5 Mistakes to Avoid When Setting Sales Goals

If you’re a huge procrastinator, sales is the wrong field for you. Sure, we all put off doing work, but when a sales team’s potential is measured by a metric that takes three months to show results, saving everything for the last minute is not a viable option.

I’m not talking about changing seasons or forming a habit. The three-month process I’m referencing is working to meet sales goals. 

Sales goals are great ways for sales teams to consistently boost their performance, and they’re crucial for any business looking to scale. When sales leaders use sales goals in the right way, they can be a sales team’s best avenue to reach success, but one wrong turn can turn these motivators into a huge waste of time. 

If you’re looking to make use of everything that sales goals have to offer, check out these five mistakes that you should avoid when you’re making sales goals for your team.


1.  Setting the bar too high

If you told an aspiring Olympic runner to shave a few seconds off of his 100-meter dash time, that’s a completely attainable goal. But if you instead told him to outrun a cheetah you released to motivate him, he’d completely fall short of your expectations, and probably need an ambulance.

They’re called sales goals, not sales dreams. Each and every expectation you set for your team is their motivation for the next few months. So if you set a goal that’s way out of their reach, they’re going to notice within a week or two.

Meeting sales goals is a great way to boost company-wide growth, and give your sales team an opportunity to meet incentives. When your team is doomed from the start, you miss out on an entire quarter-worth of motivation and development.

However, when you don’t fully understand your client base, setting the bar too high can’t be helped.


2. Keeping your team out of the loop

Who here likes letting other people decide what’s best for you?


Good. Sales leaders have the glaring responsibility of setting sales goals for an entire team, but they’re not the only ones who are affected by these targets. Sales reps know their client base better than anyone else. So if a sales leader decides to leave their team out of the conversation, they’re practically playing a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-quarterly-sales-goals.

Have a discussion with your team to learn more about each of their clients. Are they managing fewer clients, but with higher value deals? Do they have information about industry trends that could change sales goals entirely? Is the Suez canal blocked up for the third time this century? Each of these factors can help you set realistic goals and encourage growth among your team.


3. Focusing too heavily on the past

I don’t care how well your team did last quarter, or how much your star salesperson sold in the last year. If that’s all you’re using to set sales goals, you’re going to be greatly disappointed with your results.

Sales goals are expectations for the future, but some sales leaders choose to base all of their goal-setting strategies on past data. I’m not saying you should deny the existence of past sales achievements. These are great templates for understanding where your team’s strengths are. However, each quarter provides a new set of challenges and opportunities for your sales team.

Great sales leaders can take industry trends, product demands, team performance, and demographics, and turn them into sales targets that test their team members, without relying too hard on historical data.

But they also understand how unpredictable each quarter can be.


4. Not leaving room for error

Plan out your next three days down to the minute. Unless you’re in prison, or you’re bed-ridden with the flu, you probably had to take a few shots in the dark.

Sales leaders make predictions about how each quarter is going to play out, but setting concrete sales goals on events that are out of your hands can put a damper on your team’s morale.

Don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you go…within reason of course. Don’t just wait until the last day in the quarter, then adjust your sales goals to match. That’d be cheating, and depending on your team’s incentives, it could qualify as extortion.

White-collar crimes aside, give your sales goals some wiggle room. If this quarter’s shaping up to end way over your original target, offer extra incentives for going above and beyond. Or, if the quarter’s off to a slow start and your team has been burning the midnight oil, lower the bar a little bit to give them a fighting chance. 


5. Placing too much emphasis on the goal itself

Some sales leaders focus too hard on their precious numbers to see the bigger picture behind the statistics. Just because a quarter was under-target, doesn’t mean it was a complete failure.

Let’s say that a sales team falls short of their target by 4%. On paper, that quarter would look like a total disappointment. However, if there was a major series of layoffs halfway through the quarter, only being 4% off of your target is an impressive feat.

If you only focus on the results, you’ll miss out on crucial information about your team’s performance. But by giving context to your sales goals and applying them to the end results, you can make each quarter more of a learning experience for you and your team.


Focus on the concept, not just the data.

Setting sales goals gives your team a unique opportunity to show off what they’re capable of. So if you’re setting sales goals out of “obligation” or “because the higher-ups said so,” you’ll miss out on the reason they’re used in the first place.

By honing in on the goal of sales goals, you can guide your team towards success, and give them a reason to perform.