Stop Asking About Past Quota Attainment in Sales Interviews

If a salesperson hit quota at their last job, they’re much more likely to hit quota at your organization, right?

Not so fast.

According to statistics from our sales professional user base here at RepVue, only 46.7% of sales professionals globally are achieving quota. And it’s even fewer in software sales organizations.

It turns out that quota attainment has become the exception, not the rule.

So that tried and true approach of, “Walk me through your attainment over the past few years,” is not only uncomfortable, it can turn the interview into a dance of half-truths and excuses.

And that’s not where hiring managers should be spending their time during the candidate evaluation process.

Where Hiring Managers Get Off-Base

As someone who has hired sales professionals for over 15 years — both as a sales leader/hiring manager, as well as a consultant helping start-ups with their early-stage sales hires — I made the decision a while back to stop asking candidates about their quota attainment in prior roles.

I didn’t make this decision because quota information was difficult to get. And it wasn’t because I believed they didn’t achieve quota if it wasn’t on their resume. I stopped asking because of a more important reason: I don’t care if the candidate hit quota in their last job.

That’s right. I don’t care. And if you’re a hiring manager, you shouldn’t care either.

The Question of Quota

In today’s market, if a candidate missed quota in their most recent sales role, it likely doesn’t have much, if any, bearing on whether they can hit quota in the role they’re applying for.

What hiring managers should care about is if they can hit quota in THIS job.

So, hiring managers, let’s stop wasting time trying to determine if the candidate hit quota in the past. Put all of your effort and energy into something much more important — asking questions to determine if the candidate has the potential hit quota in this, their potential future role.

This task isn’t easy, but if you truly believe the candidate’s selling skills are a fit for your organization, you’re already doing better than most hiring organizations. And if you can find that perfect fit, they’ll likely be set up to crush their quota in your organization regardless of whether they hit quota in the past.

6 Key Fit Factors When Hiring for Sales

So, how do you uncover if that perfect fit between the candidate and your organization exists? Let’s start with 6 critical fit factors that you can dig into during the interview process.

Is the role primarily an outbound or cold-calling role?

If you ask your new hire to make 60 cold calls a day when they’ve never made more than five in the past, they’re going to have a hard time succeeding.

How does the candidate’s sales methodology align with the vision of sales leadership? Does the candidate subscribe to, or have they been trained in, any specific sales methodologies? Their sales style should fit with the culture and vision your sales leadership is trying to instill.

How transactional is your sales process? A highly successful sales professional, closing 3 deals for $250k per year, may struggle transitioning to hitting that same size quota via 40 deals with a much smaller AOV. The deal cadence, or pipeline velocity, needs to fit what the candidate is comfortable with.

How does the candidate learn? Do you have a training program that will support them in the way they prefer to learn?

Is there an issue between big company vs. start-up dynamics? Many candidates who thrive in the chaotic world of a start-up would run screaming for the exit after a week at a company with 5,000 reps. And the same goes for a candidate who’s used to the formal structure of that 5,000-rep sales organization. They will struggle as the first sales hire for your start-up.

What about inside vs. outside sales? Has the candidate only thrived in roles where they’re in front of the customer or prospect? If your process is primarily phone-based, that’s potentially an issue. They should have experience in the type of selling you focus on.

It’s important to remember that if there isn’t a fit for some or all of these factors, it doesn’t make this sales professional a bad hire. However, they may certainly be a bad hire for YOUR organization.

There will always be areas that you’ll need to compromise on, but don’t rush to fit a square peg in a round hole. Know what those areas of concern are upfront, be open about them, and manage against them.

On the flip side, it’s as important for the candidate to deeply understand your organization as it is for you to understand the candidate. This can only happen when the hiring organization and manager practice extreme transparency during the interview process.

How to Discover “Fit”

The first place to start is to allow more time for questions in all phases of the interview. Try setting aside a separate call for key candidates for THEM to ask questions.

Provide important resources up front, after the candidate gets to a certain stage of the process, like:

  • A sample comp plan structure
  • An org chart
  • Details on territories
  • Quota capacity vs. TAM

All of this information is designed to allow the hiring manager AND the sales professional to determine if they’ll be successful in that role, hit their targets, and advance their career. Both parties need to be equally confident that this partnership will work out, as both parties have a lot at stake.

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