Sales Design Thinking to Solve Quota-Setting Issues During COVID-19

by Mark Donnolo

In my latest book, Quotas! Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Sales Challenge, I introduce Sales Design Thinking, a problem-solving methodology adapted from the world of engineering and design. Sales Design Thinking takes the mystery out of setting and achieving challenging sales goals. The book describes three dimensions of quota setting: People, Sales Capacity, and Market Opportunity. While these are still the pivot points around which solving quota problems revolve, they have all been dramatically impacted by COVID-19. Complex B2B sales, for example have shifted from the field to the home office, which even under the best of circumstances can temporarily sidetrack and distract reps. Meanwhile, some products are flying off the shelves thanks to high demand while others have slowed to a trickle or stopped altogether. While most industries are expected to rebound, not all companies will—and those that do will not return to normal on the same schedule. If your company supplies hospitals, your sales reps may have been setting records during the lockdown. On the other hand, if you service the restaurant industry, your sales team was more likely to have spent the past three months baking bread, learning to knit, or home-schooling their kids.

Sales leaders may be tempted to lower quotas across the board for products and services that have been negatively affected by the pandemic. No one wants reps to miss their goals and take a hit for something that was beyond their control. But before you think about lowering the annual quota, take a look at how this quota-setting problem can be addressed with Sales Design Thinking. One alternative is not to change the quota, but to push it out with a new seasonality later in the year. This allows time for future adjustments. Yet, only 9% of the businesses we surveyed told us that they were doing this—and just 14% say they had even considered it.

This blog post cannot answer the question of whether an organization should or should not shift out the sales goals. But we can help you arrive at a solution vision to motivate your company to meet its financial requirements around revenue and cost of sales. To give this vision some structure, let’s run the problem through the five phases of Sales Design Thinking and see how the methodology applies to quota issues related to COVID-19.

Articulate the Problem Statement. The problem statement probably sounds something like this: “Sales reps could not sell for three months. They won’t hit their numbers and it’s not their fault, so we need to cut their quotas.”

Redefine the Challenge Question by Understanding the Story. Here you’ll need to take a deep dive into your business and the unique challenges faced by you and by your customers during the lockdown. What is each customer’s story? How have their businesses been affected? Based on all the knowns, how soon can you reasonably expect their volume to return to pre-COVID levels? Once those levels return (if they do), will your company have all the resources required to return to business as usual? If not, then when can that be expected? Finding answers to these questions may require research, calls to suppliers, calls to customers, and checking in with sales reps. Once you know the answers you can better pose your challenge question, which could be something like “If we were to maintain the quotas but push them out three months, can we expect customers to return to pre-COVID levels of business so that reps could actually make their numbers?”

Think Horizontally and Combine Parallels. Here’s where you brainstorm. With answers to your questions in hand, start throwing ideas out there. Talk. Debate. Drill down. Will the sales organization have the capacity to sell at pre-COVID levels and make up for lost sales during the lockdown? If so, how? What’s the plan? You may want to review sales forecasts mid-year with an opportunity to change quotas. Look at affected business lines with a higher potential of decrease or increase against quota. Some organizations in fast-moving markets already do this as part of their governance. For those firms, COVID-19 may end up being just another seasonal issue—albeit a bigger one than usual. In this “think out of the box” stage of Sales Design Thinking, every idea should be on the table.

Develop Vertically. Now that you have a range of options, you can narrow them down through further discussion. Having researched market opportunity and having a handle on sales capacity and people, you should have a pretty good idea of what is possible. If shifting the quota out makes sense, then you and your team will know it. There should be broad agreement because everyone will have had a voice in the decision-making.

Manage Change. Different organizations will be faced with varying degrees of change. You may need to make adjustments so that the sales reps can go out and start working toward that shifted quota. For example, the sale team may need extra support, or you may need to reallocate territories. Ask what changes need to occur for the sales organization to have the best chance of returning to the sales levels that your research found were possible. Then, make those changes and monitor the progress.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to problems related to quota attainment during COVID-19, Sales Design Thinking provides a structure and a methodology to help organizations ask the right questions, discuss all possible approaches, narrow down the options, and identify a solution.

 

____

This article was originally published via LinkedIn Pulse on 22 June 2020.