Dozens of our sales experts give their advice on the best SMART sales goals to employ with your teams to see more results, and better pipeline performance.
Sales | Mar 31
Belynda Cianci on November 5, 2019 (last modified on November 4, 2019) • 13 minute read
“What gets measured, gets managed.” – Peter Drucker
Sales management is not for the faint of heart. Not only are managers responsible for recruiting, retaining, and training high-quality teams – they’re ultimately responsible for showing the results of those efforts.
No sweat, right?
Goal setting is widely seen as one of the most effective ways to manage teams. While good goal-setting practices can benefit staff on virtually all levels and departments, our experts revealed that most often, these benchmarks are used primarily for sales, marketing, and product teams.
Not only can goals create motivation and measurability, analyzing the results can provide data that helps managers refine training programs and coach team members who could benefit from course-correction.
But what kinds of goal-setting works best for these needs? What should you measure, and how often?
We asked 22 experts what they saw as the most valuable goal structures they set for their reps. Their insights fell into five major camps of metrics they found highly effective, whether alone or in concert:
Click the links above to jump to a specific type of goal-setting, or continue on to learn about each type of goal structure recommended by our experts.
The majority of our respondents cited activity-based metrics as one of the leading indicators of performance. As Spencer Smith of IRC Sales Solutions put it best, “The more you put into the top of your sales funnel, the more you’ll receive at the bottom of the funnel.” Higher activity numbers translate naturally to increased revenue but may fail to paint the whole picture.
Jeremy Rorich of Search It Local elaborates further. “Tracking revenue generation is a macro activity that overlooks the vital steps en route to that goal… I’m more concerned with my team’s activity metrics.” Rorich feels tracking these metrics offers a truer gauge of their efforts. “If I was only tracking revenue in, I’d have a skewed version of performance, particularly if that revenue came through a reduced number of calls. As a team leader, this approach helps me to monitor performance by making the clear the correlation between cause and effect, as opposed to the causation.”
Paul Davis of Paul Davis Solutions agrees, citing daily call volume as his key metric. “Besides closed/won amount, the most important goal for sales reps is the daily call volume they make on the phone or in person. Unless a sales rep is talking to people, the rep will never be able to perfect their sales process.”
*Editor’s note: Looking for an easy way to keep an eye on daily call volume for your reps and teams? The Hubspot Sales Activity Dashboard gives a comprehensive look at top-of-funnel activities and metrics.
Besides daily call volume, several experts pointed out, it’s not just volume of initial contacts, but continued efforts that make a difference. Lisamarie Monaco of InsuranceForBurial.com stresses the importance of multiple touch-points early in the process. In addition to a simple daily call goal, “new leads must also be called two times in one day. The first call, leave a message, text, AND email. The second call, no message.”
Some experts we surveyed zeroed in on follow-up and multiple touch-points as the leading indicator. For Lisa Zwikl of SmartAcre, “touches are critical. Marketers can pass a ton of leads to sales, but if they are touching base 1-3 times and giving up, close/won rates are bound to be low. This is an easy metric to measure (especially with the help of marketing & sales technology) to ensure accountability and collaboration between marketing and sales.” IRC’s Smith also credits attempted connections over actual connections, “because the former is more indicative of a sales rep’s efforts, which is the important variable here from day to day.”
Jessica Magoch of JPM Sales Partners stressed the power of follow-up to increase results without increasing spend. “Theoretically, if you can move the average follow-ups from 2 to 8… you can increase closed deals by 400%, purely by activity, even without increasing sales skills, effectiveness, or increasing marketing spend.”
These increased touch-points are responsible for increasing overall contact rate, says Joseph Cirillo of Cirillo Financial Service “Agents should shoot for a 35-40% contact rate… If contact rates are low, it usually indicates an effort problem. Are they making enough outbound calls? What times are they calling? Most sales agents are quick to blame the leads, but if you dig into their numbers, poor performance is usually bad habits that can be corrected.”
Some of the experts we contacted used a hybrid of the activity model, including Matt Sunshine over at The Center for Sales Strategy / LeadG2 looked at different types of activity volume, including number of discovery meetings, number of proposals, average amount presented, and average amount closed, as “performance metrics are important, but too often Leading indicators are overlooked.”
