Are Quotas Dead?

August 13, 2019

“Sales Quotas are dead,” according to my buddy Joe Curtis.  His LinkedIn article explaining his argument taps into the power of self-motivation.  That idea took me back to my studies of psychology in college, specifically, self-determination theory.

There are rabbit holes of research you can go down if you would like to start with a Wikipedia search first, but the meat and potatoes of how I see this being applied to sales is in this study by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci.

In their study, these psychologists found that the three keys to self-motivation are competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

How can sales leaders use this information to build a self-motivated team?

Competence – Sure, it’s important to train your salespeople to actually be competent.  But, do they also feel competent?  Do you give them enough positive feedback to have confidence that they can achieve their own personal goal or quota?  Whether they think they can hit their number or not, they’re right.

Autonomy – This is a big one and where Joe’s bright idea comes in of giving the sales person the opportunity to name their own quota based on their own “Why.”  We can dictate to people that they must hit their number or face the consequences – or, we can give them the opportunity to achieve a goal they have in order to obtain something that means more to them than their job.  If you’re a sales leader, you know all about the power of “Why.” If you don’t, let me know and I’ll be happy to give you a crash course. Bottom line, every single job posting for a sales position you’ll ever read will include some version of the buzzword “self-driven.”  Why not step aside and let our sales people be the self-driven people we hired them to be?

Relatedness –  If you’ve read Radical Candor by Kim Scott (and you should), you already understand that caring is part of your job as a leader.  Relatedness is simply the state of feeling care for and cared for by others.  A leader assigning a target number from a spreadsheet may not elicit the level of relatedness as a leader who cares to get to know a person’s “Why” and help them build a roadmap to achieve it.  Plain and simple.

What do you think?  Is Joe’s idea to let sales reps name their own quota crazy?  How do you factor in the risk for complacency? Is using fear-based motivation more reliable than nurturing self-motivation?  What psychological theories have you found helpful in your career? Never be afraid to nerd out on the research. Leaders never stop learning!