Goal-setting for Sales: It’s not just about quotas and $ targets
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Goal-setting for Sales: It’s not just about quotas and $ targets

If I said, “Most salespeople aren’t very good at setting or working to goals,” you’d probably think I was crazy. Of all the professions in the world, sales is one of the most numbers- and goal-driven. EVERY rep has some kind of target or quota to aim for — often with bonuses for achieving it or black marks for failing.

So what do I mean? Simply this: Amid the dollar- or volume-denominated quotas and targets, salespeople — or their managers — often fail to set the kind of goals that drive specific types of behavior. Do you, for instance, have a hard goal for the number of cold calls you’re going to make next week? Do you have a firm target for the number of presentations you want to make in the next two weeks? Do you have a no-excuses goal for the number of trial closes you’ll attempt in the next month?

If you were able to answer Yes to any or all of these questions, hats off to you. But I bet a lot of reps wouldn’t be able to do so.

It’s about the behavior

And that can be a problem. Think about it: If you’re going to consistently meet your dollar or unit goals, you need to behave in particular ways. Those dollar or volume amounts don’t give you much help with these behaviors.

What DOES help in this area is a goal-setting system, like SMART (for specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.) If you commit to, say, making 25 cold calls next week, you’ve got yourself a SMART goal that ought to influence your behavior. It’s specific — it’s about cold calls, not other kinds of calls. It’s measurable — it’s got a number attached. It’s achievable — just five a day. It’s relevant — every rep needs to fill the pipeline. And it’s time-bound — it’s limited to a single week.

By contrast, if you just say, “I know I need to make more cold calls, so I’m going to do that,” you’re being reasonably specific and relevant. But your goal isn’t measurable or time-bound. And who knows whether it’s achievable, because it’s so vague you probably wouldn’t know if you’d achieved it or not.

Building and sustaining confidence

It’s not hard to see how goals that are set the right way can help drive desired behaviors.

But beyond that, goal-setting has another, less evident virtue: When you have clear goals, you’re less vulnerable to discouragement or demotivation, pitfalls that abound in the often-thankless world of sales. A study done in 1990 demonstrated that people who have such goals are more persistent and have a greater sense of self-efficacy, or confidence they can get the job done.

And here’s another point: Behavioral goals can be effective even when we don’t achieve them. Huh? Yes, you heard right. Consider a person whose goal is to quit smoking for the rest of her life. She manages to quit for a year and a half. Then she relapses and starts smoking again.

Is this a failure? Perhaps, if you’re going to look at the goal as an either/or — either she stopped for life or she didn’t. But if you look at it from a different angle, it’s a success — her lungs enjoyed a tar-free 18 months that wouldn’t have been possible but for the goal.

Similarly, if you set a goal of giving four product demos next month and manage to give two — but the previous month you gave none — you’ve failed to hit your number, but you’ve succeeded more than you would have without any goal at all.

Execution or strategy

There’s one last point to remember about these behavioral goals: The reason you set them in the first place was to help you do the things you believe will lead to the achievement of your sales targets. So you need to track two things against each other — how are you doing with the behaviors, and are you meeting your sales targets?

If you’re not executing the behaviors you laid out in your goals, and you’re not meeting your sales targets, you can’t know whether your execution or your strategy is faulty. It could be either or both. If you are executing these behaviors, but not meeting your targets, then you need to look for other behavioral goals. If you’re executing the desired behaviors, and you’re meeting your targets, then you’re a happy and successful rep. Congratulations!




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