Man on mountain

A More Mindful Approach to Setting Sales Objectives

If you’ve read any of our other articles you know we are dedicated to elevating the sales profession and helping people achieve better results with less stress.

You Want Me to Do What?

Interestingly, one of the elements that induces stress into the sales profession is the sales objective, or as it is often referred to, quota. But why is that? Why do sales goals cause so much angst? I’ve felt it myself, both as a seller and sales leader. The instant the objective is set by my leadership, anxiety about it begins to build. Why is it so much higher than before? Is it realistic? How can I possibly achieve that? And so on.

From working with tens of thousands of salespeople and sales leaders, it is clear I am not alone. Sales objectives can actually create stress, not only when they are set, but anytime we experience a gap between our actual performance and the goal. And yet, we set goals in other areas of our lives and manage them with little to no stress. Whether in the area of fitness, relationships, or finances, goals in these areas often do more to inspire than stress us.

Why is that, and perhaps more importantly, how can we set sales objectives in a more mindful way so that they serve to help focus our efforts and inspire us?

Whose Goal is This Anyway?

For starters, let’s examine the difference in how sales objectives and personal goals are generally established. If you hire a personal trainer to help improve your health and fitness, the first question the trainer will likely ask is, “What is it that you’d like to accomplish?” The same applies to hiring a golf, tennis, piano, or cycling coach. They start by understanding what we want to accomplish. Unfortunately, that is NOT how most sales objectives are set. In a typical sales organization, the company establishes the overall sales target based on the revenue objectives for the business and that target is then divided among the sales team based on some rationale. Team leaders and individuals are then given their sales objectives at which point the nearly universal mental, if not spoken reaction is, “This is too high!”

And it simply doesn’t have to be this way. If companies would design their compensation plans to payout a competitive incentive for the sales results produced, and then share the plan with the team, managers could simply ask each salesperson how much they want to make under the plan. This would simultaneously lead to an objective the salesperson is more committed to achieving and one that is almost always higher than the quota the company would have assigned the person. That’s because most salespeople are self-motivated to earn more than what they would make at quota. It’s one of the most appreciated aspects of sales positions – the ability to control one’s own income more directly.

In addition, this approach would facilitate a conversation between the manager and seller that may provide more insight into the sellers underlying motivation. By asking each salesperson why they’ve selected that specific target, managers can understand and leverage each person’s unique motivation to help keep them focused during challenges faced along the journey to achieving that objective. In fact, one particularly savvy manager we know did exactly this and learned that her salesperson was targeting a specific income because he wanted to purchase a new BMW. One day after a joint call with that salesperson, the manager arranged for a surprise test drive at the local BMW dealer! As you can imagine, this built tremendous relational equity with the salesperson that would later make difficult coaching conversations significantly easier. 

Goals vs. Dreams

The second challenge with the common approach to establishing sales objectives is they often aren’t really goals, they’re dreams.

You see the difference between a goal and a dream is a plan. We mentioned earlier that selling is a unique profession in that people can set a target and then work backward mathematically to determine what they must achieve in terms of:

  • New Opportunities

  • New Proposals

  • Proposal Ratio

  • Closing Ratio

  • Average Sale Value

We refer to these as the predictive metrics, and setting unique weekly or monthly targets here is a key step in transforming a sales dream into a sales goal (more information about the value of individual predictive metrics can be found here). In fact, we refer to this combination of metrics as the Sales Success Plan. Unfortunately, we generally find less than 10% of the salespeople we meet know what they must achieve in terms of these predictive metrics in order to reach their sales and income objectives. This is a key miss and creates more stress while reducing the probability of success. As noted in this recent article by Luciana Paulise, dividing big goals into smaller steps or milestones can help reduce stress and increase the likelihood of success.

This is precisely why the next step personal trainers and coaches take immediately after understanding our individual goals is to help us create a plan that will get us from where we are now, to where we want to be. The plan generally focuses on breaking our goal into smaller pieces and identifying the practice regimen necessary to make regular, incremental progress. Good coaches will also focus on helping us create a plan that is sustainable. For example, they might create a plan based on a practice schedule of 45 mins per day rather than two hours even if we could commit to two hours per day for the first month or two as they want to help us avoid burnout and remain committed to the process.

Effective sales coaches can and should to the same for our salespeople. Once short-term targets are set in terms of the predictive metrics, managers and sellers can work together to uncover any gaps, identify the root cause of those gaps, and define corrective actions that will address the gaps. Coincidentally, this is exactly what performance coaches do in a variety of other fields such as athletics.

We’ve consistently found that allowing salespeople to set their own, personal sales objectives and then helping them develop a plan to achieve their objectives results in more motivated, less stressed, higher producing sales teams.

Some Tools to Help You Get Started

If you’re ready to try this more mindful approach, we have a variety of free tools to help you get started:

  • Sales Success Plan Template – a simple spread sheet to help you break your sales goal down into predictive metrics.

  • Guide to Sales Coaching – a brief overview of the Axiom GUIDE coaching model to help you set goals and develop salespeople through regular, structured coaching interactions.

  • One-on-One Outline – a tool to help you effectively apply the GUIDE coaching model to standard coaching conversations such as funnel reviews and opportunity reviews.

Want to talk through your situation or get some additional ideas about affecting this change in your organization? You can schedule a call with us here.

At Axiom Sales Kinetics we’ve spent thirty years helping sales teams coach, learn, and sell more effectively. We offer a unique, mindful alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about Selling the Axiom Way, our Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at

Coaches and Player

What Can Great Sports Coaches Teach the Sales VP?

