How to Bounce Back After Missing Quota
Every sales rep knows what it’s like to have a bad day or two, but what happens when that bad day becomes a bad month, and then a bad quarter? Michael Katz knows — he lived through it three years ago.
He was working at the real-estate software firm Boston Logic Technology Partners. He’d never had trouble reaching his quota before, but something was off heading into the second quarter of his second year with the company. It may have been a canceled deal that knocked him off his game, or perhaps he had just gotten too comfortable.
“All of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh shit, it’s the end of the quarter,’ and there was no business.”
What followed were the worst three months of Katz’s career. Deals he’d normally close slipped through his fingers, outreach became an exercise in futility and each day was a struggle. Before he knew it, the quarter was over, and he’d reached just 20 percent of his quota.
“I don’t remember the specifics of what was happening because it all moved very fast. It was a fast three months with really long days,” said Katz, who now works for Recapped. “All of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh shit, it’s the end of the quarter,’ and there was no business.”
It nearly cost him his job, and for most reps, that’s how the story ends. Instead, Katz’s manager, Erik Poje, stepped in.
When a quarter like that happens, it’s rarely just the salesperson’s fault, said Poje, who was director of sales at the time. He shouldered much of the blame for not stepping in sooner to assist Katz and for failing to put the right processes in place to help him succeed.
So, rather than place Katz on a performance improvement plan or under more pressure, he took the time to work with him. Together, they charted a turnaround that taught them more than any quota-crushing quarter could.
How to Recover After Missing Quota
- Don’t put all the pressure on closing one large deal. Have a backup plan in case a sale doesn’t work out.
- Take a step back and reassess your sales tactics with a manager. Breaking up the routine will help you see your bad habits more clearly.
- Focus on sales processes, not outcomes. Create an action plan with tangible goals for each step in the sales process.
- Be vulnerable with your manager and ask for help. Use them as a sounding board for challenging deals.
- Remember to take time for yourself. Caring for yourself and taking short breaks are just as important as your sales motions.
This story is part of an ongoing series about sales quotas.
What Went Wrong
When Katz reflects on his nightmarish quarter, it’s hard for him to pinpoint one thing that went wrong.
In some ways, it felt like it came out of nowhere.
Poje had worked with Katz at a previous tech company, and he brought him in to be a leader on the growing sales team at Boston Logic Technology Partners. Katz had hit the ground running and never struggled to hit quota during his first year, but that may have also been the beginning of his struggles.
There’s comfort in success, Katz said. He may have let his attention to details in the sales process slide, resulting in a lighter pipeline than usual. Then there was the customer from the previous quarter who canceled its deal, which put more pressure on him to succeed.
“It’s one of the downfalls of success...you get comfortable,” Katz said. “If you’re not pushing all of the time, that can be a part of it, as well.”
In sales, when one thing goes wrong, it can quickly snowball, Poje said. Every rep carries a lot of pressure to hit their quota, and each rejection magnifies that pressure. After a while, they can start to dwell on the outcomes rather than the processes.
That’s what Poje believes Katz started doing, he said. Whenever a rep starts struggling, they’re typically pressing customers to close deals and holding onto clients for too long. They also bank on making up their quota deficits with larger transactions — without a backup plan when those don’t work out.
“I teach a concept of high-to-low sales. In other words, you kick in the door and then close with a whisper,” Poje said. “In this case, Michael may have been doing it in reverse.”
Katz also stopped taking time to do things he enjoyed and started to feel like his sales activities didn’t have a clear purpose — both signs of a rep who’s lost their way.
This is where Poje also took blame for not supporting Katz sooner. For starters, Poje assumed Katz didn’t need any assistance after getting off to a fast start. So, he stopped checking in with him as often and missed the signs of struggle until it was too late.
“I have to take care of all my reps, not just manage the number.”
Poje realized he needed to get back to a systems-oriented approach with his team. The more structured the sales process — with KPIs for each step — the less likely Katz would have been to enter the quarter with a weaker pipeline or lose his way.
While the sales team hit its quota for the quarter, Poje felt responsible for Katz’s struggles. It was on him to put a system in place to help all reps succeed, not just the ones who are doing well.
“I have to take care of all my reps, not just manage the number,” Poje said. “I have to give everyone an equal shot.”
Inspiration and Support
Like any good comeback story, Katz’s bounce-back quarter started with a pep talk.
