached was a spreadsheet that I was supposed to fill in with my sales forecast for the first quarter. That’s when all of my concerns and fears culminated into a real dilemma. I had no idea how to forecast Q1. I started asking my peers how they produced their forecasts. They explained that they took a look at the deals they had in their pipeline, made a call of what they thought would close, and made an assumption about sales that would come in organically. I didn’t know how to do this and I needed to figure it out, fast.

Breaking Down the Number

I knew that my quota was $50 million, but in many ways, that wasn’t the number that I needed to focus on. I began by splitting my $50 million quota into two types of revenue: renewals and new. Renewal revenue were contracts that were set to renew within the fiscal year. I had three massive contracts that were renewing, for a total of $30 million. That left $20 million in new revenue I had to find.

At this stage, you might ask “Didn’t you know about your renewal and new business?”  The answer is yes. In fact, they were set out on the quota sheet I had signed. However, what I did not know was how to plan my activities, time, and investments to align to these different revenue streams. Each required a very different level of sales support.

For renewals, most of the work was about licensing and didn't require much help from me. This was a revelation. That left the $20 million I still needed to find. Within the new revenue bucket, there was a portion that came from the “channel.” These were deals that resellers and services partners sold into my five accounts. I didn’t source or lead them, but supported them by ensuring they were well aligned into the enablement and campaign plan the channel marketing team built.

I asked sales operations to run a report for me so I could see the top 10 channel partners that sold into my accounts. Guess what? That took care of another $15 million. Again, this was key to my quota, but wasn’t where I should be investing the majority of my time. My “real” quota wasn’t $50 million. It was $5 million. It would take a lot of work to drive that revenue from scratch. At least now I knew exactly where I needed to focus my time.

The Reason I Was Hired

This is where I was able to use some of my solution selling skills. I observed that my peers would attend customer meetings and say, “I want to give you an update on the new version of X product.” I, however, would book meetings and say, “Hey, I'd love to understand what your business issues are and if perhaps we can help.” It’s what I knew after years in professional services and is how I’d spend 80% of customer meetings.

For example, in one meeting with a large bank, I learned about a challenge they were having within their audit division. They had several audits running at the same time without any way to manage the process and resources. I remembered that at one of my training sessions, a product manager had told us about a new project management product that was designed to easily handle a massive spreadsheet of tasks and resources. Even though the tool wasn’t designed for audits, I felt there were product capabilities that could solve the bank’s pain points.

I met with a services partner who specialized in this product and went through some potential customer use cases. The partner created a proof of concept, which we built into a one-hour pitch and demo. When the customer saw this, he couldn’t believe it. The bank agreed to do a three-month pilot. After a month, they were already ready to buy. It was the first time I was able translate my activity into a sale, and I was overjoyed.

Proposing and Closing at Scale

Closing a one-off deal was great, but I needed to do this at scale if I was going to drive $5 million in new revenue. And I needed to convert all of the great activity I was driving — pilots, events, webinars, meetings — into more revenue. A fellow account executive taught me a great approach: to leverage the procurement lead on each account as a way to create a compelling event.

I would learn when the next procurement meeting was taking place, get on the agenda, and create a proposal to present. My customer stakeholders served as proposal sponsors. They would verify they had the budget and met business requirements, and the procurement lead would work to approve the acquisition. Once this approval happened, I would see the deal as closed in my revenue report within 24 hours. The first time this happened, I was ecstatic. By the second and third time, I began to feel more confident about this software sales thing.

Applying My Learnings Now

Today, there are amazing advancements with sales tools that allow sales leaders to break down their number, track progress, collaborate, and establish best practices. In fact, we are seeing tools that even provide guided selling paths for sales teams so they know exactly where to focus to meet their number. I had to figure a lot of this out the hard way, but in the end, the experience taught me what sales is really about: Focus on your customer, plan your time wisely, and don’t give up. Even with all of the great advancements, that hasn’t changed.

Although I was busy, I had no idea how to translate that activity into sales.”

Naman Khan | Vice President, Sales Cloud Product Marketing, Salesforce
 
 
 

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