Not long ago, we noticed a study showed the average tenure of a VP of Sales had decreased about 1 ¼ month per year for seven straight years and at that point stood at just 19 months.

The reality is that VP of sales is like being the head coach of any performance profession in sports or the performing arts. They are tasked with delivering results fast and predictably while building a great culture and developing a strong core of leaders with salespeople who consistently outsell their competition. And if they fail to deliver quickly, they are often replaced.

While it could certainly be argued that replacing a senior sales leader isn’t the best or shortest path to improved performance, there is no denying that it happens frequently – just as it often does in professional sports. Meanwhile, there are a number of examples of head coaches who’ve made a career out of turning underperforming teams into perennial winner. Regardless of whether you’re a fan or not, it’s hard not to respect what great head coaches such as Nick Saban in college football, Pat Riley in the NBA, Bill Belichick in the NFL, and Sir Alex Ferguson from the EPL have been able to accomplish with teams that had previously struggled.

Fortunately, whether you are the struggling current head sales coach, or have just joined the team with a mandate to turn things around, there are great lessons ever sales VP can glean from successful coaches in other fields.

In fact, we believe there are at least four areas in which great coaches excel, and these areas are the foundation of their success. We’ll review these below, and then you can decide if they will become part of the foundation for your success.

1.   They put their system in place.

Their system is defined in three ways:

Their Principles — This defines the fundamental, universal, and non-negotiable truths they expect from everyone in their sales organization. Adhering to these principles gets people recognized and rewarded. Not adhering to these principles results in immediate and sometimes even public negative consequences.

One very successful VP of Sales I know laid down the law in her first 90 days that they would not win business or build relationships by frivolous spending on entertainment or gifts. She believed that wining and dining with prospects and customers was pointless if they couldn’t build relationships and create value based on their expertise and the company’s solutions. Those who hadn’t been abiding by this principle had to either change their approach or find another place to work.

Their Process — Great head coaches have a crystal clear and measurable definition for “what good looks like.” They have quantifiable and verifiable expectations for their team’s practice (learn), how their managers conduct pipeline and forecast reviews, how they should prepare for customer meetings, and how they should execute their sales process.

But great coaches don’t over-engineer or overly control the process. Otherwise, it comes across as something their team will comply with but won’t commit to. Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells would even have his team practice how he wanted them to line up for the national anthem, as he knew it set the tone for playing together with efficiency and preventing the chaos that often comes from ad-hoc processes.

Their Playbook — High-performing coaches know a critical driver to productivity and effectiveness is to get everyone doing their part to execute well-designed plays. In sales organizations, this means ensuring a common language for pipeline management, creating/pursuing/winning sales opportunities, and developing and executing account plans. It also means that essential tools (like CRM) are in place to reduce complexity — not add administrative burden 

2. They invest in developing their leaders.

For the great head coaches, there is nothing more important than developing their assistant coaches. In the sales profession, the head coach makes it their top priority to invest in equipping, coaching, and training their regional sales directors and front-Line managers. Sure, many sales VPs talk a good game about developing other leaders, and many do a great job of it. Unfortunately, you need only look at the calendar of some head sales coaches to see how little time they are spending with their sales directors and managers. Further, the head coach knows they need to define “what good looks like” for their leaders, provide them the tools, training, and resources to do the job, and then get out of the way.  

The best head coaches certainly have their way of doing things, but they leave enough room for their assistants to grow their capabilities in their own way. Great head coaches often define their own success by their disciples — which makes a lot of sense. If you can list a healthy number of the VP of sales’ disciples who are now leading their own sales organizations, you can be sure they are serious about investing in the development of their leaders.

3. They build and vigorously protect the desired culture.

A successful head coach can’t spend too much time building and PROTECTING the culture. To quote Edward Schein, an MIT professor and expert on corporate culture, we define the concept of culture as: “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group has learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” The most successful VPs of sales more often creates a culture of high accountability, radical helpfulness, relentless optimism, real grit, and the belief that learning and performing are not mutually exclusive things. And the most powerful way to build this kind of culture in a sales organization happens through sales coaching.

Unlike most sales organizations, the best sales VPs don’t allow their leaders to treat coaching as an optional activity. They make sales coaching a mandatory activity – many even require their sales leaders to get certified to ensure they’re coaching during pipeline, forecast, opportunity, and account reviews. They also measure and reward their leaders on the frequency and impact of their coaching while also applying negative consequences when managers don’t coach. 

4. They prevent complacency and continuously "top-grade" their team

A successful head coach is convinced the best day their organization has had hasn’t happened yet. They set increasingly high standards for the skills, knowledge, and commitment they expect from their organization. They challenge their people to grow into these high standards so that they always have a team of “A” players and protect against complacency.

As an example, wildly successful college football coach Nick Saban ‘top-grades’ his team each year because his greatest fear is complacency. He has a list of specific requirements for every position on his team at every level — right down to their height, weight, speed, intelligence, character, etc. If they don’t meet that top grade or standard, he won’t recruit that player. Or, in the case of his existing players, he won’t keep them on the team if they don’t meet these increasingly high standards. 

This may sound a little harsh, but he only wants players on his team who embrace the challenge of getting better every year. He clearly doesn’t want players who are satisfied with their past performance. Again, whether you’re a fan or not, it’s hard to argue with his team’s consistent success. What if the VP of sales applies this same approach to top-grading?

They’d be confident their organization is well positioned for growth, they’d be outlearning their competition, and they’d be consistently delivering the expected results.

Want to learn more about how you can leverage these and other best practices to build a winning sales team and sustainable competitive advantage? Let’s connect.

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us