Setting SMARTer Goals With Your Sales Team

Written by: Dan Markin
Setting SMARTer Goals With Your Sales Team

Importance of Sales Goals

A tremendous amount of research has been done on the importance of setting goals and the strategies for accomplishing them. This article aims to focus some of that information through the lens of setting sales goals, how to set sales goals, and what to do if you’re missing your sales goals.

A goal is defined as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.”

There is a widely held misconception that goals are always positive achievements that people (or in our case, salespeople) pursue. Motivational psychology, however, has found that people are much more likely to work to keep something they already have, than gain something they don’t yet possess.

In 2001, Andrew J. Elliot and Holly J. McGregor of Rochester University published research that divided goals into four categories:

  • Mastery-approach
  • Mastery-avoidance
  • Performance-approach
  • Performance-avoidance

To cite their research, “Mastery goals are focused on the development of competence through task mastery, whereas performance goals are focused on the demonstration of competence relative to others”.

Table 1

Sales managers would do well to accept the fact that not everyone on their team wants to be the best. Some may be more highly motivated by avoiding being the worst.

Misunderstanding a salesperson’s motives will make your attempts at motivation rather hit or miss. You’ll likely be left wondering why some people on your team are inspired by sales contests and trophies, while others are dominantly concerned about not making mistakes, or doing enough to avoid being the lowest producer (or getting fired!)

Understanding a person’s motive is important, but not the only piece to the puzzle. A salesperson who is in the pursuit of a goal (whether it’s something they want to achieve or avoid) is more likely to be happier, more productive, have a greater sense of self worth and accomplishment, and feel greater fulfillment in their job.

I can hear you asking, “Isn’t a salesperson’s quota their goal?” We’ll get into that later, but in short — yes and no. That may be the company’s goal, but as we’ve seen (in the case of Performance-Avoiders), crushing quota might not be everyone’s primary focus.

That’s a conundrum sales managers can manage by better understanding their salespeople, and supporting them with effective sales training to meet them where they’re at.

Advancement & Growth

Obviously, the benefit of setting sales goals is the achievement of those goals. Achievement goals will work well for achievers, but sales managers need a new way to help the “avoiders” begin to achieve. This can be done by focusing on progression.

Elliot and McGregor’s research simply put words to a phenomenon every sales manager has seen: some salespeople want to do just enough to get by. They are less motivated by becoming their best, and more motivated by not getting fired.

All salespeople are trying to achieve something, but some set the bar higher than others. When sales leaders get to the bottom of why that is, they can then begin to help underperforming salespeople.

Doing this will require asking the right questions, active listening, and a genuine interest in understanding each salesperson on your team. Fortunately, that skill set is incredibly similar to the skills that are needed to be effective in sales.

A sales manager is likely to discover salespeople who are motivated by avoiding failure have in fact experienced enough failure in their life (in sales or otherwise), that they have developed a mindset of avoiding failure at all cost. They’ve come to believe they can’t perform well, will never be the best, and have no shot at accomplishing greatness — so their ambition ends at just doing enough to get by.

To help a salesperson out of this mindset will require a bit of patience, which may not be something your organization can afford. It’s important to understand the difference between when you should coach, and when you should fire.

If you decide coaching is in order, we suggest setting progressive goals, which are described in the next section.

Increase Revenue

Progressive goals are the key to unlocking sales growth and increased revenue. They can be used for any salesperson, not just underperformers.

The purpose of a progressive goal is to achieve just a little bit more than was achieved the day, week, or month before. Progressive goals are meant to be accomplished in a relatively short period of time and should not be set as long-term goals. Yes, a year-over-year increase in quote is a progression of a goal, but it’s too hard to stay focused on a single goal for an entire year.

If you break down the year into 12 months, each month will consist of either four or five weeks. Those weeks are typically made up of five days, and each of those days has a certain number of work hours in it. It is entirely reasonable to ask a person to focus on a task for an hour, knowing the accumulation of multiple successful hours of work will lead to a successful week, then a successful month, a successful year, and ultimately a successful career.

Increase Size of Deal

Another area where progressive goals can be set is in the area of deal size.

At The Brooks Group, we teach salespeople a pragmatic approach to information gathering and asking questions. Part of the strategy involves what we call “Three Deep Questioning”.

Asking questions to uncover the fact, emotion, and impact that a problem has on a client will uncover all sorts of opportunities.

Salespeople don’t always realize their solution can solve much more pain than initially meets the eye.

