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March 7, 2016 // 7:30 AM

4 Questions Every Leader Should Ask Themselves Before Setting Sales Goals

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One of your core responsibilities as a modern sales leader is to use all of the data available to you to set goals that will result in increased productivity and more sales wins.

But are you setting those goals in a way that empowers your team to actually grow sales? Are you presenting them with a sea of data that’s interesting but not actionable -- the curse of “paralysis by analysis”?

Explore these four questions during goal-setting to make sure you’re not going down the wrong path.

4 Questions for Setting Stronger Sales Goals

1) Am I setting this goal with false hope?

Anyone in sales is familiar with stretch goals. It’s just part of the game. But there’s a huge difference between helping your team stretch to get better versus aiming them at an unrealistic target. One supports growth; the other derails morale.

Sometimes, taming your optimism is the best thing you can do for your team. You may think it’s possible to triple sales next quarter, but how will you feel when you’re halfway through the quarter and sales have “only” doubled? Are you failing? More importantly, just telling your salespeople to “sell more” isn’t helpful, because they want that, too.

Instead, help them get focused on what they can control and will lead to more sales. Maybe you think your team gets too distracted on unimportant tasks day-to-day, so set a goal to double the amount of prospecting activity, and then monitor it closely and continue building from there. Focus on one activity to spike productivity, or ramp up revenue with smaller, more incremental performance targets. These concrete goals make growth achievable and sustainable.

“It's easy to allow our goals to quickly outsize our realistic capabilities,” Janet Polivy, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, writes in Inc.

Polivy even has a name for this tendency: false hope syndrome. Make sure your goal setting is void of it.

2) Does this goal only account for the end game or does it include the steps to get there?

Trish Bertuzzi, president of The Bridge Group, summed this one up at Dreamforce a few months back.

“[Sales] metrics used to be about the end game,” Bertuzzi said. “People are now starting to measure what it takes to get to the end game.”

And she’s right. Every day offers an opportunity for you and your reps to set targets. Rather than overwhelming your team with the massive goal coming up at the end of this year, think about what you want to accomplish by the end of this week that will take you toward that bigger number.

“Setting and achieving goals isn't about knowing how you'll get to the end result, but about understanding the incremental steps needed to edge you closer to it,” Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains.

Maybe for your sales reps that means four live conversations with qualified prospects each day, or 15 demos to director-level prospects each week.

Break down your next big goal into those more attainable leading indicators that can be managed and executed every day. Then be sure to track progress, so you know the areas where you need extra focus.

3) How will I establish accountability?

Notice the “how” in this question. Your sales team won’t make much progress on hitting their targets unless they’re held accountable. Setting deadlines are one of the best ways to start doing so.

Remember when we talked about setting four live conversations with qualified prospects each day, or 15 demos to directors each week? Make sure the “per day,” or “per week” requirements are attached to those numbers when they’re communicated to your reps. Even if we’re talking about one-time initiatives, like new product launches, assign dates on deliverables.

Make sure those deadlines are realistic, then broadcast them. Finally, make sure the timelines you give don’t allow for a delay -- which brings us to our last question.

4) Did I allow too much time in my deadline?

This is a balance you have to be careful about striking. Unrealistic goals are just as harmful as unrealistic deadlines. That being said, err on the side of being aggressive.

There’s an entire theory that discusses how forgiving deadlines can delay progress. Parkinson’s Law states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

In simpler terms: You’ll take as much time to do a simple task as you’re given. The same goes for your sales team.

Watching out for false hope, lagging indicators, a lack of accountability, and forgiving deadlines will ensure you set sales goals in a way that empowers your team to achieve them. Cheers to smart, attainable sales progress.

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