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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

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