The external (aka most obvious) problems that customers are facing often create emotional problems as well. When your solution works, there can also be a trickle down effect that reduces your customer’s stress, restores job satisfaction, helps them sleep better at night, which all lead to a happier home life.

Those likely aren’t talking points in your marketing material, but they should be talking points in a face-to-face meeting. Salespeople who know how to dig deep for emotion and impact will find they can solve a wide array of problems that go beyond the obvious fact-oriented solutions.

When you’re solving problems on that level, it becomes much easier to find ways to increase the size of your average order.

It also makes it much easier and natural to ask for referrals. While a referral doesn’t exactly count as an increased deal size, it’s a great first runner-up.

Smart Goals Are

Smart Sales Goals Are…

Let’s pivot for a moment and talk about the elements of a SMART goal. We’ve all heard the acronym that SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

You’ve probably heard about SMART goals before, so let’s focus on how you can set SMARTER GOALS by incorporating what we’ve learned about motivation.

Specific

When a goal is specific, it includes information about who, what, why, where, when, and how the goal will be accomplished.

“My goal is to help Bob improve” is not specific. It’s hard to measure the success or failure of a goal like that because it’s too subjective.

“My goal is to help Bob hit quota” is better because there is a metric of “hitting quota” that can be measured (more on measurement in a bit).

“My goal is to help Bob start hitting quota every month. I’ll do this by meeting with him weekly, reviewing his pipeline and calendar with him, providing coaching on our sales methodology, and setting progressive goals that he can achieve to build his personal belief and excitement.” Now that is a specific goal!

Also, imagine you’re a struggling salesperson for a moment. What would happen if you had a sales manager who thought that specifically about your personal success? The above example clearly is focused on a Mastery or Performance-Avoider wanting to only do enough to get by, but you can easily develop specific goals to help Mastery and Performance-Achievers to do even better, set new records, win the sales contests, and be the absolute best!

It’s much more exciting, motivating, and fun to set achievement-based goals, but remember, someone with self-limiting beliefs is not going to be motivated by that. SMARTer specific goals have to take that into account.

Measurable

There are two ways to measure a goal. You can measure the overall outcome of achieving the goal, which we call “end-process” measures, or you can measure the action steps required on the way to achieving it which are called “in-process” measures.

In-process measures are things a salesperson can control. End-process measures are the results that come about from the things the salesperson can control.

The higher up you go in management, the more important end-process measures become. The C-suite isn’t concerned with how many phone calls a salesperson makes (in-process), they care about how much revenue was brought in (end-process).

It’s the sales manager’s job to care about and help salespeople focus on in-process measures, so that end-process measures are met. End-process results must be framed to salespeople as something they can control and measure. “You need more sales” isn’t going to help anyone. “You need to set aside a one-hour call block to make 25 calls, twice a day, in order to hit quota” gives a salesperson a goal they can measure and control.

This is also where small bits of progression come in. Salespeople with an achievement mindset just need to know the goal, and they’ll haul off and do it because they want to win.

Your salespeople with an avoidance mindset do actually share the same achievement mindset, their goal is just much lower. Remember, they don’t want to be the best, they just want to not be the worst. So instead of telling them to shoot for the moon, you should slowly raise the bar and reframe what “the worst” is.

Can they make one more call today than they made yesterday? Tomorrow, can they add one more call? That simple progression of adding one more call per day will not only create a winning habit of achieving more, but will also progress a salesperson to making 20 more calls per day after one month.

That will redefine their entire belief system. They’ll be excited to learn they do have what it takes, and that they can hit their goals. Instead of existing at the bottom, they’ll achieve more at a pace they can believe.

Achievable

Napoleon Hill says in Master Key to Riches that whatever the mind of man can conceive, and believe, it can achieve. If a salesperson can’t believe the goal you’ve set for them, you might as well have not set it.

Most salespeople assume their manager wants to hear achievement-based goals like “I’m going to make 50 calls today”. But if in the past month that salesperson has averaged 15 calls per day, then 20 is a better goal than 50. If they tell you their goal is to make 50 calls, and they don’t do it, then you need to lower the bar so they can get over it.

Find out what people believe they can achieve before setting goals. You’re after the compound effect. Once belief is raised, you can add a little bit more to the goal.

Even if it takes a week for a salesperson to regularly make 20 calls a day, that’s 33% improvement over 15 calls! It’s not the 50 calls you’re after, but what would you rather have: small goals that a salesperson believes and achieves or awesome sounding goals that never get hit?

Relevant

What makes a task “challenging” depends on the mindset of the person attempting the task.

