Setting SMARTer Sales Goals

A surprising number of salespeople operate without goals: the functional equivalent of a pilot with no flight plan.

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Imagine that you arrive at the airport for your flight to an important meeting with your number-one customer. The parking garage at the airport is full, so you must find an alternative place to park that is ten minutes away. The TSA security line is congested, causing an additional 30-minute delay. Finally, you make it to the gate as they are closing the doors to the plane. You reach your seat, take a deep breath, and try to relax.

As you rest peacefully in your seat, the pilot announces, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for choosing our airline. We have locked the doors and will begin pushing back momentarily. We do not have a flight plan yet for our final destination, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. If there is any turbulence, we’ll probably figure it out. Once we get up to altitude, map out our route, and calculate our fuel requirements, we will get back to you with our arrival time. Again, thanks for choosing our airline.” How long would it take you to bolt from that airplane?

This example borders on the ridiculous, but every year, a surprising number of salespeople operate without goals nor do they receive feedback on their goals from their sales manager. It is the functional equivalent of no flight plan or flight instruments to provide feedback to the pilot.

A goal without a plan is a wish, a hope, or a dream. Although dreams can inspire, inspiration alone is not enough. You need a goal. A goal becomes real with planning. A goal provides focus and a sense of purpose to one’s efforts. A goal is a written commitment that you make to yourself. Here are seven tips to help you set SMARTER goals.


Make your goals clear and unambiguous. It allows you to concentrate your energy with laser-like focus on things that matter. Specificity communicates expectations straightforwardly. This allows you to inspect what you expect, which is a core responsibility of sales coaches. Specific means a precise target. This is something you aim for and work toward.


Goals need to be measurable. What is measurable is motivational. It is motivational in that you can bear witness to changes and achievements in your efforts. You feel good about your progress. It is a milestone in that it benchmarks your progress along your journey, much like checkpoints on a cross-country flight. When a goal is measurable it’s also manageable. You cannot manage or improve what you cannot measure.


Goals should be achievable not easily attainable. A goal is an aspiration—what someone wants to accomplish—not just what they must do. The former demands commitment while the latter requires mere compliance. An aggressive goal inspires people to reach beyond their immediate grasp. Achievable means realistic, challenging, but not overwhelming. It encourages people to stretch, not snap. It must be tough enough to challenge, but not so tough that it demotivates. Ambitious goals, those within one’s realm of possibility, tap into potential.

Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay, Inc. said about goals, “A good goal is like a strenuous exercise—it makes you stretch.”


Goals should be relevant to organizational objectives and mission. Relevance means the goal is worthwhile within the context of the big picture. There must me a direct link from individual performance to organizational performance. As salespeople achieve their tactical sales goals, managers achieve their departmental and team goals, organizations achieve strategic goals, and accomplish the mission. 


Timely, time-sensitive, and on-time describe the temporal importance of goals. The lack of deadlines is at the heart of Parkinson’s law. Work and effort are elastic as they relate to time. This means work expands to the time allotted for its completion. Give someone two weeks to complete a project and it takes them two weeks. Give that same person only a few days to complete the same task and it will take them only a few days.

A timeline for achievement creates a positive and productive tension between what is and what could be—today’s reality and tomorrow’s goal.


Engaging goals build commitment. Too often goals are driven down versus driven up. If you want salespeople to be accountable to a number, they should have a say in creating that number. In psychological terms, engagement invokes the endowment effect. The endowment effect states that people place a higher value on the things they own versus the things don’t own. If the salesperson isn’t part of creating their goal, they don’t own it. If they don’t own it, they place less value on it. Salespeople need to be part of the process.


Zig Ziglar famously said, “Money is not everything but it ranks right up there with oxygen.” Equitably rewarding achievement is critical to goal setting. The reward reinforces the behavior. Achieving a substantial goal merits a substantial reward. Too often sales organizations set a goal and limit the reward. If you’re a sales leader, ask yourself, “Is the reward equitable to the outcome achieved?” Salespeople are motivated to achieve a goal that is rewarding.

You cannot achieve a goal that has never been set. Setting SMARTER goals is critical to success. Have you ever met a successful person that didn’t have goals? Me neither. Goals excite, inspire, and provide direction. Create SMARTER goals that stretch your mind, ambitions, and abilities. Dream big, but don’t stop there. Dreaming alone is not enough to achieve your success. Anchor your dreams to SMARTER goals that excite and inspire you.

Paul ReillyPaul Reilly 

Paul Reilly is a speaker, sales trainer, co-author of Value-Added Selling, fourth edition (McGraw-Hill, 2018), and host of The Q and A Sales Podcast. For additional information on our keynote presentations and seminars, call 636-778-0175 or email [email protected]. Visit and signup for our free newsletter.

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