How To Handle Unrealistic Sales Goals

Last Updated Oct 28, 2011 5:34 PM EDT

A few months ago, I received a "cry for help" from a regular Sales Machine reader. She'd taken a job with a company that set unrealistic sales goals and then were beating her up for not making them. I advised her to focus on the real issue, not the emotions of the situation. Here's how the situation played out.

First, the (slightly edited) email that started the dialog:
Geoffrey,

When does "being positive" become "not facing reality?"

For the past 7 months, I have worked as an appointment setter for a local distributor of high-end cleaning devices. According to corporate headquarters, we are supposed to be able to set, on average, one appointment an hour. I work 34 hours a week and therefore should be able to get about 34 appointments, but I usually average between 25 and 30.

When I don't make those numbers, my boss panics. When I try to explain that I am making 35 to 50 calls an hour and that it's not my fault if nobody answers the phone, he says I'm being negative. I don't think I'm being negative; I think that he and corporate headquarters are not being realistic.

90% of the time, I like my job and I appreciate my boss's enthusiasm and drive. But that 10% has, on two occasions, almost resulted in me giving my two week's notice.

Any suggestions?
Here's how I responded:
I suggest you stop worrying about your manager and customer headquarters. Hitting 30 out of 34 is pretty good, since the "standard" was probably set artificially high in the first place.

Many companies set unrealistic sales goals in the belief that they'll motivate the sales team. They're not effective in your case, so just ignore them. Instead, focus on two things:
  • Lead quality. When the people you call are more likely to be in the market to buy, you'll get a better conversion rate. For more information, see this post: How to Find Hot Sales Leads in 6 Easy Steps.
  • Call Timing. There are times of the day when you're most likely to reach people and convert them from leads into prospects. For more information on how to do this, see What's the Best Time to Cold Call?
Let me know how it works out.
Yesterday, I received this follow-up:
I wrote you a few months back regarding my appointment setter position.

I started interviewing for a new job about a month ago. To help with the interview process, I calculated my numbers. In my 42 weeks of employment, I set almost 950-1000 appointments, which averaged 3 sales a week.

I just have accepted a position with a company who is allowing me to help them develop their telemarketing department. Even though my numbers were below my original employer's "standard," my new employer LOVED them and am hoping I can generate similar results for THEIR sales department.

Thanks
You're welcome and congratulations.

What's interesting about this situation is that focusing on lead quality and call timing did NOT improve her results significantly. However, directing her attention away from the emotions surrounding expectations and towards what it was actually possible to attempt to change, was obviously of great value.

Rather than grousing and quitting in anger, she did what she could to fulfill expectations and then, when that proved to be not enough, wisely concluded that she could do better elsewhere. The lesson here is that complaining about your manager, and letting him or her get under your skin, is just wasted effort.

Instead, look at what you can change, and if it's not enough and the same old crap keeps happening between you and your boss, look elsewhere. But then you're looking for a new job, not in anger and frustration, but as a logical response to a situation where you've done all that's possible to be successful.

READERS: You'll find plenty of similar tips and techniques in my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling now available for pre-sale here:

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  • Geoffrey James

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