As a sales representative, Ryan Heaphy never felt like he could take a vacation.
Every day he took off meant one less to chip away at his quota and earn a hefty commission check. Even if he hit his goals early for the month, there were always more calls to make and meetings to book to fill his pipeline for the next month. While Heaphy might take a Friday or Monday off on occasion, it was never enough to recharge.
“I was very tied to the hamster wheel, and despite people’s best advice for me to take time off, I just didn’t prioritize it,” Heaphy said.
Heaphy’s experience isn’t unusual for people in sales. No matter how many paid time off days a company offers, as long as quotas exist, extended vacations remain a complicated luxury for many reps. Even taking a week off during the holidays to spend time with family can come at the risk of making quota, which could lead to being placed on a performance improvement plan and, eventually, termination.
What Is Quota Relief?
Yet, failing to take time off comes with its own risks. It can lead to mounting stress, higher rates of anxiety and burnout, according to a study from the American Psychology Association.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, Heaphy said. Today, Heaphy works as the director of sales for digital real estate platform company Qualia, where he offers a quota relief policy. This means whenever a rep takes more than a couple of days off in a quarter, their quota gets reduced by a specified amount to alleviate the burden of missing that time.
Heaphy credits it for helping him maintain a well-rested and high-performing sales team. As sales teams struggle with high turnover rates and burnout, he sees quota relief as more than just a perk — it’s a necessity.
Sales and PTO Have a Complicated Relationship
When it came to taking time off, there was a story Heaphy often told himself: All he had to do was reach his quota early, and then he’d be able to let loose and relax.
It sounded feasible. As a high performer, he typically met his quota early, and thus, would be in a good position to take time off. The problem was, there was always more work to do for the next month. And if he didn’t start working toward the next month, he’d risk losing his momentum and falling behind.
“The number one problem is, if you take off, you risk falling behind and making less money,” Heaphy said. “Cue more anxiety. Imagine going on vacation and having that quota looming over your head.’”
While so much success in sales is tied to how well you know your customers and address their problems, momentum also plays a critical role. Everything flows better when you’ve closed a couple deals and are ahead of schedule on your quota, Heaphy said.
“Everybody knows when you’re on top, you’re as smooth as butter,” Heaphy said. “You sound great and everybody wants to talk to you.”
Customers feed off of that confidence, and as a result, closing one deal usually begets closing another.
“The number one problem is, if you take off, you risk falling behind and making less money. ... Cue more anxiety. Imagine going on vacation and having that quota looming over your head.’”
On the other hand, nothing is worse than feeling behind on quota or your own goals, Heaphy said. Rejections add up and can weigh you down, making your quota feel impossible to reach. The lack of confidence can come off like desperation on the phone, deterring customers from doing deals with you even as you work twice as hard.
So, when a salesperson chooses to take time off, it’s not just money they’re leaving on the table, Heaphy said. It’s also the work they could be doing to fill their pipeline and stay ahead of their target.
“Depending on who you are, you take that week off and you’re groggy. You get a slow start,” Heaphy said. “Then a couple weeks later, you realize you haven’t been productive for pipeline creation, and you’re going to see that pop up the next month or quarter … where the revenue isn’t there.”
Quota Relief Allows Reps to Recharge
Every couple of months, Erica Stacy, a senior sales development representative for outreach software company Interseller, can feel burnout creeping in. Making cold calls, sending emails, having the same conversations with customers — it all starts to blur together and feel monotonous.
“It gets to where you don’t want to do what you do every day,” Stacy said. “You just don’t feel like doing anything anymore or it becomes monotonous.”
When that happens, Stacy schedules a weeklong vacation to either New Orleans or to one of her favorite beaches in southern Florida. Stacy doesn’t think she’d be long in sales without those vacations. While her company offers 25 days off a year, a big reason she can take advantage of those vacation days is because her team offers quota relief, she said.
“That’s what gets me through the burnout is knowing I have a vacation coming,” Stacy said.
At its core, quota relief policies are designed to remove the obstacles that might prevent a sales representative from taking vacation.
“It gets to where you don’t want to do what you do every day.”
