Anyone getting into the sales game knows they will spend their careers in a constant struggle against quotas. Quotas pit salespeople and their abilities against managers and their expectations. Reach your quota and you’re in good shape; miss it and you could find yourself boxing up the contents of your desk.

Sales Quota Dreamforce SessionsBut since 2011, on average, a lot more salespeople have been missing their quotas than besting them. According to CSO Insights, in that year attainment reached a peak for recent years: 65 percent of all reps attained or exceeded their quotas. That number has slipped; in 2015 it was 54.6 percent, 1.6 points better than the miserable 53.2 percent of 2014 but still more than 10 points below the peak.

And, while salespeople battled to meet quota, sales managers made their lives even harder. The same CSO Insights SPM report revealed that nearly all sales executives – a whopping 94.5 percent of them – planned on raising their sales targets in 2015, meaning that quotas were likely to rise, too.

Without something else introduced to the equation, that suggests attainment numbers will dip yet again. And that’s not good for anyone involved – salespeople look like they can’t sell, sales managers look like they can’t manage, and companies have a terrible time projecting their revenues.

But this is not a universal condition throughout the business world. There are some companies that set aggressive quotas and consistently smash them The same CSO Insights study found that the top 10 percent of companies had an individual rep quota attainment rate of 75.1 percent. They achieved 116.7 percent of the company revenue plan, and half of the top performers found that better than 75 percent of their reps had adopted the sales process laid out by management.

These businesses are achieving this not because they have products or services that are miles ahead of their competitors (although that never hurts) but because their sales operations and sales management are aware of process, tools and learning, and understand that all of these elements of a selling program are constantly changing.

This kind of active management starts with an evaluation of what it takes to elevate sales reps from average to excellent. A big part of this is training – the top 10 percent in CSO Insights’ study spent an average of $2,512 per rep each year on training. The bottom 30 percent spent just $1,930, on average. In an era where the nature of the salesperson is rapidly shifting from order-taker to subject matter expert, that extra $600 a year difference represents a relatively small investment that pays off in more closed deals.

Another big difference between the achievers and the laggards is in the analytics and intelligence tools they’re given – not whether or not they get the tools, but whether they incorporate them into their sales processes. The 2016 CSO Insights study showed a narrowed gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 30 percent when it came to access to sales intelligence solutions – 54.8 percent of the achievers provided their sales teams with sales intelligence, while the 52.7 percent of the laggards did so. The true tale is told by adoption; CSO Insights asks about CRM adoption, which serves as a good stand in for adoption of other systems. Almost half of the achievers – 44.4 percent – claimed rates of adoption of 90 percent or better. Only 26.6 percent of the laggards could say the same.

Adoption suffers from several terminal afflictions: poor leadership, cultural shortcomings, motivation failures. But one of the keys – where sales management and operations have to really perform – is in technology solution choice. Select a sales technology that’s hard to use, incomplete or lacking in value to the individual sales person and you’ll pay with low adoption rates and a disastrous ROI evaluation. Make a choice with the sales team’s needs and the business’s desired outcomes as the dominant criteria and you’ll do far better. And if you’re looking into next-generation technologies – IoT, A/I, machine learning and the like – you’ll also need to develop a compelling storyline to sell these concepts to your sales team so each member internalizes the value of these concepts and understands how they will help them sell more and bring home bigger commissions checks.

This dovetails with something explored in the 2015 report: the value of a defined and well-communicated sales process. When companies develop this and obtain buy-in from the sales force, it’s a powerful driver of results: half (50.9 percent ) of the top 10 percent reported sales process adoption rates of 75 percent or better, while 37.6 percent of the bottom 30 percent could say the same thing. Training around a process and sharing best practices works – it’s all about the idea of making more of your “B” players into “A” players by directing them to use a process proven to work.

These are three vital areas that sales managers need to focus on in order to create great sales teams – and keep them great over time. At Dreamforce 2016, we’ll address these issues and others directly in a session called “3 Ways to Make Your Sales Teams Great Again,” featuring sales managers from several CallidusCloud customers who consistently crush their quotas. They’ll provide practical advice, and CallidusCloud will offer suggestions for solutions, both for today and for the near future. It’ll be in the Yerba Buena Center for the arts on October 5 at 11:30 – I hope to see you there!

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