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How to answer quota attainment question during interview?

Any suggestions on how to best answer questions about quota attainment when your (and your team overall) quota attainment percentage is less than stellar? I have two years of experience in B2B sales (SaaS industry) and have worked at two different companies. Both of which had dismally low percentages of AE's obtaining quota due to a number of factors. If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn't have accepted these offers (hindsight makes 20/20). Now I'm completely terrified when this question is asked during an interview because it truly feels like a make-or-break question. I now feel like I'm facing a tough uphill battle.

For my circumstances, I think I need to think of answering this question through the lens of both objection prevention and objection handling. I know I could achieve quota success under the right circumstances. One indication being that on both of these teams, I've achieved the highest demo closed/won rate. I would really appreciate any suggestions on how to best craft an answer to this question.

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    • 2
      Profile picture of Sam.Schooley
      @sam-schooley
      ( 581 POINTS )
      8 months, 3 weeks ago

      You have two options:
      -Lie, and hope they never find out. If they do, you’ll be fired instantly/not hired/potentially black balled
      -Be honest, and explain. A good VP of Sales knows people miss. The job market is so hot right now that people are willing to bet on a previously struggling candidate with the right recipe for success.

      I’d personally go for option 2. Also, get creative about how you present. You could say
      -35% of goal

      or you could say

      -Average team performance = 25%, I performed at 35%

      and that shows that while you missed, THE ENTIRE TEAM was set up for failure.

      It might help to look at historics/averages/how you placed, and present it in that way.

      Most leaders appreciate honesty.

      Also…. everyone misses quota 🙂

      • 0
        Profile picture of Lena Combes
        @contrary1
        ( 1k POINT )
        8 months, 3 weeks ago

        @sam-schooley I’m definitely in favor of option two as well. I agree that honesty is always the best policy!

    • 0
      Profile picture of Mike Leader
      @docfuzion
      ( 511 POINTS )
      8 months, 3 weeks ago

      Anytime this is asked in an interview, you’re being tested. They’ll know if you’re lying to them…the numbers don’t matter. Instead, TELL A STORY ABOUT HOW YOU HIT YOUR GOAL They want to know you can do the work…and they can’t ever call and ask about your job performance from a former employer outside of if they’d hire you again…so that data shouldn’t ever be in their hands.

      Always tell a story about yourself and your successes…you’re a salesperson, sell yourself. 🙂

      • 0
        Profile picture of Lena Combes
        @contrary1
        ( 1k POINT )
        8 months, 3 weeks ago

        hmm…that’s an interesting way of approaching it @docfuzion. I’ll have to give this some real thought. I have tried in the past to avoid giving actual numbers, but sometimes the interviewer will still push for specific numbers. So perhaps I could implement a strategy where I share the success I had in meeting my goal, and then if they push, then provide specific numbers as @sam-schooley suggested to me.

        • 0
          Profile picture of Mike Leader
          @docfuzion
          ( 511 POINTS )
          8 months, 3 weeks ago

          Here’s the thing. Keep the numbers handy, because some poor interviewers and management will ask about them anyway. Focus on your successes, “in a down market, where my peers were hitting 30% to goal, I was still averaging 58%” for example. When they ask you why you’re looking to leave your current position and transfer companies, tell them the truth… that where you’re working now isn’t as future-facing as you’d like it to be, and that you want to be enabled to success.

          It’s always about how you choose to shape that conversation…do you control it, or do you let the interviewer needle you into a hole? You’re a salesperson! Sell yourself! 🙂

    • 1
      Profile picture of Brady@Wednesday
      @bradywednesday
      ( 235 POINTS )
      8 months, 3 weeks ago

      When I’m interviewing candidates I usually ask about quota attainment as well as quota attainment relevant to peers. If you are the top rep, that matters to me. That said, I would also take into account your relative tenure against the team. I’d also consider staying in your current role for another year as two 1 year stints as a rep signal that either you are worried about being let go because your attainment is below quota and/or poor relative to peers, or that there is a lack of grit and resilience needed to push through a difficult first year that is required to build a sustainable multi-year platform for hitting and outperforming against quota.

      • 0
        Profile picture of Lena Combes
        @contrary1
        ( 1k POINT )
        8 months, 3 weeks ago

        Thanks for sharing your insight @bradywednesday. I would agree that it would be ideal to remain at this company for some time. However, it’s not an option. This is a seed-funded startup. Since I started a year ago, we’ve lost over 60 percent of our sales team, including being without sales and marketing leadership for two quarters. The only remaining reps are the tenured reps. A big part of the problem is that we just don’t have enough leads to support the team (combined with other struggles such as not having an effective go-to-market plan and loss of our product team). No rep has achieved quota the entire year. Any thoughts on the significance of this to an interviewer and how I could go about sharing this important context?

        • 2
          Profile picture of Brady@Wednesday
          @bradywednesday
          ( 235 POINTS )
          8 months, 3 weeks ago

          I think being open and sharing that context would go a long way. Just be sure to also talk about how you are looking for a place to grow long term and address the fact that you have had consecutive short tenures. I’d also note that there is an expectation from a lot of sales leaders that reps build a significant share of their own funnel anywhere from 33-50% in some cases (depends on go-to-market strategy). As such, be mindful of listing “lack of leads” because it can be a sign that reps don’t want to put int the time to do their own lead gen.

