Dealing With The Pressure Of Hitting Your Number

Like many jobs, sales leadership can be quite stressful. Success in many ways is binary. You set a goal at the beginning of a period and you either hit it or you miss it. Lots of jobs don't have that level of clarity around success or failure. In sales you can’t hide. There’s no grey area.

This kind of pressure isn't easy to deal with. Here are some of the things I've picked up over the years to make the stress a bit more manageable.

1/ First and foremost, set goals that are attainable and that you believe in. Don’t let finance or your CEO or your board dictate the number for you. You have to believe you can hit the number.

2/ Have your own financial model and forecast. Your finance team and others will have their own models. Have your own as well. Ideally, the elements of the model will consider the following assumptions: 1.) quotas by role 2.) headcount and hiring plan 3.) ramp-up time for new reps 4.) quota attainment % and 5.) rep turnover rate. If you have 10 ramped-up reps with a reasonable quota of $250k and, on average, the team hits 80% of quota then you should be comfortable with a $2MM quota. The math isn’t hard. The hard part is getting comfortable with each of the above assumptions. And that takes time. I'd encourage you to create some slack around your assumptions while you're still figuring out how accurate they are.

3/ In the early days, you won’t have any of those assumptions. You’ll have to calculate your target from a bottoms-up perspective; e.g. what you can accomplish based on current pipeline and your current understanding of deals are likely to close. This means you’ll have to set shorter term targets (monthly or quarterly instead of annual).

4/ Approach your job as a police investigator would approach an investigation. Always look for clues as to what’s working and what’s not working. Create your own dashboard in your CRM that shows you what's happening in real-time. The dashboard should include things like revenue, opportunities created, pipeline dollars created, speed to close, etc. All of these reports can be broken down by sales stage, rep, market and customer segment. Watch these numbers on a daily basis and have a borderline obsession with what's happening. Find the bottlenecks. Write up and document wins and learnings every week and have your team do the same. Those tools will give you the clues you need to track down what things you should do more of and what things you need to change. I’ve written a bit about pipeline management here, here and here.

5/ Create a weekly meeting where you review the learnings and findings above and invite your sales leadership. The topic of the meeting is one thing: are we going to hit our number? Don’t leave that meeting until you have consensus on that answer. And if the answer is “no” then get consensus on what’s going to be done that week to get back on track.

6/ Be as transparent as possible with leadership and your board. Think of this as a see-saw. When you’re on track to hit your number, the see-saw goes to the left (numbers up, need for transparency down). When you're not on track, the see-saw goes to the right (numbers down, need for transparency up). When things aren't working people want to know why. Don't wait for them to ask.

7/ Build a process around how you update various stakeholders (weekly meetings, email status updates, pipeline reports, deal reviews, etc.). Again, be proactive on this. Nobody should have to ask for these updates. Make sure people are getting what they need.

8/ Learn from others that have the same challenges. Some sales books and blogs are great but I've found sales and sales leadership podcasts to be the most effective way to get smarter about this topic. Listening to an actual person that does what you do is a great way to gain insights and generate ideas for what you and your team can improve. Check out a couple here and here.

9/ Finally, and most importantly, take care of yourself. Create healthy habits and get more aggressive about following those habits when the pressure increases. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Drink lots of water. Exercise. I also encourage meditation. I'm not as consistent with meditation as I could be but there's no doubt mindfulness gives you important perspective on the pressure you’re under. I use the Calm app and love it. Again, I've found that doing all of these things is more important when the pressure increases. When you're feeling good no problem is insurmountable.