If you’re in sales you’re results-oriented by definition. And you probably set goals for yourself. So we’re not going to preach to you about the need to set goals. But we want to share with you the results of some interesting academic research that shows a link between goals and results.

The study, by Dr. Dan VandeWalle and others at Southern Methodist University, will reinforce your belief in the importance of goals, and give you insight into the types of goals people set for themselves. In the study, researchers looked at 158 salespeople working for a medical supplies and equipment company with annual sales of $140 million. These salespeople were veterans who’d been with the company an average of 10 years. They were given a challenge to sell a certain piece of equipment for which they would receive $300 for each sale over a three-month period.

The challenge – and beyond
The company set a minimum goal of just one unit. However, salespeople were allowed to set higher goals beyond this requirement as they wished.

The salespeople were directed to fill out a questionnaire asking about their:

  • intended number of units to be sold
  • intended effort toward selling units
  • intended planning related to sales territory, and
  • intended planning related to current accounts.

The results
The study showed that salespeople who set higher goals and put more time into planning made more sales and earned more commissions. In fact, goal-setting behavior explained 60% of sales success.

Bottom line: The “intended number of units sold” and the “intended effort toward selling units” were accurate predictors of sales success.

Consider the implications of this research next time you set sales goals for yourself. The study suggests that your sales success is significantly influenced by:

  • How ambitious your personal sales goals are, and
  • How willing you are to commit a specified amount of time for planning to meet those goals.

Two types of goals
The study divided people into two categories: those who tended to have a learning goal orientation and those who leaned toward a performance goal orientation. People with a learning goal orientation seek to develop competence by acquiring new skills and mastering new situations. They view challenges as opportunities for growth and development. In contrast, people with a performance orientation tend to validate their competence by seeking favorable judgments and by avoiding negative judgments. People like this are highly motivated by fear of failure.

What type of goal orientation is best?

You may have put yourself in either the learning or the performance goal “bucket,” and you may assume that one or the other type of goal orientation is superior.

Turns out it doesn’t make a lick of difference what fuels a winner’s burning desire to hit goals. The research showed no difference in the sales results of those who set learning vs. performance goals.

What made a difference was simply the fact that salespeople set high goals in the first place – and devised a thoughtful plan to hit them.

Source: VandeWalle, D., Cron, W.L., & Slocum, J. W. (2001). “The role of goal orientation following performance feedback.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 629-640.

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