Performance plans are rife with emotion. Say the words “performance plan” to any rep, veteran or newbie, and you can almost see them shrink away in fear.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Performance plans can actually be a positive motivator, and getting put on one isn’t the end of the world.
What Is a Performance Plan?
One of the benefits of working in sales is that you always know where you stand. There are statistics that show your success vs. expectations, usually referred to as a quota. So to a certain extent you’re always on a performance plan. If you consistently fail to achieve quota or other metrics your company sets out for you, you won’t keep your job.
But in this blog post, I’m referring to performance plans as written plans that define minimum acceptable sales performance and clearly spells out the implications if you are unable to meet those standards. In short, a performance plan is a written set of guidelines for what you need to do to be successful in your job.
In most cases, a sales performance plan is the same thing as a success plan -- how you plan to overachieve your quota -- just with consequences attached. Here are two examples of plans we use at HubSpot:
30-Day Performance Plan: If a sales rep’s six or nine-month trailing quota (their “trailing six / nine,” or their average quota attainment for the past six or nine months depending on segment) falls below 60%, they must achieve 80% of quota or higher for the 30-day duration of the plan.
90-Day Coaching Plan: If a sales rep’s trailing six or trailing nine falls below 80%, they must achieve 80% of quota or higher for the 90-day duration of the plan.
Regardless of the plan, the procedure we follow is the same. Managers sit down with reps who are being put on plan, explain the terms of their plan and other necessary information, and have reps sign the plan to signify they’ve understood it. After a rep comes off plan, they sign a record of their improved performance.
5 Strategies to Successfully Come Off a Sales Performance Plan
1) Calm down.
Understand that a plan is about numbers -- it’s not emotional, and you shouldn’t be either. Performance plans can actually be a good thing, for the following three reasons:
You know exactly where you stand performance-wise and exactly what you need to do to come off plan.
You should have a plan anyway -- your sales difficulties may stem from the fact that you haven’t had a specific plan to identify key metrics.. A performance plan outlines what your path to success looks like.
It’s proof that your organization cares about you and your improved performance. You could be simply fired for underperforming, but a sales organization that has performance plans in place is one that cares enough about you to invest in your development.
2) Break down your plan into activity metrics.
Let’s say you sell a subscription-based product, and to bring your trailing six up to 80% you need to make $80,000 in sales in the next three months. Take that number and work backwards:
How many deals, based on your average deal size, do you need to close to reach that number?
How many product demos do you need to do to close that many deals?
How many discovery calls do you need to make to create that number of qualified opportunities?
How many prospecting activities will lead to that many opportunities?
When you’ve worked through your entire sales process, you should know what the minimum level of activity you need to maintain to hit your goal. Double those numbers to set yourself up for overachievement.
3) Ask for help.
Go to your managers, your teammates, your directors, your VPs -- anyone who has the time and willingness to invest in you. Ask them point-blank: Will they help you?
Share the details of your plan, areas in which you feel weak, and get their feedback. Whether it’s supporting you on particularly tricky live calls or listening to past call recordings, getting objective opinions is invaluable when you’re struggling.
4) Set up regular meetings with your manager.
If you haven’t already, set up a weekly one-on-one with your manager dedicated to evaluating your progress against your plan. Ask them each week if you’re meeting, exceeding, or not meeting expectations.
Aside from showing that you’re committed to succeeding and building in a regular checkpoint (see #5), these meetings will also reveal how your manager feels about you. If you’re falling behind or your manager has already given up on you, you’ll be able to tell far before you receive a pink slip, which will give you some time to prepare.
5) Hold yourself accountable.
It’s not enough to just set up activity metrics and ask for help. You have to actually execute on your plans. While you shouldn’t view a performance plan as purely negative, you need to understand that you’re in a serious situation.
Be in the office early and stay late -- I’ve seen reps successfully come off plan who have met their managers in the office at 7:30 a.m. every day to get extra help.
Don’t let yourself leave until you’ve completed what you need to do each day.
Send regular updates to your manager on your progress, ahead of your scheduled meetings. Put reminders in your calendar so you remember to do this ahead of time, which reflects your commitment to coming off plan.
Make tangible progress on a defined skill area each week.
If you’re put on a plan, it’s not the end of the world. Hundreds of thousands of sales reps before you have been given a plan and have been successful. But you have to run like crazy to come off one. Commit to your metrics, get the help you need, execute on your plan, and there’s no reason why you won’t be able to come out the other side of a performance plan and go on to a very successful career.
Originally published Apr 5, 2016 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017