James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

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The Secret to Setting Goals for Your Sales Team

James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

There’s nothing more frustrating than setting goals and then missing the mark.

Sales goals are typically lofty and daunting, but the best salespeople will thrive under the pressure with the right goal setting management.

Charley Dehoney was a sales manager for years and was haunted by goals that seemed just out of reach for him and his team. Knowing there was a solution to be found, he researched successful goal-setting strategies used in a variety of industries.

Charley read books like Mastering the Rockefeller Habits and The Four Disciplines of Execution, and researched strategies used within the military, non-profits, and global conglomerates. Through his research, he found that every successful organization stood on three truths to frame how they set and achieved goals:

  1. The human brain can only process 2-3 big picture ideas at one time
  2. No one is a good multi-tasker
  3. Clarity is key

We recently chatted with Charley, who is now VP of Sales at Events.com, about how he used these principles, as a manager, to rethink the way he set sales management goals. The results were a huge success. Here’s what he shared with us.

Set Objectives From the Top Down

A company’s culture and core values need to come from the top executives.


When it comes to things like culture, core values, and goals, they need to come from the head honchos of the company. They are the people who have their heads above water enough to see where the ship is headed, and people look to them for vision, leadership, and tone setting.

Your C-suite decision-makers have the responsibility to set big picture goals or objectives, identify a unified target, and create common reference points for each department for every quarter or half.

Using the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) model, companies like Google and Intel set executive level objectives, and then the rest of their company defines what the key results of those objectives will be.

Once the exec-level objectives are set, leadership then takes them back to their teams for department-specific outlining.

Here’s what a sales oriented OKR might look like.

Objective: Accelerate recurring revenue growth this quarter

Key Results: Deliver $2M in subscription revenues

Increase monthly revenue / subscriber to $65

Hire 3 new inside salespeople

The executives aren’t solving the how, they are providing the what, and the department managers are developing the how with their teams.  Charley says the most successful organizations come up with 2-3 “whats” or goals per quarter.

The keyword here is with–it’s not about forming concrete strategies yourself and doling them out to your team, rather, you are working through the logistics of those objectives as a team.

“The only time I’ve missed goals is when I’ve gone out and told a room full of people what their goals are!”  Charley said reflecting on his less enlightened days.

Get your team in a room and share the objectives with them.  Let everyone have their moment to complain, moan, whatever they need, and then open up the door for brainstorming.

For Charley, he said as soon as everyone finishes venting, inevitably one or two people perk up and say “Well, if we’re actually going to achieve that, we’re going to have to do XYZ,” and the ball starts rolling.

It’s freeing to know that you don’t have to strategize on your own.  The inclusion of your team also ensures the highest level of buy-in.

Define Strategies (And Boundaries) as a Team

The right people, tackling the right goal, at the right time is 99% of success. The other 1% is…


Salespeople are natural problem solvers. Within an organization, issues are constantly arising, but your sales team cannot be the fixer of everyone else’s problems. A benefit to the OKR method is that it prevents the dreaded goal creep due from extraneous problem fixing.

Having defined goals teaches your team how to stay on track and gives them license to say “no” to distractions.

Charley says his team can spend time on whatever they want, as long as it’s working towards a goal. By knowing what they are and aren’t working towards, they begin to hone in only on the tasks that drive them towards their goals.

While 80% of salespeople understand how to write and structure goals, 60% still fail to meet them. The reason? That 60% didn’t have a structured plan in place when they set those goals.

Take time to define your desired results and make sure every team member knows their role in achieving those numbers.

When you have clear expectations for each team member and the team as a whole, it makes saying “no” to other requests much simpler.

For example, someone from the customer success team might ask one of your account reps to sit in on a difficult call. If their goal that quarter is to grow your new client base, saying “yes” to the customer success call becomes a distraction from their goal.

Since you’ve clearly defined that maintaining current clients is not one of their current goals, they can confidently say “no” to the request.

Salespeople learn to say “no” to bad prospects that are a waste of time, and they can apply the same principle to discerning which tasks are important and which ones aren’t.

