Main illustration: Benedikt Luft
In sales, there’s one number we obsess over – our quota. As soon as one month ends and another starts, we can’t help but ask, how am I going to hit my number? Yet for all the time we spend thinking about it, many of us don’t have a game plan.
As an Inbound Sales Development Rep, I face the challenge of not having any control over the leads that get passed to me. I can’t predict the quality of these leads or how many of them I’ll receive in a day. If you’re an outbound SDR, you may not know if the phone number you have is going to connect you to the right person or if that person you’re calling is in the market for what you’re selling.
Don’t be afraid to own your leads from first touch to qualified opportunity
Even if you do connect with a high-quality lead, your work isn’t done yet. Most models for SDR compensation require sales opportunities to reach a certain stage before they count toward an SDR’s quota. And once your lead has been passed to an account executive, it’s out of your hands and up to the account executive to follow up and get your opportunity to that required stage. It’s no wonder many SDRs feel like hitting quota is a game of luck.
But what I’ve found is with a little planning, you can stack the odds squarely in your favor. It starts with having a solid picture of how many leads you to need convert each week and the various ways you’re going to get there. Just as important is embracing your license to sell; don’t be afraid to own your leads from first touch to qualified opportunity, even if that means applying a little pressure. I’ll walk you through how to create a pacing plan and four more levers you can pull to consistently hit your sales quota.
1. Set the right pace
As salespeople we always want to exceed our goal, so my first piece of advice may raise some eyebrows. I recommend creating a pacing plan that enables you to exactly hit your sales quota. The goal of having this plan is to perform at a consistent level month over month. After all it’s in nobody’s best interest to cycle between stellar months and crappy months just to sometimes exceed your quota. Of course getting ahead of your number is always a good thing and having a pacing plan allows you track just how far ahead, or behind, you are so you never let off the gas too early.
Creating your pacing plan comes down to a simple equation: take the number of qualified opportunities you need to hit quota and divide by the number of weeks in the month. If you need 40 qualified opportunities and you have four weeks, you’ll need to convert at least 10 leads per week. My pacing plan is cumulative so I can easily track my progress to hitting quota. I keep myself honest by tracking the actual number of leads I’ve converted to-date and adjusting my plan accordingly. Here’s an example pacing plan:
2. Qualify leads for quality
When hitting your sales quota feels like a game of luck, it’s tempting to believe simply having more leads will increase your chances of success. In reality we should always optimize for higher quality leads who are a good fit for our business. Here at Intercom, we use live chat to qualify our inbound leads. Having real-time conversations enables us get granular about our leads’ goals and quickly address their questions. Down the line that means less time chasing leads who were never going to buy and more time working opportunities that’ll actually help us meet our number.
Regardless of whether you qualify leads via phone, email or live chat, it’s important to be personal. By being someone your leads want to buy from, you’ll get better information from them and if they’re a good fit, they’ll be more likely to become paying customers. That said don’t shy away from asking tough but critical questions like “What’s your budget?” or “How soon are looking to buy?”. The trick is to have a two-way dialogue that gives your leads plenty of context for why you’re asking certain questions. This is a lot of the early muscle and grit that’s put into reaching your sales quota.
3. Don’t let good leads go dark
This may sound obvious but you need to actively manage your leads. Not every lead will want to take a meeting with an account executive right away and it’s in the best interest of your sales quota to keep these leads warm until they do. Here at Intercom, we leverage multiple tools to stay on top of our leads. For our traditional MQLs, we create email cadences to nurture leads with relevant content until they’re ready to talk. For our live chat leads, our Intercom Inbox makes it easy to follow up with them. I use the snooze button to remind myself to follow up with leads who haven’t responded to my last message. If an old lead reappears, I can easily see all the history from my previous conversation and pick up where we’d left off. My point is time kills all deals and if you’re not actively managing and selling your leads, you’re just throwing away potential opportunities.
4. Re-engage your cold leads
You should confidently exercise your license to sell
We’ve all been in this situation: a lead who seems super interested in your product just goes completely dark one day. It happens for a multitude of reasons — loss of budget for the project, change of leadership, better competitive offering. It’s easy to assume because your leads went dark, there’s nothing you can do. But here’s where I’d argue you should confidently exercise your license to sell. If you’ve had a good conversation with the lead in the past, it can only help to reach out and try to gain context on the situation. If the lead’s response is, “We aren’t interested,” you’ll know you’ve exhausted every avenue. If the response is, “We’re open to revisiting your product,” you’ll have another lead that can help you hit your sales quota.
A great way to re-engage cold leads is to stay on top of industry news. For instance, if you notice your lead’s company has just gotten a new round of funding, you can reach out to congratulate them and then show them how new updates to your product could help them grow even faster. Other examples are mergers and acquisitions, major launches or even mentions in publications like TechCrunch. Be creative about how you warm up your cold leads!
5. Communicate to sell
In sales, it’s just as important to communicate effectively with your team as it is to have good conversations with your leads. When passing sales opportunities, it’s critical the right information is shared with AEs. Details like use case, timeline and stakeholders all make it easier for the AE to follow up. If you notice qualified leads haven’t been contacted, proactively follow up with the assigned AE — even the best ones can use a gentle nudge every once in awhile. It’s up to you help move promising deals forward and get yourself that much closer to hitting your sales quota.
The same principles of clear communication apply to setting expectations with your leads. Here at Intercom, when we schedule next steps with our live chat leads, we let them know when they can expect an AE to get back to them. This is especially important when we pass leads to AEs in other timezones and it may take up to a day for the lead to hear back. By being clear and upfront, you gain your lead’s trust and reduce the risk of them going dark while they wait.
Don’t be afraid to roll the dice
Like many things in business, certain elements of sales — the quality and volume of inbound leads, for example — are out of your control. But by having a solid game plan and embracing your license to sell, you can increase the odds of achieving success. For me, hitting my number consistently comes down to staying honest to my pacing plan and pulling the right levers at the right time. This is the playbook I keep in my back pocket to get me from the first day of the month to my sales quota.
Are there other techniques you use to hit quota? Comment below or drop me a line on Twitter!