I Missed My Quota…Am I Doomed?


Short Answer: No. Don’t panic. This is redeemable.

Sales is often very unpredictable. While some variables can be controlled such as pipeline, input, and effort, there are several variables that cannot be predicted. If your customer wins a vacation to Hawaii and leaves right before the last two weeks of the quarter, there is no way to forecast for that situation. Now, of course, you should always have much more in your pipeline than needed to hit your quota, but for argument's sake, let’s acknowledge that life is life and sometimes even the best miss a goal.

Just like a standard interview, a sales interview will have personality and behavioral questions. However, hiring managers know that just because you say something in an interview doesn’t mean it is true. In the end, that hiring manager is going to want proof. In the world of sales, that means metrics. How did you do with the goals that were placed in front of you? Did you crumble? Did you shine?

The moment will come in a sales interview when the interviewer asks, “Did you consistently hit your quota?” The moments between this question and your answer are crucial. I speak from experience because I asked hundreds of candidates this very question when I was a sales recruiter. From that brief gap between my pointed question and the answer, I could immediately tell if that candidate had hit quota.

The candidates that missed their quotas would stumble over their words and immediately begin firing off excuses. It would take them three to five minutes to answer a simple “yes” or “no” question. The candidates that hit their quotas would quickly answer with a “yes” followed with their quota attainments and other impressive stats.

However, there was a third bucket of candidates. These candidates were few and far between, but when I came across them, I was always impressed. This was the bucket of candidates that did not hit their quota but used it to qualify themselves as good candidates. They had no excuses, no victims’ mentalities, and no awkward pauses. Those were candidates I wanted to represent.

So, for everyone who has missed their quota and has struggled with how to explain it, this is for you. Here are steps to truthfully explaining a missed quota:

1. Self-assess

Why did you miss your quota? Identify the reason you missed, and be honest with yourself. Here are some potential situations

    • Restrictions

    • Bad territory

    • No one hit their quota

    • Changing quotas

    • Unattainable and/or unrealistic

    • Change of managers

    • Shared quota

    • No quota

    • Other

2. Craft your narrative. 

Once you have determined the reason for missing, write it down. This sounds silly but will help you formulate your plan when verbally explaining what happened. When writing it down, write only the facts. Remove all emotion. Here is outline you can use:

    • State an intentional reason for choosing your current company (e.g. long-term career goal, product, etc.).

    • Frame your exit from your current company (or reason for looking) as running to something, not from something.

    • Talk about one failure. Keep it short and sweet, but do mention it. If failure goes unmentioned, you might appear to be arrogant or self-absorbed.

    • Talk about how that failure and learning will benefit your next employer.

    • Find a “greatest hit” despite the quota situation, and speak to it in a humble, honest tone.

    • Speak highly of your current employer. Find one or two true good things.

3. Answer “Did you hit your quota?”

Be sure to have an answer written out to this. You have your narrative to why you are leaving, but interviewers don’t want to just know why you are leaving, they want to know why you didn’t hit your quota.

    • Don’t pause. Answer the question. “No, unfortunately, I did not…” Then jump quickly into an explanation (not an excuse!).

    • Use your answer as a qualifying opportunity. Treat this interview like a sales process, and qualify yourself for the position.

    • Speak to how this experience is an anomaly in your background. Emphasize how important it is to make the right career decision in order to be successful, that is why during this period of interviewing you are doing XYZ to mitigate any risk of this happening again. (Quick self check: Are you now going the extra mile? Are you surrounding yourself with industry mentors? Did you spend a few weeks researching companies and developing a top 10 list? Did you reach out to sales reps at the companies of interest to learn how their experience has been within that sales org?)

    • Politely speak to the differences between the roles, companies, and your current situation. Ask for the hiring manager’s perspective on whether or not you will be successful at the company. In fact, don’t be afraid to ask the hiring manager, “Are all of your reps making their number?” “What do your most successful reps do?” “What are the commonalities amongst the reps that are not making their number?”

If you are not on a quota… Find your greatest hits, and quantity, quantify, quantify. If you are making the switch into the world of sales, know that metrics and numbers are very important. Even if you didn’t have a quota, prove to the hiring manager that you added value in a quantifiable way. For example, a Marketing Coordinator who wants to be an SDR could highlight a marketing campaign he or she ran that drove 50 qualified inbound leads for the Sales Development team and resulted in $100,000 in revenue.

Here are other metrics you could use:

  • Pipeline generation

  • Territory % increase

  • Outbound calls

  • Revenue generated

  • Promotions

  • Deals closed

  • Team ranking

If you are on a team quota… Determine your value proposition, differentiator, or the overall strength on the team.  Highlight this, but don’t just say it, prove it. You guessed it… do this with numbers! List out some key wins or key moments that you had in the sales process.

If you were laid off… You need to control the narrative. Explain it right away. Be upfront and honest, but make sure to address it before the hiring manager brings it up. Don’t let them draw their own conclusions.

If you have any questions about how to explain your quota story, Will Reed provides hands-on coaching to all the members of the Will Reed community.