For many in the Cloud, Q1 has just finished - how was it for you? Hearing guidance from many public companies, you can see that many are guiding down on growth, but hey - they’re still growing right? What’s even more interesting is the declining number of quota carriers who are making their number, by my estimate now below 40%. Or even more startling, over 96% of revenue is generated by under 50% of the sales team!
For many tenured sales people you may look at these numbers and shrug - that’s just the way it works. But in these turbulent times, for those in younger private companies this level of productivity often comes as a brutal shock. And an often very expensive shock.
We at Notion have talked about the high failure rate of Sales leaders in venture backed companies, with latest figures showing you may hire this role around 3 times before your B round, and before you feel you got it right. This move from PMF (Product-Market-Fit) to GTMF (Go-to-Market Fit) often leads to founders having to accept some uncomfortable truths about selling - not everybody makes their number and that’s normal. As you scale your sales teams, a savvy sales leader will always build in failure, seasonality, new hire ramp, slipped deals if they're really smart, attrition.
As an individual contributor, you also have to be savvy. Knowing your comp plan and what success looks like is vital. What’s in my number, do I get renewals, and expansion, and cross-sells, and geo splits as well as the new logo sales? Right now many sales people are living off renewals and expansions, with new logo acquisition tough. But that may well be ok, to ride out the storm, keep our top customers and grow them. Always take time to step out of your comp plan and see the bigger picture of what’s important to the company - focus, focus, focus.
So how do I look at this as a founder - how can I build for success? First and foremost, accept that not everyone will succeed and hit their number. This is where layering comes in, and the buffers between layers of your sales org. If you roll-up the numbers at individual contributor level then multiply by the average performance then how much buffer do you need? If you now have multiple levels it’s not unusual to build in 25% buffer at each level. Think about CROs at large public companies, they will have enough buffer to average down the cumulative rep’s quota’s such that hitting the average 40% attainment is a win for them. So what can you afford - over assignment at the IC level, or hiring more people, or raising targets … it’s hard to deny the performance stats. If you want to show you’re building a repeatable and scalable sales org you need to be repeatable before you’re scalable. Or put another way, don’t scale it until you nail it!
And how about those long tenured sales contributors who always hit it - are they really your superstars? Well, maybe. Long tenure often means they’ve built up a great book of business, and had the good fortune to be around when accounts were free and abundant. Why would you ever take an account off a well performing sales person? Well first there’s fairness, and the ability for new hires to have a warm pipeline and the opportunity to refresh relationships and get on the scoreboard quickly. But it’s also about productivity, and how many accounts a sales person can truly be handling at any time. Imagine if your sales ‘superstar’ was spread so thinly that they lost a big account without ever knowing it was even happening. Those are the absolute worst, and again it comes back to focus, focus, focus.
So how was your Q1 - was it as you forecast? Now is the time to look at the year ahead and make those changes and tweaks, especially if your pipeline moves in the usual 6 month increments. Most importantly, are you embracing the cold hard facts of sales and your stats of performance. Never stop investing in your people, their skills and competencies and the wins in productivity that brings. But ignore your historical sales productivity and performance at your peril.