    • 0
      Profile picture of Anna Britnor Guest
      @annabg
      ( 516 POINTS )
      8 months, 2 weeks ago

      Hi Lena
      Good advice here already and I’d add / reinforce a couple of things.
      1. Be honest and clear on your numbers. Performance against peers is a clearer indicator than just performance so use the metrics that show this. Overall clarity about your numbers is important to show you understand their importance
      2. Many salespeople find it hard to articulate their sales methodology or framework – a lot has evolved as ‘intuition’ or gut-feel. If you can describe your repeatable sales process and methodology that will help you to explain how you believe that will make you successful in the right environment and also explain where and why things have been going wrong in your current role.
      3. I agree with the comment about not blaming the company for a lack of leads. Without ‘blame’ talk objectively about where the blockers to success are and what you would do to remove them if you could. Show you have a wider understanding of business here.
      4. Be really clear on what the ‘failure’ has taught you and how you’ll avoid getting in that situation again. Interviewers will appreciate someone who can learn from what goes wrong and change their approach.
      5. Finally, ask probing questions about quota attainment, sales processes and sales strategy (how do they plan to make their targets), funding etc of your potential employers so you don’t end up back in a similar place. Make sure you’re convinced they can deliver for you as much as you can deliver for them before accepting an offer.
      I hope that helps and good luck!
      Anna

      • 0
        Profile picture of Lena Combes
        @contrary1
        ( 1k POINT )
        8 months, 2 weeks ago

        This is really helpful @annabg. I’m going to find this very useful in crafting my response to this question. Thank you for breaking this down in such a comprehensive manner. Really good stuff!

        • 0
          Profile picture of Anna Britnor Guest
          @annabg
          ( 516 POINTS )
          8 months, 2 weeks ago

          You’re very welcome, Lena, and good luck with the job hunting! I’m happy to help further if you need a sounding board. Post back here to let us know how you get on.

    • 0
      Profile picture of VinceK
      @vincek
      ( 225 POINTS )
      8 months, 2 weeks ago

      That type of question immediately tells me the employer could and likely will be unreasonable about their quota expectations in relation to their marketing efforts.

      If they have a marketing/sales system that consistently produces some level of predictable results, they’ll know what to expect from you – in general. If you don’t live up the that expectation within a time period, using a system they’ve seen work time and again, they will boot you anyway.

      MY response…
      ________________________________
      My results in producing to an expected quota has varied. I’ve struggled in cases where the marketing and lead gen efforts are weak or non-existent. I’ve had companies tell me they have a strong marketing department, only to find out that their sales staff do more hunting than what the opportunities their marketing creates. So yes, in all honesty, when I as a sales person have to do the marketing for a company to find opportunities, AND do the sales, too, it’s a challenge. I’ve definitely produced results in those situations, but when I’ve been forced to be a marketer and a sales person, my focus and time is divided. there’s just no way to avoid it.

      On the other hand, when I’ve worked for companies that truly have a productive marketing department and staff, and get a chance to work with them in helping to make sure we get the right message to the right market in the right way, I’ve done dramatically better in hitting quotas and targets.

      I’ve worked for a company that determined quotas based on sales from the previous decade – when they were hitting their best-ever numbers – even though their current market demands and competition had changed dramatically in ten years. I’ve also worked for companies that pull their quotas out of thin air in an attempt feed a need to keep shareholders happy – where it’s realistic or not.

      How are your quotas determined here?
      _______________________________________

      As you might gather, when I get certain questions asked certain ways, it’s usually an indicator of a job I don’t really want. Sales HAS to do their job. Marketing HAS to do its job. BOTH need to work together with strict quotas are expected to be achieved.

      You hire me for sales, don’t force me to do your marketing, too. You want me to do your marketing? I’m not your sales staff.

      In either case, the two departments need to be working together, not blaming each other, but helping each other get better and be more effective for each other and themselves.

      After having jobs that were unbearably pressured with impossible and conflicting demands, I learned to never go after a job you must have or can’t live without. You have to be willing to stand up and walk out, knowing you didn’t compromise your integrity. Always be looking for your next job as long as you depend on an employer for your survival.

      • 0
        Profile picture of Lena Combes
        @contrary1
        ( 1k POINT )
        6 months, 3 weeks ago

        @vincek Thank you so much for responding to my message. I apologize. I’m just now seeing your response after returning to this thread in preparation for an upcoming interview. It sounds like you have a lot of sales experience under your belt and have gained some impeccable insight! You’ve given me a lot to think about as I work on revising my answer to this question, and more importantly, continue my search for my next opportunity. Thank you!

    • 0
      Profile picture of Colin Campbell
      @colin-campbell
      ( 13.4k POINTS )
      3 months, 2 weeks ago

      Just stumbled on this question and thread – some great thoughts here. Especially loved @sam-schooley‘s take. Nice and straightforward.

      Also thought I should share this article for the managers who are debating whether they should even ask this question.

      https://www.saleshacker.com/past-quota-attainment/

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