Everyone has a belief system of what they can do, which means sales leaders can set a goal for every salesperson on their team that is believable, but still challenging.

In addition to being relevant to the individual, goals need to be relevant to the overall strategic vision of the organization and also the individual.

Salespeople don’t set the strategic vision at the company they work for. Strategic vision is developed at a higher level and must be explained to the people who are responsible for fulfilling the vision.

The salesperson needs to understand how their specific, measurable, achievable goal ties into the company’s overall strategy. It should also be connected to helping the salesperson get something they personally want.

Sometimes people want less stress, less hassle, or greater peace of mind. Sometimes there’s a material thing. Sometimes they’re after an intangible desire like being the best (or not being the worst). Remind salespeople that hitting goals at work will build confidence to help them hit their goals in the gym or in their personal relationships with a spouse or children.

Your role as a sales leader is to find out what each person on your sales team wants, and connect the dots between that desire and hitting their goals at work. Winning attitudes are contagious and are very likely to inspire and spread through a team. The same is unfortunately true for losing attitudes, so be sure to take this seriously!

Time-Bound

FranklinCovey’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution gives the example that effective goals are formatted as “From X to Y by Date”.

Goals without a deadline are nothing more than a wish, but once again, we have to factor in a salesperson’s motivation before slapping a deadline on a goal.

Achievers often thrive when they’re up against the clock. The sales profession typically attracts people with a competitive nature, so it’s likely most of the people on your sales team will resonate with a daily, weekly, or monthly contest or goal. Give them a prize, tell them when the deadline is, and set them loose!

As you by now surely understand, this will not work with everyone. Salespeople who are trying to avoid failure need a different approach. They still need a deadline, but they need some of that pressure to be lifted.

What happens to a salesperson’s belief if they are motivated by avoiding failure, and they fail? They’ll be crushed! Everything you’re working towards will potentially be undone. It’s important for these people to know that failure isn’t final. If a goal is missed, it can be reset.

It’s wise to keep people focused on today, while also helping them see the long term vision. If a goal is missed, simply reset it and attack it again.

Obviously goals can’t be missed forever, and allowing that is not the point. SMARTer deadlines for goals take into account when a goal should be reset to help move people out of their limiting belief system into a growth mindset.

Tips for Setting SMARTer Sales Goals

Tips for Setting SMARTer Sales Goals

Reward Success

Everyone needs positive feedback which is another reason why smaller, progressive goals are so powerful. They create multiple opportunities to praise someone’s hard work and accomplishment. People who have someone to perform for are more likely to rise up to the challenge.

Once you start rewarding people for their success, no matter how small, they’ll want to keep that praise and recognition coming in.

Don’t be stingy with positive feedback. Also, remember to praise people in public and coach or correct them in private.

Understand the Starting Point

Before a sales manager can sit down and talk about goals with their subordinates, they should first make sure they fully understand their boss’s strategic vision for the company. It’s their job to own that level of understanding so they can pass it down to their team.

Once they know where the company is trying to go, they can create SMARTer individual goals for each salesperson that are aligned with the company’s strategic vision.

The last step is to connect the goal to the salesperson’s personal “why”, or their reason for wanting to accomplish the goal. When a company’s strategic vision, a salesperson’s professional sales goals, and their personal reasons for accomplishing those goals are all aligned — everybody wins.

Create Short-Term & Long-Term Goals

An argument can be made that we can only work one day at a time. That means the only goals we can actually accomplish are short-term goals.

Long-term goals should therefore be made out of multiple short-term goals. It is important to set long term goals, but remember that they can be daunting because of their size. They have to be broken down into a series of short-term goals that people can focus on and do today.

One way of looking at this is to start with a long-term goal. Pick a sales goal that is a year away. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of your fiscal year, focus on 12 months from now.

What would have to be accomplished in each of those 12 months in order for the long-term goal to be met? Write it down, month by month working backwards from the future to the present. The result will give you 12 monthly objectives.

Now look at the very first month and ask what needs to happen every week in order to achieve this month’s objective? That will give you four or five weekly goals, depending on how many weeks are in that month.

Finally break those weekly objectives down into daily tasks. These are the specific actionable items that need to be done for the weekly objective to be met.

If you want to set a long-term goal that’s a few more years out, simply repeat the planning process to figure out what your annual goals need to be. For example, a five-year goal will have five annual goals, 12 monthly objectives, four or five weekly objectives, and five days worth of tasks.

