Setting Better Sales Goals

Many a motivational poster reminds us: reach for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll still land among the stars. As poetic as it sounds, it’s not really that motivating. If the goal is to reach the moon, and I only land among the stars, I still haven’t met my goal. Sure, the view may be nice, but it’s still rather discouraging, isn’t it? Maybe that’s a glass-half-empty perspective, but it’s the reality for many of us who measure progress in goal-setting increments.

When we don’t reach a goal, it can trigger a wave of shame that makes it much more difficult to keep moving forward. But if goals aren’t lofty enough, work gets boring and we lose interest. Or, perhaps even worse, we begin to overestimate ourselves and find ourselves in the shame cycle again when we land among the stars instead of the moon. 

The sales industry is often driven by goal-setting and incentives. Consequently, it can be difficult to stay motivated if the goal system in place just isn’t rewarding for you or your team. It’s all too easy to become hyper-focused on meeting quotas and incentivizing “high performers,” which is code for high numbers, which aren’t always the best indicators of the quality of a salesperson.

There are salespeople doing great work that may still not be thriving under the current goal-setting systems of their respective companies. It’s time to set sales goals that motivate everyone in a positive direction--and empower sales teams so that they can, with time, reach the moon.

Fudging the Numbers

Even experts admit that traditional goal-setting methods are just too “error-prone,” while setting goals in general is becoming increasingly difficult in a precarious economy. It's all too easy to aim too low, or even too high. Andris A. Zoltner and Prabhakat Sinha of consulting firm ZS Associates teamed up with marketing and sales consultant Sally E. Lorimer to elaborate on this delicate balance.

They explain that it is "often difficult to overcome the uncertainty inherent in goal-setting." Unpredictable market conditions can make it exceedingly difficult to set goals that are both "reasonable and fair." Goals that are too lofty can be discouraging, but goals that can be too easily attained don’t adequately reward the best performers.

Instead of establishing distinct incentives and their correlating numbers, Zoltner et al suggest rewarding a range of performance with "success ranges" with incentives that kick in as performance improves within that range. If you're worried about setting the proper range, you can widen the range or slow the pacing of incentives, and adjust as needed.

A success range is more forgiving, so if you're setting out for the moon, but land among the stars--which is still impressive--your confidence won’t be completely destroyed. On the other hand, you can't squeak by without even taking off. A blog post from PipeDrive sums up this value of "fudging the numbers" in favor of goals beyond specific targets, warning that "the biggest mistake a sales manager can make is focusing solely on the numbers," and the numbers or ranges that are decided on should be "achievable and motivating."

It's Okay To Think Short Term

When we're setting goals, we tend to think far into the future. This is completely understandable, because such is the nature of a goal. We decide what we want or where we want to be, and our goal is to get there. Simple, right? But broad thinking can make measuring progress challenging at best and heart-wrenching at worst.

There has to be a proper mix of long-term and short-term goals. When we think only in the long term, we often end up disappointed because inevitably, things change along the way and sometimes success doesn’t look the way we thought it would. Felix Beccar, Head of Strategy at Pipeline, affirms that “in sales, you can’t control the results, but you can control the actions and the inputs of that process.”

Those actions and inputs, framed as short term goals, help us take advantage of the reward system inside our brains. That rush you get when crossing something off of your to-do list is in fact helping you feel better about your work. And that motivation can propel you to accomplish more, creating a pleasant domino-effect of satisfaction so that by the end of the day, you may not have reached the moon, but you can feel good about having charted the course.

Get Activity Oriented

Sales goals that largely focus on results will quickly kill the momentum. Like many other parts of life, sales is about the process. Often, we become so focused on streamlining that process for better results that we miss just how much work is inherent in the process itself. And that work should be rewarded, too.

Shifting to a more activity-oriented goal strategy also allows you to customize goal frameworks for varying levels of skill sets and strengths. And with each activity, as with each short term goal, the accomplishment will propel motivation forward so that not only is moral boosted, but employees are more productive overall instead of frozen in terror of a mammoth quota.

Setting the Score

As a naturally competitive industry, sales has the potential to be both incredibly satisfying but also incredibly daunting. It’s all too easy to hone in on numbers, quotas, and long term destinations without celebrating the milestones along the way. And soon enough, such preoccupation with conventional success markers will result in a sales team that is drained and discouraged.

So don’t forget the significance of landing among the stars, even if you are on your way to the moon.