Peach, Office Greeter

Quota Setting, Deconstructed.

September 19, 2017

What is Quota Setting?

Quota setting can be described as one part numbers, one part experience, and one part intuition. So how do you concoct the most accurate quota setting methodology in an ever-changing market, industry, and sales organization? Three major areas we find to be effective are accurate top-down modeling, managing by exception, and padding quotas.

Top-down modeling

There are different types of top-down modeling to accurately set quotas. Companies have a topline number that they want the sales organization to reach, and managers are given the flexibility to assign quotas for the sales team to attain, based on managers’ tribal knowledge. If a company made $4.5 billion last year, the finance department may take data on market conditions as well as the company’s growth trajectory to project a goal of $5 billion for this year. Sales managers are the ones responsible for developing a plan to meet that goal.

There are three ways to set a quota based on top-down modeling:

1. Calculate percentage of Total Addressable Market (TAM)

2. Tally historicals and add an uplift

3. Roll some dice

These scenarios involve both math and gut feelings.

1. Total Addressable Market (TAM) – In this calculation, the value of the entire market for the industry or product line is calculated, and the quota is set as a percentage of the entire market that the company can capture. For example, a corporate coffee company would base their TAM number on the total amount of money they estimate office buildings would spend on coffee in the upcoming year. Based on the estimated percentage they expected to realistically capture, this company might calculate that in a $100 million market, they could realistically capture 1% or $1 million.

2. Historicals with an uplift - Often companies will use revenue or other sales data from the previous year and match it with growth goals by business unit or product line. For example, if a company made $1 million in revenue the previous year with a growth trajectory of 15%, they would calculate a sales goal of $1.15 million for the upcoming year.

A top-down calculation may get the end goal set at a specific number. However, it’s up to the sales managers to get the sales team to hit that number. This is where managing by exception comes into play.

Managing by exception

For the most part, the top-down number is calculated by the finance department using fancy algorithms and old-fashioned number crunching. However, the magic of accurate quota-setting is very subjective and comes from the sales managers who receive these numbers. They have the knowledge to recognize and consider special situations.

For example, it may not be realistic for everyone on a sales team to hit the same goal. There could be a duo of salespeople who made a very large sale last year, but the sales manager knows that it’s not likely to happen again this year. They would then need to spread the quota across the team instead of relying on the one-hit wonder superstars. Sales managers know the pipelines well, so they will set goals across the team that are realistic. We advise that managers set goals that accept 90% of the top-down number across sales team members and leave 10% to be set at their discretion.

For one of our B2B clients, managing by exception was their lifeline for a healthy sales trajectory because of the short lifetime value of their products. In a highly innovative and rapidly-changing industry, product lines would get phased out quickly and sales managers would avoid putting an overemphasis on products that were no longer relevant in the market. Sales managers managed by exception by holding their team members to smaller percentages of the top-down revenue goal for specific products and leaving the rest of the quota to be achieved through new products released during the pay period.

Though managing by exception gets sales managers thinking about ways to distribute quota accurately among team members, an extra measure that most (if not all) sales managers take is to pad the quota.

Padding the Quota

Once goals are set, sales managers need to determine how to get the whole team there, for the greater good of the team as well as to ensure his or her own personal performance. This is often done by over-allocating or “padding the quota” at the sales rep level. Then, even if one rep misses quota, the whole sales organization won’t miss the overall team or regional goal.

This may be done by assigning an additional amount (for example, 5%) to every individual’s quota so the team’s goal has a padding of 5%, or padding individual quotas in different amounts across the team hierarchy so that the team goal has an overall padding of a certain amount. In the second case, we often find that quota gets padded more at the bottom of the hierarchy meaning that the lower performers have the most padding, while the rainmakers are expected to make their numbers.

Setting accurate quotas and meeting them takes careful planning and the ability to move quickly, as well as the technology to acquire accurate data for precise forecasting. Sales Performance Management (SPM) technology is one of the strongest enablers of attaining quota, especially in environments with high turnover or quickly-changing markets. Consider what functionalities are needed to rapidly and accurately set quotas for optimal sales team performance, and discuss the tools out there that can meet your needs.

Have questions or thoughts on quota setting? We want to hear from you! Email Russell Gummelt at



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