3 and 1/2 Steps to Goal Setting for Sales Professionals


Goal Setting. Everyone talks about the importance of setting goals, but surprisingly it can be very easy to foul up or worse, get off track in the pursuit. 

This week’s blog is going to be short and sweet and walk you through a goal setting process that keeps your eyes on the right things, and gives you greater chances of hitting your goals. It works for me and I hope it works for you just as well.

Here we go…

Step 1 - Assess Your Current Situation

The first thing you need to know before you set ANY GOALS is WHERE YOU ARE TODAY. If you’re a commercial pilot you can’t get from NY to LA if you don’t know you’re in NY to begin with. Imagine thinking you were in Seattle. You’d fly south and end up in Atlanta, not LA. But why start here? Some people would say you should set your goal first, then look around to see where you are. 

Bad idea! 


Goals must be SMART - ‘specific, reasonable, attainable, realistic and time-bound’. For them to be reasonable and attainable you have to really be honest about where you are today before you think about what your new goal is going to be. And because they need to have a reasonable timeframe in order to be properly time-bound, knowing where you are to begin with helps you set a reasonable and attainable goal. 

To demonstrate, let’s go back to the commercial flight analogy. Let’s say you’re in NY. You know that, obviously, and don’t even have to think about it. Waking up with concrete and tall buildings every day tells you so. Now suppose it’s Thursday and you want to go some somewhere warm for the weekend. You would never say Tahiti. Why? Not because Tahiti isn’t a warm and wonderful place. It’s because you’re in NY and Tahiti just isn’t a reasonable weekend destination. The timeframes don’t work.

The reality is we do this kind of mental exercise all the time, and don’t even think about the fact that we start with Assessing our Current Situation. That’s because oftentimes our current situation is so obvious we don’t even think about it consciously. But in our careers it’s easy to fail to stop, look around and be honest with ourselves about our current situation. Especially when we are setting goals that stretch us.

So a little work is in order. Perhaps we want to look at our pay stub and look at what we’ve made year to date. Or maybe the last three years of W-2s and see our average income over a longer period of time. Perhaps we want to assess where we stand in the company stack rankings for sales, or what our current pipeline looks like. Each of these is a good way of critically looking at our current state so we can decide a Reasonable and Attainable goal, and there are plenty others. Do this first.

Step 2 - Set a SMART goal.

This has has been talked about so many times I won’t go into it too deeply here. For me each of the five words are important, obviously, but Specific, Measurable and Time-bound are the ones most often missed or shortchanged. Take your time here and make sure your goal is precise and exact. No goals like “make more money” or “grow my pipeline”. That may be a worthwhile objective but because it isn’t Specific we can’t actually call it a goal. 

And if it’s Specific it ought to be Measurable as a result. But be careful. Don’t choose a goal that’s difficult to measure. The best goals are the ones where the measurable aspect is obvious. You don’t need to spend a weekend working through complex formulas to figure out whether you’ve hit your goal. Whether you hit your goal or not should be obvious and easy to figure out, not a mystery to unravel. 

And of course it has to be Time-bound. If you’re going to increase your income you need to know how much and by WHEN. This part is essential to put real restraints around achieving your goal or not. If you say you want to make $200,000 but don’t say when, then reaching that goal “someday” is going to take the heat off and reduce the internal drive and urgency that stretch goals provide. Go ahead, put a stake in the ground as to when you want that $200k. 

And now to Step 3 - Act on your Goal

It takes action to make anything happen. And the higher your goal is, the more sacrifice, strife and massive action will be required. Einstein said it best, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result”. The best way to hit high goals is to commit yourself to more powerful action. It’s likely you may have to stop doing some things and start doing some new things, or more of the right things. You simply cannot get to the next level with today’s action plan. 

So in a nutshell, the 3 steps are Assess, Imagine, Act.

Seems simple, right? It is. 

However, I purposely left out the secret sauce. The one thing that’s missing in the Assess, Plan and Act process that if you leave it out, can doom you to failure. And it’s easy to get tripped up, especially if you are a sales professional.

The missing step is to DEFINE YOUR PLAN.

Now on the surface this sounds obvious, but there’s a key ingredient in your plan that will shift your focus, and results as well.  


In other words, you plan should include specific targets for the key actions you need to do in order to hit your goal. Perhaps it’s a certain number of cold calls per day. Perhaps it’s a certain amount of time spent on Social Media expanding your influence and delivering industry insights to your connections. Or maybe networking activity, or a certain number of calls to try to revive old deals.

Whatever your plan is, be sure to define MEASURABLE LEADING INDICATORS that are NOT outcomes, but rather COMMITTED ACTIONS you have 100% control over!!! In other words, you may not be able to control what happens on those cold calls, but you can control whether you make them or not. 

You see, one of the biggest challenges in staying focused and committed to a goal is OUTCOME ANXIETY. We’ve all felt it. “I sure hope this meeting goes well!” “I hope I close this strategic account” “I hope I can get a commitment to a follow up action by my client”.

I’m here to tell you, outcome anxiety is real and it is hugely detrimental to sales.

As a personal example, I’m a golfer and whenever I worry “boy I hope this doesn’t go in that sand trap”, guess what happens? It goes in the sand trap. Our brains are like that. Whatever we focus on, even if it’s negative, that’s what tends to happen. In sales our clients pick up on this anxiety and it damages trust, connection and enthusiasm for our products. 

But the most dangerous aspect of outcome anxiety is that it may cause you to abandon your goals altogether. Invariably there will be stretches of time when no results are showing up to indicate we are moving closer to our goal. And without another measure to feel “on track” it can be tempting to abandon the goal altogether as unachievable or not worthwhile. It’s easy to give up in these dry periods when we just need to push a little longer, in faith.

So, once you’ve done this critical step of defining your leading indicators, commit yourself to focusing only on them, not your results. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every quarter. Every year! Of course you will look at your results from time to time, and may even adjust your leading indicators if you picked the wrong ones out of the gate. But spend 10 times more energy measuring your progress against your leading indicators and I promise, the results will take care of themselves.