How to set Sales Goals

Set the bar low and blow your goals out of the water

Before you think I’m crazy in my goal-setting recommendations, please read or listen all the way through.  It may sound like I am against goal setting.  Or that I want you to set low standards of achievement.  Quite the contrary.  I am a big proponent of having personal and business goals in life.  Without goals and measuring them, we wander aimlessly through our business success and failure.   

My problem is with the method most salespeople and agribusinesses set goals.

Popular Goal-Setting method

We see it in movies about sports heroes.  When they were 5 years old, they decided they were going to win a gold medal in the Olympics.  The scene cuts to Twenty-five years later as they stand on the podium to get their gold.  They never gave up.  They kept their eye on the prize and made it to the top. 

Or in popular business stories, we hear about the relentless entrepreneur who knew she had discovered the best product in the world.  Turned down by those in power, she persisted until now owning a majority market share of a 10-billion-dollar industry.  Those are truly great stories and they are motivational.  However, there is just one problem.

The Problem with this method:

Most of us simply cannot accomplish this goal-setting method.  That’s why it’s remarkable when someone does it.  Most of us would set our sights on the gold, stumble, fall, and give up.  Or worse yet, we never even try.   Look at the statistics on New Year’s resolutions.  80% are abandoned by Feb 1st.  In sales goal planning, we have the equivalent of the New Year’s resolution.  It’s called…. Annual Planning or the Budget.

Sales Goal Setting:

Every year, I sat in the annual budgeting or business planning meetings.  It was like Groundhog Day.  Same discussions year after year. 

The senior sales manager in the room would ask, “How big of an increase should we budget?”  The room remains silent with nervous eyes darting around.  Some poor soul would say, “5%”.  That person is then shredded by all managers in the room.  “5%?  That’s not even beating inflation.  We can’t send a budget to the head office with a measly 5% increase.  We need a STRETCH GOAL!” That person recedes into their chair, never to be heard from again at that meeting.  Irritatingly, the new salesperson spouts off with, “50%!”.   The sales leader says, “Now, I like the new guy’s thinking.  All of you should be thinking that way!”  Ultimately, the goal is set at 28% and they pledge to win the coveted Sales Team of the Year Award at the next annual meeting.  Three weeks later, it’s business as usual.  The goal is forgotten, never met, and not brought up until the next annual planning session. 

The Struggle: 

If that method works for you, Great!  Keep up the good work. 

However, I think you will find most people struggle with this method.

After working around many salespeople and teams, goal setting is a constant point of failure.  Most don’t even have them.  In pre-workshop interviews, I will discuss goals and planning with several salespeople on the team.  I ask them about the current state of their territory and where they are trying to go.  Most, if not all, do not have a goal.  Or, they may refer to the business unit goal, “A year over year increase of 28% market share……”  I ask, “Wow, how’s that going?”  They will reply, “No clue.  Good, I think.”

My next question of them is critical to see if they are effective at chasing the gold.  “What is your part in achieving that goal?  I mean, what do you do on a daily or weekly basis to attain that goal?” 

Their answers: “show up for work…Just do my job…. Do my best”

It’s clear to me at that point, that the goal-setting process is a bit dysfunctional at this level.  Something is lost in translation from the CEO to the salesperson.

The Goal Setting Method that works:

Step 1:  Goal Leadership:  Set your big goal.  Go big.  Dream big.  This sets your North Star guiding light.  This goal might be set by the CEO or maybe your VP of Sales.  Realize that this is merely step 1.  It’s the step most people stop at.  Set a rough timeline to achieve it.  These are your stretch goals:  president’s club, $1 million in sales, etc.  Think of this like President Kennedy and the 1960s race to the moon.  He set a big stretch goal that guided the overall mission.  But that goal had to be managed by dozens of managers from Kennedy down to the last engineer in Houston.  That’s step 2.  Your goal might be to go from $100,000 in sales to a million.  That’s a big goal.  A 10-fold increase.  Again, that’s great, but you now need smaller intermediate steps.  I call this Goal Management.

Step 2:  Goal Management:  Set goals for major milestones.  In our race to the moon, there were managers or lead engineers who now had to decide the hundreds of small steps to get there.  The engine project that could get a rocket there and back and the fuel to do that.  The need to understand aiming a missile at a moving object from a moving object.  These are the milestones to work on.  In our sales example, it might be:  gain technical expertise on a product you sell.  Sell five new producers with 3,000 or more acres.  Sell a key account in your market because they are an influencer to everyone in Dodge County.  These big steps are still fairly lofty.  Important, but too hard to just knock out in a day or week.  Our minds need something we can accomplish in a short period of time that can be sustained day after day.  To stay motivated, we need to see progress.  And that’s where step 3 comes in.

Step 3:  Daily Tasks Scheduled:  This is where the battle for accomplishing the stretch goal is really won.  Anyone can look at the moon and say, “Hey, my goal is to walk on the moon”.  Some might even be able to do step 2 and set some intermediary goals.  But few do the nitty-gritty, the daily grind of compounding their efforts to reach each successive step in the journey.  And this is where you should be setting easy goals and blowing them out of the water.  The trick is to remember that this is just a daily goal.  Tomorrow, the next day, and the day after, you will have more, bigger, and better goals.  This is called the compound effect.  In my own personal example, at 50 pounds overweight and my doctor trying to put me on cholesterol medicine, I set out to lose weight and get back in shape to compete in triathlons.  My ultimate goal was an Ironman.  However, the odds looked really bad.  I had a 20-year gap in my workout schedule due to some ankle injuries.  I went from a 30-minute walk a day to 30-40 miles a day on my bike with an extra workout of swimming or running scattered throughout the week.  In the first year, if I had even thought about the kind of intensity it would take to finish an ironman, I would have quit.  The compounding effect worked perfectly.  Each day, week, and month, I added a little more and a little more.  Four years late, finishing the 13 ½ hour race felt like the culmination of a lifelong dream.  However, I knew it wasn’t over.  That goal was accomplished and I implemented the compound effect of setting another goal.  Well, I reasoned, if I trained just a little more and ran a smarter race, I could break 13 hours.  Three Ironman’s later and I’m still chasing that new goal.  To be continued!

There is also one more important step to setting goals and reaching your stretch goals…. Continuous Course Correction.

Step 4:  Continuous Course Correction:  We’ve all heard the story that airplanes are off course almost 90% of the time from takeoff to landing.  However, they are continuously correcting their course.  This little step is again what helps you as you journey.  In 1961, there was no way to know all that it would take to put a person on the moon.  Just like you have no idea what it will take to capture a 30% market share or win president’s club.  You start out just like a plane with a destination.  Along the way, you are blown off course or hit turbulence.  Adjust, recalculate and set yourself on a smarter more informed course to your goal. 

I know this goal-setting method may not be popular, especially with higher-level managers.  They see the need for stretch goals, the big dream that rallies the troops.  My advice to them is to ground truth that goal with individual employees on a regular basis.  Find those that will be truthful about their ability to see a method of achieving that goal.  The goals they are managing.  The short-term daily or weekly goals they are setting and achieving.

If they are struggling to meet the stretch goals, go back and take a look at the four-step method and give ita try.

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