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.

(But if they do, here’s a great discussion thread the Sales Hacker community is having about how to answer the “past quota attainment” question.)

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.

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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.

RELATED: Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: Which Is Best for You?

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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Look Forward, Not Backwards

Don’t focus on the past when hiring. Look to the future, and the potential each candidate has with your organization and your system.

Per the RepVue data referenced above, most sales professionals simply aren’t hitting quota. And in many cases, it’s not because of the skill or effort of the candidate. It’s because of a flawed hiring process.

Those who are hitting quota are typically harder to proactively recruit than those who aren’t. So, realistically when you’re interviewing a pool of candidates, maybe only 20–30% actually hit quota at a recent job.

But the biggest reason to stop asking candidates is that you simply shouldn’t care. Take that time and effort and spend it on determining if they’ll hit quota in your organization.

Asking what percent of quota a candidate hit last year is pretty easy, which is likely why people do it. But is it actually telling you anything?

Let’s make it the norm to avoid asking about previous quota attainment, not the exception.

Remember, it doesn’t help.

It’s hard to figure out what percent of quota the candidate can hit next year, but that’s what the elite hiring managers and organizations are doing.

Good luck out there.

Ryan Walsh is the founder and CEO of RepVue. Prior to RepVue, Ryan spent over 17 years as a software executive, most recently as CRO of e-commerce SaaS company ChannelAdvisor (NYSE: ECOM). Ryan led the sales team from 3 years pre-IPO to 4 years post IPO, growing revenues from $35M to $115M. Ryan has spent nearly two decades selling, leading sales teams, and mentoring sales professionals.

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