If the person keeps pushing, Charley suggests simply saying something like, “I’d love to help, but unfortunately that’s not something I’m working towards this quarter.  I’d have to go to my [team leader] and ask to take time from what we’re currently working on to help you.”  By that point, most people will move on.

He’s also quick to point out that you’re helping them, in a roundabout way, by giving that customer success rep the chance to rethink their strategy and innovate a new solution to their problem.  Win-win!

Maybe saying “no” to colleagues is new to you, in which case you need to optimize your denial response. Alexandra Samuel of the Harvard Business Review suggests writing a few email templates you can copy and paste to save yourself having to write new ones with each similar request.Sales teams never run out of work, but they do run out of plans.


Teach Don’t Tell

“Innovative people do not need to be told to do it, they need to be allowed to do it”, says former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, in his book How Google Works. Your job, as a sales manager, is to set your team up to win.


If you force feed your team a specific process of doing things, they have no buy-in.  People don’t want to be boxed in, especially salespeople. If you truly want to develop people and see goal-smashing results, teach them how to reach their goals.

Charley says, “If I’m telling the team what to do, how to do it, when to do it, all they’re getting from me is a paycheck.  They’ll never be able to replace me.  And that, to me, sounds like we’re going to end up in limbo.” His goal is to develop people to ultimately become greater than himself.

Give them the freedom to flesh out tactical ways to meet their goals. They’ll use their creativity and knowhow to come up with solutions that best work for them.

Another way to get buy-in is by explaining how the goals tie back to the greater why of what they do. Goals should be more than numbers and appeasing the boss.

When you incorporate the “why” into your goals (i.e. Why does our product make people’s lives better?  Why do I personally believe in the service we provide?) things change.

Their goal for new clients transitions from just closing a deal to improving the lives of their customers.  It’s then not about increasing customer upgrades by 25%, it’s adding 25% more value to a customer’s service.

Incorporating the “why” shifts the focus from “have to” to “get to”.

Ultimately, you want your team to feel confident in their own abilities and for them to know their role in the bigger picture. In doing so, you’re fueling the unstoppable force that is an independent and self-assured team of empowered salespeople.

Managers aren’t off the hook, however.

At some point, someone on your team is going to come to you and say “The problem with THIS is THAT, and I can’t move forward.”  This is where you step in, capture the “this and that” issues and solve them.

For example, Charley mentioned an instance when his team had a goal that required 2-3 more prospect appointments per week. The top salesperson presented the problem that he couldn’t squeeze any more time out of the day to set up those meetings, because he was constantly on the phone. Charley took that feedback and noted that phone calls weren’t the only way to make appointments, so he dove into this salesperson’s outbound email.

He found that his number of outbound emails were quite a bit lower than the rest of the team. This salesman had a big Rolodex and was able to make things happen on the phone, but was missing out on major opportunities via email.

Charley asked him if he invested in email automation software, would the salesman be willing to partner with him on email campaigns that leveraged his Rolodex, his voice, and his connections to the industry. Paired with Charley’s tech knowledge, the salesman signed on right away because it meant a partnership with his boss to make more money.

When you allow space to discuss roadblocks and tackle them together, you’ve now partnered with your team, they’ve partnered with their leader, and everyone takes ownership of the issue and the outcome.


There’s nothing better for the health of an organization than a sales team hitting their goals.

That’s the payoff for Charley Dehoney.  The moment when the balance sheet comes back with flying colors and it makes the hard work worth it.

It doesn’t happen by chance and it doesn’t happen without a plan.  It happens when you, as a sales manager and leader, approach goal setting as an opportunity for your team to grow and invest in themselves and the company.

By setting goals, drawing hard boundaries, and empowering your sales team, you will witness more of your goals being met each quarter.  Next quarter, grab hold of the objectives of your senior level execs and actively work with your team to set, meet, and crush your goals!

You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to the B2B Growth Show on iTunes. If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode by clicking here.