Four Tips to go from Quota-Crushing IC to Leadership

In early December 2019, I spoke at a conference in San Francisco that centered around women’s empowerment. The day was filled with content that truly blew us all away – how to be a better public speaker, an education on corporate social responsibility, how to find your strengths in an easy way, listening to women who have overcome an insurmountable number of hurdles and pushed their way through to succeed – it was outstanding. As a result, we’ve all received questions for more on our content, so I’m sharing four of the key points I made in mine.

Do your job exceptionally well

As an individual contributor (IC) in sales, at your core, you have one job that you’ve been hired to do. You already know the answer – it’s to hit your quota. But, let me be clear, hitting your annual quota doesn’t make you a successful IC – it’s HOW you hit your quota that matters. An IC that does their job exceptionally well will hit their quota consistently throughout the year – always coming through on their quarterly number, at the very least. That IC will also do so with a mix of deals – small initial pilots, contracts that hover around the organizations average contract value (ACV), and one or more deals that the company really celebrates due to the length of term or financial impact of the deal. They will consistently pull every lever they can to close great deals – they’ll partner with marketing to do direct campaigns or account based marketing, they’ll always position multi-year deals, they’ll execute when marketing asks them to invite prospects to conferences, events, dinners, etc., and they will self-source pipeline, taking on the assumptions that they will get zero leads from their SDR or marketing team. And finally, they’ll be great for the culture of the organization. They’ll share their own tips and strategies, they’ll offer to mentor new hires, they’ll speak up and contribute meaningfully on team calls, they’ll speak to leaders about changes that could be made for the better of the organization but they’ll come with a proposed solution, not just a complaint. They will be well-rounded, vocal in positive ways (publicly), in solution-driven ways to address problems (privately), and they will deliver their revenue consistently.

As you seek promotion or look for opportunities to stretch yourself so that you can be promoted, keep this in mind – until you do your job exceptionally well, your attention should be on that vs. doing more.

Do More. Lean In. Stretch

Once you’re successful, per the above, I’d encourage you to look for ways that you can stretch yourself by doing more for your organization. Here’s the key that so many individuals miss – the quickest way to “do more” is by solving the problems that keep your executive team up at night or that ties directly back to their goals.

I began mentoring a rep in 2017 who worked for SAP and who came to me wanting to learn how to get promoted. He felt that he was doing all the right things and even stretching himself. When I asked what he was doing to go above and beyond, he said, “Well, for example, I started a birthday club. I took the time to collect over 100 birthdays for our broader team, I have budget to send them a little something that day, we even do lunch in the office every few weeks – it’s a lot of effort!” Now, I’m a sucker for anything that is culture-focused, but you’re probably thinking the same thing I was – that’s an insane amount of effort for someone to put in on something that his executive team likely doesn’t even remember exists. A sales rep – who is one of the most expensive members of a company – is finding time to buy a gift 100 times a year, expense it, deliver it and also order food to celebrate birthdays every 2-3 weeks. How much money could be made if that rep took that time and spent it on deals or spent it solving a true problem for the company?

When I looked for this opportunity myself, I went directly to our head of global sales and asked what our core issues were in sales. The answer came back as, “We need reps to ramp faster and we need to cut down on attrition.” Those two work hand in hand, right? Ramp faster, quicker success, less attrition. Poof, easy. Right? I actually took this in two directions – I created a mentorship program that would align new hires with top performers, and created a compensation plan to match it, and also created a culture program that would focus on investing in our sales teams and supporting them in and out of the office. We increased morale, gave individuals leadership opportunities, and cut ramp time down significantly. The final point on this is to find a way to measure your success. It is not enough to say, “I created a mentorship program!”, you need to put in metrics for success that allow you to quantify and monetize the impact you’ve made so that you can easily deliver that to your leaders and they to theirs.

Build Your Brand

When I leaned in and created the above projects, I remember the feedback that I received from one or two tenured members of our sales team. “That’s a great idea, but it won’t succeed. I’ve already tried it. Others have tried it. It won’t work.” Tell me, or anyone that is beyond competitive, that it can’t be done and watch us set a record for how successful it will be.

To that point, these programs were not only undeniably successful, but they still exist in the organization today, years after I’ve left. Here’s the difference – I followed through. Everyone gets excited about new projects – a new initiative, a goal to work out more, mentoring someone – but how often are people sticking with it? Research shows that many simply don’t and give up a full six weeks into the project.

I had carefully built a brand of following through. If you asked me to do something or if I put my name on something, it was going to happen and by when you expected it to, but likely even sooner than that. There was simply no room for anything less, in my book.

Decide what you want your brand to be and make sure that you tie those characteristics to ones that will help your teams and organization move forward. For example, I’m coaching someone now who said, “I want my brand to be around enthusiasm. I am always excited and I want everyone to know that about me.” Great. They will. Just by meeting her… 😉 But we pulled apart that idea and found that the enthusiasm actually comes in full gear when she has the opportunity to help someone learn. So her brand now is tied to being generous as a mentor – never turning down an opportunity to lend a hand to her broader team. And yes, she already does her job exceptionally well.

Get It In Writing

When I gave this speech last week, I asked everyone in the room if they had ever been promised a promotion that had been delayed or had never come to fruition. 150 hands shot into the air. That’s baffling! But, I’ve been there, too. You likely have as well. Did you recently get promoted? Was it later than you had expected or been promised?

As you navigate ‘doing more’ and working to get promoted, have a frank discussion with your leadership. “I want to start these projects to show that I’m able to not only create more and be a part of the executive team, but also to show how much I can balance in responsibilities and still exceed your expectations. My goal is to run this for the next six months/year/whatever time period and ultimately be promoted to XYZ.” Women, far more than men, shy away from these conversations, because they’re direct and feel self-serving. But, just as your business is here to make money and succeed, you are too.

Even if you don’t need to have this conversation because you have an incredible boss who simply serves up the opportunity to you, you still want to get it in writing. This is also an uncomfortable moment, but look at it through this lens. ANYTHING can happen to the individual you’re having the discussion with. They could leave, get fired, get hit by a bus – anything. If you have it in writing, you’ll not only have the commitment back from your leader, but you’ll also have insurance in case something does happen. If they’re hesitant to put it in writing, that should be a red flag, for what it’s worth. Here’s your template, if you have nerves:

Thanks for having the chat about this – I’m so optimistic about these projects and for the opportunities ahead. I’m going to send you a quick email with this in mind; I want to make sure we have all the details down, that we haven’t missed anything and it will also help keep us both accountable to my success as we go along.

And if you have a really great relationship with your boss:

Hey, I’m going to send this to you in writing. Anything can happen to either of us and I know this friend who was promised a promotion by her boss who then left the company after he fell gravely ill and she didn’t have the promise in writing and it delayed her promotion for almost a year. So, let’s cover our bases.

Onward and Upward

There’s so much to consider in this piece and it might seem overwhelming, but these are all core to your continued success as you look to achieve your career goals. Work through one at a time, or tackle the most important aspects first. Set your goals in a tangible way, find ways to stick to them and follow through, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable by having the conversations that are necessary to seeing you succeed.