When it comes to refining processes, Andres Lares of Shapiro Negotiations Institute also puts stock in the value of tracking not just overall activity, but types of activity (such as calling, email, LinkedIn messages). “This helps to share best practices.” Granular activity tracking also benefits the individual, Lares says. “The key is to use activity tracking to help the salesperson, not to police them. It’s not ‘Why did you only set up three meetings this week?’ It’s ‘You have 10 meetings a few weeks ago and then averaged only three per week since, what happened? Can I help you get back to 10? How can I support you to do that?’”
Other experts we talked look at numbers a little along in the process when conducting goal-setting for their teams – looking not at the volume of calls going out, but how many of those contacts convert. For instance, Caleb Malik of SmartBug Media analyzes conversion Rates within stages of the sales funnel to evaluate his team.
“ We set goals focused on the rate at which deals move from one deal stage to the next,” Malik explains. “This gives a lot of credibility to sales rep pipeline if these goals are met.” Malik cites many benefits in this approach, “If a rep maintains or exceeds their expected rate, then that means other people in the organization can look at pipeline and know that it is ‘real.’ This enables those team members to effectively prepare for new customers. It also supports accurate forecasting.
*Editor’s note: If you’re interested in tracking deal flow through pipeline stages, check out the Hubspot Mktg Funnel Became a [stage] metrics dashboard for an at-a-glance reference for the health of your pipeline.
Malik also points out that this method allows other members of the organization to be most effective in their roles. Malik believes this approach is cross-applicable. “This doesn’t just apply to services companies. Many SaaS companies, for example, need to prepare human resources to implement software and support customer success. And, of course, everyone should be able to effectively project revenue.”
Mark Thacker of Sales Xceleration sees the value in pipeline for both KPI development and forecasting. “If you know your probability of closure at each sales cycle stage (and you should), you will know how much revenue to expect, and when that revenue will occur. This information will tell the sales rep, and their manager, if they have a sufficient amount of pipeline to hit the desired goal.”
Some Sales Managers, including Andrea Loubier of Mailbird, also encourage reaching out repeat buyers in the pipeline, looking at the upgrades and purchases made by current customers to ensure her team isn’t leaving money on the table. “Many companies seem to only seek new business and fresh customers,” Loubier explains.
“However, they are ignoring a virtual gold mine of happy customers who are already “sold” on their services or products. Use this opportunity to contact them regarding repeat purchases or an upgrade to their current package or service. This can also be a prime time to ask for referrals and offer discounts for a particular number of referrals who actually sign up or make a purchase.”
The old adage might be “You win or you learn,” but for many sales teams, the prevailing wisdom is more like, “You win and you earn.” For that reason, many Sales Managers examine win/close rates or client/contract add rates for insight into their team’s effectiveness.
*Editor’s note: If tracking close rates forms part of your strategy for measuring rep and team success, the Hubspot Marketing CLOSE Performace dashboard can provide ratio and goal data for your reps.
Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers examines not only closed/won numbers, but tracks the number of clients his sales reps bring in. “By tracking the number of new clients your sales reps sign each month,” Aufray explains, “you can calculate other performances such as average amount/client and ratio leads / close deals. This will let you understand how much they perform.”
Lauren Kersanske at Crayon also analyzes win rates for her reps, but does so through several lenses to “understand how effective they are at closing their opportunities. Overall win rate will tell you about their general performance, but we like to zero in by slicing the data.” This includes how well a certain rep is succeeding (or not) against a competitor, how long a sales rep has been at a company, and how well they perform within certain business segments or verticals. The information gleaned from slicing the data in this way can assist her in fine-tuning sales training, providing personalized coaching, and understanding fit and messaging.
Rob Bedell of Bedell Media & Consulting and Marcis Jurisons of Messente Communications rate one simple metric – closed sales – high on the list. Bedell, who provides sales consultancy services, explains, “I always recommend to business owners …they only measure success/closed sales. If you measure calls, appointments, presentations then you are getting their work, but not the results. You want the results and let the salespeople figure out how to get it.” Jurisons touts the straight line between closing rates and profit, “Qualified closed deals affect bottom-line profitability the most.
For many companies and sales teams, the clearest metric of success is the ever-popular bottom line. While revenue may not always be a reflection of a sales rep’s effort over time, it does provide a window into their effectiveness in closing deals.
