Is your 2017 sales goal too high? Should you quit while you’re still ahead?

This time every year, I begin to hear grumblings from sales reps that work for manufacturers, no matter which city they work in.  A sales rep has a great year, makes more money than they expected, and then they see their sales goal or quota (different companies use different terminology) go up to some unachievable height.  It can almost seems like you are being punished for doing a good job. It’s part of the reason why now through next February is the easiest time of the year to recruit new salespeople--all the salespeople get pissed at their new goal, so they take their bonuses and leave. Without a doubt, this can all be horribly frustrating.  But, let me tell you, as good as the alternatives may seem, the grass is rarely actually greener on the other side. First, you need to understand that sales goals in the furniture industry are not pulled from your bosses’ asses, even though it may seem that way to you.  In fact, the new sales goal rarely comes from your boss, he or she is just the messenger.  Most manufacturers use a number of statistics gathered from various data sources and surveys that help them decide where they can find growth.  Today, the majority of manufacturers belong to the Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA), so they all have survey data and real time statistics on who is building what in which cities and what types of new product they may need. They also survey new construction data and industries that may be growing.  There are numbers on what type of interior products may be needed for certain industries, and it gets broken down by geography, as well.  They can tell what people may buy in every territory.  So, like it or not, there is some real hard data out there that helps manufacturers focus their salespeople on particularly active industries, or in cities where lots of new buildings may be going up that will have to be filled with interior products from end-users.  This is, for example, how we knew in advance that the hospitality industry would be busier than previously anticipated over the last couple of years, and how we knew that the Silicon Valley style would take off, and which end-users want wood furniture as opposed to something else.  All of which is to say that there is logic and real facts and figures that go into increasing sales goals.  

Now, of course, sometimes your boss--if they happen to be a regional manager or regional VP--gets a goal for their territory, and it is their job to divide up that number amongst the local sales teams.  The final numbers are then at the discretion of your manager, who may arrive at the goal based on a number of factors like your current base salary, the number of customer accounts you have, the quality of those accounts, which are often ranked as A, B or C accounts, and the clearers you may cover.  The bottom line is no one is trying to rip you off, the company is just trying to increase revenue while turning a profit.  I should point out that this scenario applies mostly to manufacturers where you get a base salary plus a bonus or commission, not when you are working on straight commission, like at most dealers.

Now onto what to do if you are a salesperson who just got handed some crazy goal.  You should definitely discuss goals with your regional manager or regional vice president or whoever is handing you the goal, if you think it is unfair.  Discuss with them things like, what category of accounts do you have, talk about whether they are A&D firms, dealers, or end-users.  Then ask if these accounts are A, B or C level customers.  Usually the senior people have hoarded all the good accounts.  Do you have a “pooled” goal for your sales team or an individual goal?  Your boss may not adjust the goal, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Be realistic and see your boss’s reaction, but make a logical presentation not an emotional one.  He or she might not care that you have tuition to pay for your kids and that you need to make more money; your boss has been handed this huge goal from corporate and needs to divvy it up.  Be nice and congenial when explaining why you want your sales goal reduced and a little brown nosing never hurts, but ultimately finding a good numbers-based argument for why a sales goal is too high is what will make a difference.  

I remember at my first job, selling for Haworth, one year I had a sales goal I never thought I would make, but then I landed a huge job I was not counting on and made double my base salary.  The nature of sales is that they are unpredictable, try as we might to build models to predict them.  I also remember that as time went on and goals went up, I felt like I was working very hard and doing my best, but I did not have the best dealers or end-user accounts, so I missed my sales goals for a couple of years.  I shared my frustration with my boss about impossible dealers and terrible accounts (the customer base I was assigned was farm equipment manufactures, while my colleagues had banking and legal firms, and my territory was New York City, no joke!), and my boss did nothing.  Eventually, I quit and never looked back.  You may need to quit sooner or later, as well, but I would try not to rush into it. And remember that if it comes to that, never quit your job without finding a new one first; that’s the most important rule. Last but not least, remember, even when you find that new job, come this time of year it is like the movie “Groundhog Day.”  Sooner or later, at any company you will come to work and be handed an unrealistic sales goal.  Welcome to the world of sales.  You are only as good as your last order!