How to deal with the pressure from big sales targets

Distressed young manager man holds her head with hand

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One of the first questions you get when interviewing for sales positions is how you deal with carrying a sales quota. A question derived from the need to perform well under pressure, as new numbers will come down every quarter.

A pressure cooker with several layers

Larger sales organization aggregates sales quota in several layers. So whatever your role is, your quota is part of a bigger puzzle. You making your numbers make a contribution to all layers above you.

All sales persons will not make the numbers all the time but all need drive with an intention to hit your numbers. The sales governance structure secures consistency to secure results are reached.

The targets sitting on your shoulders

The targets you can expect will have a yearly and a quarterly component. This nature drives hectic third months in each quarter. Further you can expect net sales, orders booked, cash flow and margin components. And depending on the nature of the business the weighting between them varies.

Your targets are lag measures. You need to find appropriate lead measures to get visibility of your predicted performance. Either through established internal processes or tracking of key indicators.

Don’t expect targets to be “right” or “fair”. Some targets come down from the top on what the business want you to make. Others coming bottom up from lead indicators such as sales funnels etc. And there is always an element of just nail the number and go and run with it.

Dealing with pressure constructively

The constant pressure is, and will always be, a central part of what sales is all about. Your job is to secure you deal with pressure in a constructive way. How you let the numbers drive your focus the next 90 days. How you look outside the current box of opportunities to expand to increase chances of delivering growth. How to challenge your current ways-of-working to find more efficient ways.

Your mental game around sales pressure requires training as any other sales skills. You can learn a lot from athletes and how raise themselves with growing challenges. The best golfers excel the last 9 holes the fourth day of a major. The best hockey, basket and baseball players shine in the 7th game of a series. And Football/Soccer and American football players are st their best the last 15 minutes of a game.

Balance target, opportunities and capabilities to drive success

You need to have a clear view of how targets, opportunities and capabilities are aligned. And if your performance is target, opportunity or capability constrained.

Factors working for you are achievable targets, big pool of opportunities and matching capabilities.  . But these three are rarely balanced. You need focus around your opportunity portfolio. And be aware of the target and capabilities frames set by others.

Closing the quarter

The third month each quarter need to focus on closing. Skip all proactive forward looking jobs the last 2-3 weeks in the quarter to free up time for critical closing activities.

Focus on energy consuming proactive opportunity development early in the quarter. This is also a critical sales activity but not an activity focus late in the quarter.

Secure you have a personal support structure in place

The last part goes beyond your work and into your family situation. You need a support structure in place to allow you to deal with the closing month in a stable way.

Your personal life will be affected by the need for your full focus when the heat is on. A factor easy to skip or not plan enough for.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. How do you deal with pressure in general – a positive stimulation or a negative performance degradation.
  2. When you get a chance influence your sales targets what do you normally choose – between the options of sandbagging or putting a foot forward where you see growth.
  3. How do you convince your manager you are good at carrying a quota for your first sales job – poke for previous experiences for how to deal with stress from sports or studies.
  4. How do you schedule work the last month in a quarter – it is critical to free up time for ad-hoc emerging closing activities by the end of each quarter.
  5. Which gaps do you need to close in how to deal with pressure – the pressure will not go away and you need to find a way to deal with it that suits you.

Additional reading suggestions

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