*Editor’s note: If your KPIs focus on bottom-line revenue and profitability, the QuickBooks + HubSpot CRM: Financial Performance dashboard can provide insight into goals and pipeline to ensure consistent performance.
“Ultimately the point of business is to make a profit,” says Don Ruffles of ShreddingMachines.co.uk. “Given that sales reps are key drivers in sales, we wanted to make sure that they were more aware of our profit margins so that when recommending products, they could keep an eye on how much profit it would actually make the company.” While closing deals is important, “sometimes simply closing a deal isn’t enough if it doesn’t add to the company’s bottom line.” To this end, Ruffles has armed his team with information, providing an online took that “shows them cost prices… as well as cash and gross profit margins they will make if the quote is accepted.”
In explaining his approach to important goal-setting metrics, Maksym Babych of SpdLoad invoked the great R. Alec Mackenzie: “Nothing is easier than being busy, and nothing more difficult than being productive.” Babych explains how, for him, company profit is the key metric of choice. “Productivity doesn’t lie in the number of letters sent or sales completed. The main goal is to earn as much money as possible.” Babych likes profit as a quality metric, easy to track, and an easily convertible indicator that shows the effectiveness of operating activities. Babych adds, “It creates healthy competition among sales and doesn’t constrain freedom of action.
Your clients are the beating heart of your business – and its revenue. For this reason, many Sales Managers look not to the number of communications, but the quality. Though perhaps hard to tie to hard numbers like revenue and conversion rates, there is still value in the approach.
AJ Alonzo of demandDrive looks to the number of quality conversations, and how that can correlate to numbers over time. “95% of sales is a ‘no,’ and yet we tend to focus only on the 5% that’s a ‘yes.’ We do ourselves a disservice by looking at only the activities that yield closed-won revenue, especially when there’s so much to glean from the activities that don’t directly impact that number.”
Alonzo explains that they track conversations on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis. “This allows us to see what messaging is working and what isn’t, what industry trends we can pick up on, how we compare to the competition…. By studying and learning from it we can take that 95% ‘no’ rate and start to shift the balance towards ‘yes’ – ultimately increasing the closed-won revenue for our reps.”
“SDRs aren’t just there to generate revenue for us,” says Alonzo, “they represent a huge opportunity to test messaging and gather key market data. By tracking their conversation numbers we’re getting the anecdotal information we need to better position ourselves in the market and optimize the function.”
The power of forming connections and building a network is also a key goal for Angela Ash of Flow SEO. “Even if a sale or a contract isn’t in your immediate future, you never know when a valuable connection could prove to be just that – valuable. And, that’s not even mentioning their connections and their connections.” This compounding effect is where the real power of networking and nurturing lives for Ash. “The trickle effect is priceless!
Damian Thompson of Salesability agrees. “The goal of a good sales rep should be a thorough understanding of their prospects.” Thompson explains that for this reason, they, “want to focus on conversations more than ‘conversions’ during the lead generation & qualification stages. Tracking the number of quality conversations is a great way to ensure we are laying the foundation for that revenue success.”
Another benefit of the quality metric is in its training value, according to Becc Holland of Chorus.ai. Chorus examines these conversations as a means to provide self-coaching and review for SDRs.
“I give my SDRs a quota of calls to listen to each week so that, over time, they get to know organically what the AEs are saying to customers.”
Holland slices these calls into five major types: Calls set, segmented calls (SMB, mid-market, enterprise), Staged calls (discovery, pricing, negotiation), competitive calls, and what Holland refers to as “Unicorn” calls, where AEs perform particularly well. All of this information can guide the interactions SDRs have while demoing prospects.
As seen below, our experts report that the review of these goals varies a lot from model to model, and between organizations.
While some (like daily call volume and contact rates) require continuous observation, other measurements might not need this granular approach. Goals like revenue and win/loss ratios are better observed over time – monthly, quarterly, or yearly. What you hope to gain from these measurements will also have a bearing on how often you monitor or review certain metrics, and what impact the results have on the individual contributor.
No matter what metrics you choose to focus on within your teams, creating achievable standards, goals, and KPIs can get your team and stats heading in the right direction. Well-crafted goals create a sense of ownership of the numbers for team members. These goals can also motivate individual reps to aspire to better conversion, encourage upsells, engage meaningfully with clients, and to create excellent customer experiences. As shown by our experts, even qualitative metrics can be valuable leading indicators of healthy growth and revenue.
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