The Tugboat Vs The Lighthouse: Beating Barriers To Quota Attainment

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks
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As a sales professional and more importantly an entrepreneur for most of my professional career, I have had a number of times where I wasn’t going to hit quota. That meant my business wasn’t going to hit quota either.

I’ve come to learn the difference between making and not making quota is agility. Agility on myself as a leader, and on myself as a sales professional. My entire sales force must embrace agility to make pivots in a particular quarter to align to the company’s objectives.

Many organizations will take the path of recognizing certain sales professionals will not hit quota, and then throughout the year, will actually let go of that person. This creates a giant hole in that geographic or industry territory, which the company will then look to fill back. The new fresh sales professional, which hopefully will have greater performance than the one they replaced, logically, won’t be wrapped up in time to be able to hit this year’s quota.

Maybe it’s because I have to look at this as a small business owner, I have to look at this as “I cannot miss quota,” I do not have the luxury of being a public company with an endless supply of working capital. What I’m saying is, it might not be the sales professional’s fault. It might be a problem with your indicators.

We’ve grown this business organically, so I’ve recognized the importance of two key indicators that need to be outlined to keep this business growing.

It takes some time as an entrepreneur to identify what are the indicators of success and insurance of hitting quota. Whether you’re running a big or small market, enterprise or startup organization, the same indicators have to be developed and monitored on a weekly basis so that you can make fast pivots at the end of Q-1 or the beginning of Q-2. And so you can throw accelerant on the organization to hit quota.

Midterm Leading Indicator

For my company, one midterm leading indicator is the creation of sales qualified leads or sales qualified opportunities. Every week, there is a report that we use and we segment into our four lead sources. We create new opportunities in four different ways:

  1. Through our channels,

  2. Through our inbound demand generation,

  3. Through our outbound account based marketing and,

  4. Through customer referral and customer uplift.

So we’ve got a picture of pie chart, and not every slice is equal. Remember some leads come in unexpectedly, like for example our demand-gen last quarter produced 40% of all of our lead sources.

But the important reason why you have to create this as a leading indicator is to understand the importance and delicate balance of creating lead sources from a variety of different sources. This means not being self-reliant on the two most common indicators, the sales qualified lead or sales qualified opportunity sources.

Many mid-market and enterprise companies concentrate on sales-rep driven sales qualified leads. This is scary because we live in a world where sales professionals are finding diminishing return on investments over the phone, and so many have not become industry experts in their geographic market or industry. They can barely be found online!

To steal a quote from Grant Cardone, “[sales professionals] are not lighthouses who wait for leads and opportunities within the territory, they are tugboats.” They’re constantly pull, pull, pulling in new leads, as opposed to waiting for the leads to find them.

This takes marketing to create leads, and sales to follow through with them.

Channel Indicator

I’ve met multiple organizations where 75, 80, 90% of all of their net new leads and opportunities are generated through channel partners. And channel partners are fantastic because they create new opportunities, or help break into markets or industries you may not have a ton of experience and/or knowledge with.

The channel are companies that don’t work within your business necessarily and you have less control over that lead flow. And sometimes it can be fickle it can come on one month, come off the next.

From an indicator standpoint, every single week you need to check in with a sales leader. As the leader of the company, I have to know where we’re creating our new opportunities and leads.

Now, I mentioned we have four sources, but are we improving the ratio of each? Are we improving the volume, velocity, and probabilities of lead sources?

We’re constantly measuring not only our percentages of sales qualified leads that are turning to customers, but we’re also measuring the four different sources that create those sales qualified leads. And do they have greater volumes, velocity and probabilities than other sources? Should we deploy resources to one more than the other based on that conversion?

This is like a health check. I send the report companywide Monday mornings, because it’s an indicator on the business six months to one year from now. It gives the team an understanding of what or where are we going based on future opportunity.

Social And Digital Indicators  

If you don’t fix the problem of being the tugboat versus the lighthouse, if you don’t have your sales team and marketing team sitting together aligning and figuring out how to better speak to the customer where they are doing due diligence, which is online, you don’t stand a chance.

Look at Corporate Vision’s statistic that 74% of deals are awarded to the sales professional that has first arrived at valuable insight. In this light, the long-term barrier to quota attainment is going to be that your sales team has not become a distribution army of great insights, best practices, and thought leadership from the market, and providing it to your customer to help shape their journey.

They key here is to get your customer to think of your business long-term as a valuable resource to solving their problem.

Your sales army needs to soak up not only awareness, but eventually market share. Your ultimate leading indicator long-term is not even just the sales qualified lead or the sales qualified opportunity. It goes even farther back to original leads. It goes back to even maybe before sales qualified, the sales accepted lead, or even the creations of leads themselves. The only way your business is going to improve is, especially from demand generation standpoint, understanding how social and digital can dramatically impact the lead flow.

Measure the change in the velocity of deals, the volume of deals, and the probability at which they close; place digital assets in the market, and those buyers consuming those assets, download them, forward them throughout the office, creating what we call a content consumption story. Now customers will come back to your organization, check out your website and download future insights. Now you’re helping them arm themselves with information to make informed decisions.

You’re only going to the content consumption story if sales and marketing get in the room and become better aligned—not only on the creation of great insights, but on how to also measure their impact. How do we understand that when a sales professional is sharing content from your employee advocacy tool we can track in real time buyers are consuming that content, and it’s helping them along their journey?

SiriusDecisions recently found when B2B companies align sales, marketing and product functions they achieve 19% faster revenue growth and 15% higher profitability.

If you start improving the rate at which buyers are consuming your insights, you start seeing the shift from increasing not only market awareness, but ultimately long-term by overtaking market share. Because you take over mindshare first and then you take over market share.


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