The Scientific Approach To Goal Setting For Sales Reps

September 15, 2015 Sam Laber

Image Source: Football iu 1996 by Rick Dikeman CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

There is an endless list of techniques on how to effectively set and work towards accomplishing goals floating out on the web. As it turns out, most of these techniques are ineffective at best – in a lot of cases they actually make practitioners less likely to achieve their goals.

Some of the techniques have even been scientifically tested to be ineffective and harmful, including: “follow a celebrity role model”, “suppress your negative thoughts” or my favorite “visualize the new you”.

I recently picked up a great read called 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman. The book seeks to myth bust self-help voodoo while providing advice for performance improvement that is grounded in scientific research.

Author of 59 Seconds Richard Wiseman

Leveraging some of the ideas from Wiseman’s research, and that of other psychologists, what follows is a goal setting template that has been proven to significantly increase the likelihood of goal achievement.

To make the post more relevant, the goal template has been filled in by a SaaS Sales Development Rep whose goal is to receive a near term promotion to an Account Executive role.

Step 1: Define Your Goal

Without a goal to march towards no amount planning will help get you there. If you are having a hard time figuring out a particular career related goal either look to the example below for guidance or apply this methodology to fitness or financial goals.

Example Goal: Become an Account Executive

Step 2: Break Your Goal Down Into 3-5 Sub Goals

Breaking goals down allows them to be more specific and quantifiable; this helps you understand what to reach for and allows you to measure your progress more easily. Research done by organizational psychologists indicates that smaller more specific goals lead to greater attainment of larger goals.

Example Sub Goals:

  1. Network with Account Executives and Sales Leaders

Account Executives and Sales Leaders can be coaches and influencers in helping an SDR get a promotion.

  1. Complete discovery process from start to finish.

In most organizations, SDRs are only responsible for qualifying budget, authority, need and timeline before handing off a prospect to an Account Executive. The Account Executive then does their own discovery call to figure out the pains/needs and all the other moving pieces that kick off a sales cycle.

  1. Achieve towards my KPIs.

Calls per day, connects per day…etc. Numbers that you are not paid for but that indicate to your leadership that you are taking the necessary actions to hit your quota.

  1. Follow deals that I source all the way from start to finish.

Again most SDRs are only involved in the very beginning of the sales process and do not get exposure to things like; demos, technical calls, negotiations…etc.

  1. Hit my number

This could easily be the main goal in itself, but for the purpose of this goal it’s very important to maintain persistence in your current job when trying to get a promotion.

  1. 6. State my intent with management

Speak with management about my goal of becoming an account executive and ask for guidance. What is it I can do to demonstrate to the decision makers my potential value as an account executive above.

Step 3: Get SMART

Break down each sub goal and add the necessary detail to make it a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action, Realistic & Relevant, Timely) goal. Wiseman’s research shows that focusing on why you can achieve a goal, helps you visualize how you will go about taking the necessary actions to complete the goal. The visualization makes completing the goal more realistic, leading to increased attainment among participants.

For the purpose of this article, only one sub goal is broken down in detail. When doing this for yourself, perform the following exercise for all sub goals.

My Sub Goal Is To: Network with Account Executives and sales leaders.

Step 4: Set A Small Reward For Achieving Each Sub Goal

The purpose of this step is to increase motivation and give participants something to look forward to at each step. This technique helps provide boosts of encouragement throughout the sometimes lengthy process of accomplishing larger goals.

My Reward For Achieving This Goal Is: A full round of golf.

Step 5: List Three Important Benefits Of Achieving Your Goal

In studies where one group of participants was asked to focus on the downsides of failing to achieve their goals, while another group was told to focus on the benefits of achieving their goals, it was discovered that:

The group that focused on the positive outcomes was much more successful and enjoyed working toward their goals significantly more than the group that worried about failure.

Example Benefits: By becoming an AE I will see the following benefits.

  • Learning new skills and moving beyond prospecting all day
  • Get ownership of the whole sales cycle
  • Make more money

These Techniques Work Because They Incorporate The Following:

  • Planning ahead and breaking down complex goals into SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely).
  • Focusing on the benefits of achieving the goal, rather than the negative impact of not doing so.
  • Visualizing the day-to-day activities that lead to the attainment of the goal.
  • Reward yourself at every successful step to maintain focus and persistence.

If you can focus in on what is most important to you and set achievable milestones to assist in your journey, you will find that what you once saw as unattainable is right around the bend.

What are some goals important to you today? Do you feel like you could implement these steps and strengthen your goal achievement? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


  1. National Forum
  2. Amazon

Image Sources:

  1. Soccer Player

About the Author: Nikita Ovtchinikov is an Account Executive at Marketo. Outside of helping companies identify and meet their marketing needs, he is an avid reader, aspiring futurist, and top-notch cook. He also enjoys talking philosophy and traveling to exotic locales.

Featured Image Source: Football iu 1996 by Rick Dikeman CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

About the Author

Sam Laber

Sam is the director of marketing at Datanyze. He's a big John Hughes fan who occasionally fills the DZ office with the sweet sweet sounds of 90s rock giant, Creed.

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