Part of the job of a sales manager is to know what buttons to press to motivate reps at their lowest moments, Poje said. For some hyper-competitive personalities, that could mean challenging them to do better in front of everyone. Katz, meanwhile, needed to know someone was in his corner and that he had a larger goal to work toward.
“I recall a switch going off in his head like a fighter slowly getting his game and swagger back.”
So, Poje sat him down and laid out the situation. He told Katz he’d had a bad quarter, so bad that the CEO wanted to fire him. Let it sting, he told him, but don’t let happen again. Then, he mapped out the opportunity in front of Katz: He could either prove the CEO wrong and take the next leap in his career or quit.
“I recall a switch going off in his head like a fighter slowly getting his game and swagger back,” Poje said.
What Poje made sure not to tell Katz to do was work harder. He’s had plenty of managers tell him to work harder during low moments, and it never works, he said. In this case, Katz was already working long hours. What most struggling reps need is a full reset.
“When things are wrong, you have to freeze,” Poje said. “We went in and assessed his tactics.”
And that was the second act of Katz’s comeback story.
Go Back to the Basics
After resetting the situation, Poje sat with Katz and created an action plan.
They built the plan around the OGSM framework, which stands for objectives, goals, strategy and metrics. The objective was for Katz to have a bounce-back quarter, and his goal was to book $150,000 to $200,000 in revenue.
For strategy, they wrote that he’d make more prospecting calls and schedule more demos, and they outlined how he’d find those customers.
The crux of the action plan came down to the metrics. Based on Katz’s average deal size, they outlined how many opportunities he needed to have in his pipeline. They then boiled it down even further to a tangible weekly goal: Book three demos a week.
“It’s not just saying, ‘You’ve got to be more process-oriented. Focus on execution,’” Poje said. “We took the time, and I showed him a plan I had written for other reps, and he just actually did it.”
Katz credits much of his bounce-back to this plan. He kept a physical copy of it on his desk and eventually used a whiteboard to move deals through the pipeline. It helped to take his focus off his quota number and put it on activities he could control each week.
“You can’t do this without a great manager. If you don’t have somebody in your corner helping you, believing in you and working with you, then it’s impossible.”
That’s something that has stuck with him throughout his career.
“It was really a fanatical focus on the process,” Katz said. “It’s as simple as, ‘I need to move through these motions and not skip any steps to accelerate the deal.’”
Poje’s support didn’t end there. He also sat in on phone calls with Katz and provided constructive feedback after every call. Katz was able to use him as a sounding board to confirm whether a deal was progressing well or if he had missed a warning sign. This helped him break some of his bad habits like holding onto customers for too long and assuming he had a deal when he really didn’t.
After months of struggle, Katz had stopped trusting his instincts. Having Poje on hand helped him regain that confidence.
“You can’t do this without a great manager,” Katz said. “If you don’t have somebody in your corner helping you, believing in you and working with you, then it’s impossible.”
While Poje provided the support, Katz still had to be willing to go back to the basics and do the work. His dedication to the process was a big reason he was able to get his career back on track.
“It’s recognizing when you need help and being vulnerable to ask for help,” Katz said. “It’s something I’ve carried with me since. It’s really about owning your own success and development.”
Take a Break
The final step in Katz’s bounce-back was to take care of his emotional health.
While action plans and motivational speeches can help, it doesn’t help if the rep is pressing too hard and burning themselves out. So, Poje made sure Katz was taking care of himself. He’d remind Katz to put down his phone in the evening and go to his yoga class; they set a standing time to step away from the desk to toss a football around outside.
“It’s the balance of not just focusing on one thing, because this job can be all-encompassing.”
The common reaction for most reps during a period of struggle is to keep working harder, but that’s not always the best solution. This experience has taught Katz that it’s OK to step away, reset your mind and take care of your body. In fact, that’s just as important as making phone calls or sending emails.
“It’s the balance of not just focusing on one thing, because this job can be all-encompassing,” he said.
Katz went on to crush his quota the next two quarters and finish the year 20 percent over his annual target.
Whenever he struggles now, he remembers a poem by Andrew Barton that Poje often quoted during their time together:
I am hurt, but I am not slain / I’ll lay me down and bleed a while, / And then I’ll rise and fight again.
Dramatic? Yes. But sometimes, when you’re 20 percent to quota and nothing is working, that’s what you need to hear to keep fighting.