At the end of this week you can plan your daily tasks for next week. You may have a good idea of what you need to do next week, and that’s okay. You just don’t want to waste today away planning everything that needs to get done three months from now, while you have a list of daily tasks that need your attention right now.

Set Priorities With Goals

There is a saying in the military when it comes to planning that “the enemy gets a vote”. Remember, the best-laid plans will be challenged by disruptions, fires, and plenty of distracting urgent tasks.

This will likely serve as a reminder, but all daily tasks are either important or not important, and urgent or not urgent. The combination of importance and urgency will help you prioritize what to do with that task.

Table 2

You want to make sure your salespeople understand where they should be spending their time. Tasks that are urgent and important should be done right away. Plan for fires to arise. Look at your sales cycles and plan your daily tasks, and weekly to monthly goals accordingly. If you have a block of time designated for “unexpected tasks”, you’re less likely to stress out and will have a better chance of not getting derailed by the constant barrage of things that get thrown at you as a salesperson (or manager).

Tasks that are urgent but not important should be planned. Again, block off time in your daily task list to manage these tasks so you don’t feel the pressure to do them immediately.

Important but not urgent tasks should be delegated (more on this in the next section).

Lastly, non-urgent and unimportant tasks should be eliminated. It’s amazing how much unproductive busy work we create for ourselves that we don’t need to do!

Analyzing last week’s results will help you and your team do a better job of prioritizing this week’s tasks. Remember, you’ve got another shot. There’s another hour, another day, and another week to get things right. Failure is only fatal if it’s final. Learn from this week’s mistakes so next week is better.

Establish Responsibilities for Individuals Within the Team

Just like you have to share the company’s strategic vision with your salespeople, you also have to share your goals and vision with any support staff you have.

Salespeople will do well to ensure the other people they depend on know what goals the sales team is working towards, and how their actions as support staff contribute to the accomplishment of those goals. Cross-departmental team building is outside of the scope of this article, but the more people you can bring into your SMARTer-progressive-goal-winning culture, the better.

Track Progress

In order to effectively track progress on any goal, there has to be some information or data to analyze. This involves keeping up with your company’s CRM (customer relationship management) software.

Salespeople will push back against filling out data in the CRM when they fail to understand how that data can help them. As a sales manager, you have to help salespeople understand that their success, and the company’s success, is too important to leave to chance. Effective coaching can’t happen without raw data, so that data has to be entered into the CRM.

It falls on the sales manager to make sure everyone knows where they stand against their SMARTer progressive goals by tracking the right KPIs (Key Performance Indicator).

You’ll want to have KPIs to track both your in-process and end-process measures. We’ve written more extensively about measuring KPIs here.

Don’t be confused into thinking that “total sales” is a good KPI. It is obviously the most important end-process measure, but there are so many other in-process activities that can be measured to help increase the overall sales number. Set most of your KPIs on the things you can control. Your CFO already has a report looking at the overall results.

Find Means of Growing and Developing Skills

The combination of understanding your salespeople’s motivations and setting SMARTer goals will create a winning culture on your sales team.

People will transform right before your eyes when they start getting excited about hitting their goals. Providing this level of value will also foster trust and develop loyalty to the manager.

Setting SMARTer sales goals is always the means to an end. It will take time to work individually with each sales rep, making sure they understand the strategic vision, the role they play, how to prioritize their work, and how it fits into their personal goals they may have at home.

It’s been our experience however that the proverbial juice is well worth the squeeze.

Work With The Brooks Group For Additional Sales Team Training

The Brooks Group offers a wide array of assessment tools for hiring and coaching, to make sure you have the right people in the right roles. Our IMPACT Selling® Seminar is a proven sales methodology that’s been taught to over one million sales professionals to help them close more deals, more often. In 2022 it was ranked as the best virtual sales training by Investopedia for the second year in a row.

Odds are we’ve already helped a company similar in size to yours overcome the same sales-related challenge you’re currently facing. If you’d like to learn more about what we can do for you, feel free to reach out at 336-282-6303 or set up a time to talk.

Written By

Dan Markin

As Vice President of Sales Strategy and Consulting for The Brooks Group, Dan is committed to using innovative and practical motivational techniques and strategies that allow people and organizations to enjoy breakthrough results – often beyond what they ever imagined possible.
Written By

Dan Markin

As Vice President of Sales Strategy and Consulting for The Brooks Group, Dan is committed to using innovative and practical motivational techniques and strategies that allow people and organizations to enjoy breakthrough results – often beyond what they ever imagined possible.

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