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Sales Lessons from Legends: Thomas Watson Jr. on Setting Quotas for Salespeople

Thomas Watson Jr.

In 1952 Thomas Watson Jr. became president of IBM. He was destined to take over the company that his father started. In his fascinating book entitled A Business and its Beliefs: The Ideas that Helped Build IBM Watson wrote that almost everybody at IBM was against investing in the development of computers. One critic made the prediction that Watson could find customers for as many as 30 machines. Watson took a widely successful company that was built on a foundation of great sales processes and outstanding service and created the greatest company in the world, causing Time magazine to name him one of the 100 most influential people of the twentieth century.

According to Watson, success is the result of sound beliefs (now called "core values") on which the company bases all policies and actions. The single most important factor in a company’s success is the strict adherence to those beliefs. Beliefs never change. Everything else changes, but never the basic truths on which the company is based.

Watson strongly believed that salespeople are best challenged by quotas

In a letter to his salespeople, Watson wrote:

"One of the most significant words in the English language is ‘quota.’

"From the cradle to the grave, quotas are the measure of our possibilities, the gauge of our progress, and the test of our fitness for life itself.

"In childhood we are measured by dietary, health and intelligence quotas; in youth by performance quotas; in manhood by achievement quotas and in old age by the success with which we have met the quota standards of all three periods.

"To establish a record of 100 percent of the quota in any line of endeavor is to prove oneself better than average.

"One has to be better than average to achieve 100 percent in anything, whether it be an ordinary spelling bee or a competitive test of physical fitness.

"In business, to be better than average is to establish a record of preparation, application and execution that is unquestionable proof of personal ability.

"Art and science are both combined in the establishment of such a record; and its possessor may truly claim to be a "100 percenter."

"Quotas are seldom self-imposed; almost invariably they are set for us by others.

"Yet quotas are our only individual gauge of progress; and to equal or exceed a self-imposed quota of daily accomplishment should be the aim of every individual who aspires to excellence.

"Within us all, there are wells of thought and dynamos of energy which are not suspected until emergencies arise. Then oftentimes we find that it is comparatively simple to double or triple our former capacities and to amaze ourselves by the results achieved.

"Quotas, when set up for us by others, are challenges which goad us on to surpass ourselves.

"The outstanding leaders of every age are those who set up their own quotas and constantly exceed them."

Time-tested insights into success by Thomas J. Watson Jr.

"If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good. "

"Whenever an individual or a business decides that success has been attained, progress stops."

"Nothing so conclusively proves a man's ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself."

"Really big people are, above everything else, courteous, considerate and generous — not just to some people in some circumstances — but to everyone all the time."

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