HOW TO SELL ANYTHING

Do Sales Goals Actually Work?

The wrong focus can actually make it trickier to build a solid customer relationship. Make sure you're getting these right.

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Sales goals help you sell, right? Well, not really. In fact, sales goals can get in the way of a successful sale, if you spend too much time thinking about them.

Before I explain further, here's an analogy that comes from Jeffrey Seeley, CEO of the sales training firm Carew International:

"A weekend basketball player, playing at the local park, thinks about shooting the ball into the basket, the last 10 misses he made, the last three shots he made, the current score, and maybe how stupid he'll look if he misses another easy shot. His focus is on the past and the future rather than what's actually going on. That's being goal-oriented.

"By contrast, a professional basketball player has the same goal as the weekend player (i.e., to score and ultimately win)–but he's not thinking about that goal while he's playing.  Instead, he's sensing the position of the ball, the presence of the other players, and the movements his body must make in order to move the ball closer to the basket. His focus is on the present, rather than the past or the future.  That's being process-oriented."

Now, does this mean that goals are bad things? Absolutely not. Goals can be incredibly motivating in a "get out of bed and get to work" kind of way.  Goals are what spur you to take action.

But when you are actually taking that action, your primary focus should be on the action, not on the goal.  Get it?

Alienating Your Customer

This is especially true in selling, because when you're too goal-oriented, you end up alienating customers.

Sellers who are primarily goal-oriented focus too much on closing the sale and often miss what's actually going on.  They tend to aggressively push their product on the customer, even at the risk of making the customer feel railroaded.

Even so-called "consultative selling" methods can fall prey to this way of thinking. For example, many professional sales reps are trained to "ask probing questions to discover customer needs." However, if the sales rep is too goal-oriented, the customer quickly realizes that the point of the questioning is simply to manipulate the customer toward buying.

Focus on Process

Things are very different when you focus primarily on the process of selling. Rather than worrying about the day-to-day routine of closing and quotas, you become more aware of what's actually going on.

In other words, you achieve your goals not by being obsessed with them, but by trusting that you'll achieve those goals by focusing on what's happening in the "right now" of the present situation.  Just like a professional athlete, in fact.

When you focus on the process, you stop trying to "make the sale." Because of this, you start building long-term relationships–and eventually your customers start bringing you new business and new opportunities.

And that's a very desirable outcome, because customer loyalty is the key to long-term profitability. Extensive studies have shown repeatedly that it is eight times easier to earn new business from existing customers than from new prospects.

However, such relationships can only evolve through the building of trust, credibility and rapport, which are the natural result of being process-oriented, rather than goal-oriented.

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Last updated: Apr 6, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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