Exceeding Sales Quotas

Sales is a field where the emphasis on quantifiable metrics is extremely high within the hiring process.  Hiring managers look for sales professionals who have an established track record of beating their goals.  Sales goals are easily measured and are one of the most commonly published metrics in an organization.  This makes it extremely easy to find sales data for your resume.  Despite this many job seekers omit hard data on their sales performance.

There’s a good reason many omit the information.  Sales is a field with a high failure rate.  There are a lot of sales people who just aren’t that good.  They may work hard and land some sales, but struggle to reach the company’s goals.  Putting sales numbers on a resume would highlight this poor performance, so they leave them off.

For a hiring manager, demonstrated success in sales is critical.  Most will assume the job seeker was a failure if the job seeker doesn’t specifically tell them otherwise.  The resume I read today made this mistake.  It didn’t give enough information to know if the job seeker was successful, or if he was a failure.

The problem started in the cover letter.  It is 178 words long.  That’s on the long side for a cover letter, but isn’t too long.  In it, there are five paragraphs.  The first explains the person is seeking a business development role.  The second and fourth paragraphs make general claims about a successful track record through the career, but nothing specific.  The fifth paragraph is a simple closing.

The middle paragraph has four bullet points.  A bulleted list in a cover letter is like a giant magnet for attention.  Most people will be drawn to the list before they read the majority of the letter.  That’s what I did.  I read the first sentence of the cover letter and jumped to the bullets.   Here’s what I found:

  • Creativity in developing new business opportunities
  • Credibility based on previous success
  • Proven executive experience
  • Positive attitude and desire to succeed

I’m not sure how a successful sales person could write something this boring and expect to grab a person’s attention.  A desire to succeed is a good quality, but I assume anyone successful has that.  If that’s one of the most impressive qualities you have to market, you’re in trouble.

After reading the bullets, I skipped to the resume.  The only reason I know what is in the other paragraphs of the cover letter is I read it to write this article.  The bullets made it clear it was a waste of time to read, and that conclusion was proven correct when I did read it.

In the resume, the job seeker included a few performance metrics.  Each job listed a few big clients he landed, some with deals in excess of $10 million.  Selling multi-million dollar deals is a marketable experience, but it still doesn’t answer the question about the success of the job seeker.  In sales, you have to remember the old quote, “Even a blind squirrel will find a nut every now and then.”  Is this job seeker a blind squirrel occasionally tripping over a sale, or is he a superstar?

The resume covers 11 years of sales experience.  In it, the job seeker lists four years where he lists his performance relative to his quota.  In those four years, three are listed as meeting 100% of quota and one is listed as hitting 350% of quota.  The 350% year immediately preceded the three 100% years.

So we have a sales professional, who in 11 years of selling, is telling us he met the minimum expectations for his job four times, and once had a “blind squirrel finding a nut” year blowing his targets out of the water.   He wants us to hire him because he’s creative, credible, experienced, and has a desire to succeed.

Now, you’re a sales manager trying to fill a key position.  Sales are down, the economy is tough, and you can add one key person.  If the person comes in and is successful, you will keep your job and may even earn a bonus.  If the person bombs, you’re likely to get canned.  Is this candidate going to get your attention?  Are you going to bet your career on his performance?

So, what could this job seeker do?  He should give more detail on his performance.  What were his quotas each year and how did he perform?  He had a long run with the same company, so there’s a chance he was more successful than the picture I painted.  The three years he listed that he met 100% of his quota, he notes he received a corporate Circle of Excellence Award.  Usually, awards indicate exceeding expectations by a significant amount.  If his quota was a stretch goal, he should really show what his performance was relative to his minimum expectations.  Even better, listing how he performed relative to other sales people would help.  He may have been the best sales person in the company, or the worst.  We have no way of knowing.

The key is giving a hiring manager insight into how your boss would assess your performance.  The more detail you can provide about your specific performance, the more credible and impressive your background will be.