Why Sales Goals and Diets Don't Work

Last Updated Aug 26, 2010 11:34 PM EDT

Goals are funny things. They definitely motivate, but only for a while. If you really want to be successful at sales (or indeed anything else) you must learn to be motivated by the process.

To understand why, let's look at why goals work.

Let's suppose your goal is to exceed quota by 15 percent, which will increase your commission rate for your full quarter. That means a LOT more money in your pocket. Pretty motivating, eh?

Actually, the money (i.e. portraits of dead presidents) is not motivating you. Even the things that you might buy with the money aren't motivating you. You may think they are, but they're not.

The reason you want that new car, that new house, that big vacation, that college money for the kids, is not the things themselves, but the feelings that you allow those things to produce in you.
This is an important distinction to make. Motivation is an emotion and it feeds off emotion. The stronger the emotion, the more the motivation.

The problem with sales goals is that achieving them produces diminishing emotional rewards. Once you've beaten your quota a couple of times, it's just part of your job. Once you've become successful enough to achieve a reasonably comfortable life, the extra money isn't much of a spur.

Even the thrill of victory wears thin. There's a documented phenomenon that top salespeople often encounter a mid-career slump. They sort of go on automatic, doing the things that made them successful, but without heart and drive. The goals just aren't motivating them any longer.

In fact, the world is full of people who set out to achieve a lofty goal, achieved it, and then sat there thinking: "Is this all there is?"

Winning isn't achieving the goal. It's feeling the positive emotion. And since achieving goals can only give you a limited and temporary emotional high, goals just aren't all that motivating.

On the other hand, if you find a way to extract positive emotion and pleasure from the process, you're winning every time you work the process.
For example, taking pleasure from helping customers will provide lifelong motivation to keep selling at a high level. Or looking at sales as a way to get to know interesting people and solve interesting problems. Or even just taking pleasure in the practice of your craft.

I came to this understanding about the impotence of goals through my experience with weight loss. A couple of years ago, I was 30 pounds overweight. I used the Weightwatchers system to lose the extra fat, achieving my "goal weight" in about 4 months.

And I've stayed at or below that weight ever since.

I've known half a dozen people who've done the same and ALL of them gained the weight back. That's because, like sales goals, weight goals don't work. Once you achieve the "goal" you've extracted all the pleasurable emotion (and motivation) that you can from the situation.

What's more, most people who do Weightwatchers (or any other diet) think of the process as painful and awful. No wonder they dump the process the minute they achieve the goal!

My success at KEEPING off the weight is the result of approaching the entire situation differently.

From the start, I've treated the process as something challenging and fun. I take enormous pleasure out of figuring out ways to eat gigantic, tasty meals that have virtually no "points." I don't have a "goal weight"; but I do stay within a certain range, because that's all part of the fun.

For example, I had a HUGE burrito for breakfast this morning that was exactly 1.5 points. I could have turned it into a steak and eggs burrito (using buffalo meat and egg whites) and it STILL would have only been 4 points, leaving me 24 points for the rest of the day.

The reason I'm telling you this is not to brag, but because if I can make the process of eating healthy food into one of the great pleasures of my life, you can make the process of selling to your customers into one of the great pleasures of your life.
In other words, you don't need goals. All you need to be truly successful is to love doing what you're doing. That will motivate you on a daily basis in a way that sales goals simply cannot do.