As a sales development representative, Stacy gets paid a commission based on the number of meetings she books each month. Her quota is 12 meetings a month, but she usually books 25. Under her team’s quota relief policy, Stacy gets compensated one booked meeting for each day she takes off. So, if she takes five days off, she gets credit for booking five meetings.
Knowing that she’s covered during her time off makes it easier to leave the laptop at home and separate from work, Stacy said. While there’s a little extra work waiting for when she returns, she doesn’t have to worry about it compounding with the time she took off.
“I can step away and it’s perfectly OK, which is hard to do in this profession,” she said.
Qualia provides a similar quota relief program for its account executives, who are paid commission on the deals they close. Sales reps are eligible for two units of quota relief a year, which will reduce their quota in the quarter their vacations are taken, Heaphy said.
A single unit of relief allows a rep to take up to nine days off with a reduction of 8.5 percent of their quarterly quota. So, if a rep with a $100,000 quarterly quota takes nine days off, their new target would be $91,500. If they choose to take more than 10 days off, they can use a second unit of relief (totaling 17 percent off), which would reduce their quota to $83,000.
Reps also receive a higher commission payout percentage for deals they close with that reduced quota and remain eligible for any bonuses for exceeding their target.
This allows reps to work at the pace they would normally work and still make the same amount of money as they would in a full quarter, Heaphy said.
“It’s not uncommon for people on our team to take a week or two off [using quota relief] and have a fantastic quarter. They hit well over 100 percent of that prorated quota and take advantage of our accelerators like uncapped commission,” Heaphy said. “It’s possible that you can take a week or two off and make more money than you would otherwise.”
While reducing quota might seem anathema to a sales manager with a team revenue target to hit, there are several benefits, Heaphy said. For starters, your reps come back fully rested because they don’t have the stress of making quota over their head.
But you also prevent people from overexerting themselves. In the long run, a well-rested team with quota relief will end up driving more revenue than one that doesn’t take time off in an attempt to hit its goals, Heaphy said.
“Maybe someone squeezes the most they can out of themselves, and then they hit rock bottom,” Heaphy said. “The cost on productivity, the cost on revenue and even potentially losing that person as an employee is far more painful than the possibility that someone closes like 10 percent less quota than they normally would.”
It Doesn’t Have to Come at the Cost of Meeting Your Forecast
For quota relief to work, though, it’s up to the leader to accept responsibility for that forgiven quota and find ways to make up for it.
This can make for a challenging puzzle, Heaphy said.
At Qualia, the leadership team put in some stipulations to regulate how much quota it relieves. Since the team operates on quarterly quotas, reps are required to lock in their vacation days ahead of the next quarter. This gives sales leaders time to forecast for the next quarter with the adjusted quotas, Heaphy said.
It also doesn’t allow quota relief in the fourth financial quarter because there are already several company-wide PTO days baked into its quota calculation. This prevents situations where large swaths of the team take a month off, making it impossible to predict or hit the company’s revenue target, Heaphy said.
For all other quarters, Heaphy has to get creative. There are strategies a sales leader can use to boost pipeline generation and close rates to fill in the missing quota. This includes running a sales contest, organizing a targeted campaign to attract high-quality leads and providing workshops on new outreach strategies, among others.
“You have everything to gain and nothing to lose [by offering quota relief].”
Heaphy’s favorite is Qualia’s quarterly event “Hunter Day,” a tradition that predated him as leader of the sales team. On Hunter Day, sales reps clear their calendars to participate in a daylong cold-calling blitz. They then compete in a variety of contests like being the first person to book a demo to earn rewards. When the team worked in the office, the sales representatives would dress up in camouflage and managers would serve food and drink. Once the team reaches its pipeline goal, they call it a day.
“It ends up being a day where the pipeline generated across the organization has a predictable consistency in what deals we can actually squeeze out extra juice from,” Heaphy said.
While quota relief has its own challenges, Heaphy sees it as a crucial tool for maintaining the mental health of his sales team. As sales teams wrestle with high turnover rates, burnout and increased hiring demands, the perk is only going to become more important.
“You have everything to gain and nothing to lose [by offering quota relief],” Heaphy said. “This is a trend you’re going to see most companies adopting over the years as careers are super competitive for recruiting right now. So it’s something you want to be offering.”