Have you ever made a sale or taken a huge step to get closer to meeting a goal, and all of a sudden you’re motivated by your achievement to keep going? I’m 100% positive that anyone who is reading this right now understands that feeling. The “small win”. I’m also sure that everyone out there has been put in an impossible situation by management where your company or boss (who isn’t on the floor) gives you some impossible sales goal.

Unrealistic goals can be devastating to team morale. The sales team will feel screwed from the start, thinking the goals are impossible to achieve and that their higher-ups just don’t understand what it’s like on the ground, “in the trenches.” The salesmen will do what they can, they’ll still try, but when they fall short of a goal they knew was impossible, they’ll feel like failures. We may have small wins that motivate us, but every loss feels like a “huge lose” and makes us reluctant to push forward.

Let me tell you a story

When I was in banking, I managed a sales team in one of those small “Grocery Store” banks. You know the type, the rent the space in front of your local grocer or walmart.  It’s called “In-store banking”. Corporate estimated that the grocery store we were in received about 7,000 people weekly in foot traffic. MASSIVE! Well, keeping those numbers in mind, my sales team was charged with opening 7 checking accounts per person, per week.

That may not seem like much, but when you add it up it was over 150 checking accounts EACH WEEK that the bank wanted open! I don’t want to sound bitter, so don’t think that I am, but the problem with the goal is that it was given to us by people who had never set foot in an in-store branch – the whole concept was new! What they failed to realize is that 7,000 people doesn’t mean tons of customers for us in banking, it means 7,000 people looking for groceries! They didn’t have “buying intent” when it came to our product!

Needless to say, my sales team never did hit that absurd goal. But we did push on and close as many people as we could. Unfortunately, because week after week, month after month, we were always failing at our sales goal, our morale was never very high. In fact, every six months we’d head to a sales rally put on by corporate, and we’d have to sit there and watch other branches get all these awards and accolades that we wouldn’t have a chance to earn. It sucked to watch my people feel rejected and disappointed and to walk away empty-handed.

And the problem goes the other way, too! Sometimes management can underestimate potential and set goals that are too low. Your morale will suffer on that end, too, because your sales team will be listless and bored. They aren’t being challenged and they aren’t living up to their potential. Salesmen are highly driven people! they need realistic and attainable goals to stay motivated. They need enough fight to wear them out, but not so much fight that losing is the only option.

Set a goal that is reasonably attainable, maybe a bit low, and once you find that you’re consistently hitting the mark, challenge your sales team and raise the goal just a little bit. Offer “spiffs” and other instant rewards to encourage them to upsell and add on. And remember that goal raising should be incremental. You want to make a new target that your team can hit, not one that will bottom out their spirits.

And one last thing: Goals should be put in place by people in the trenches. Not some ivory-tower bureaucrat who doesn’t know what its like and hasn’t set foot on a sales floor in 15 years.