Why your people keep missing quota–and what to do about it

George Brontén

Everyone has goals, big and small. Some we meet, some… not so much.

In the sales profession, alas, goals are more often missed than attained. And if you’re leading a sales team, the odds are high that at least some of the people you’re responsible for are missing their targets at least some of the time.

There’s nothing wrong with setting goals. In fact, it’s essential to establishing an effective sales process and developing a high-performing sales team.

But there’s something missing, and this missing thing is the reason (some of) your sales team keep missing their goals.

The missing piece is habits.

Habits, according to this excellent article on the Farnam Street Blog (if you haven’t subscribed, I recommend it), use up about 40% of our waking time, and they are the fundamental driving force that shape our lives.

And when it comes to sales results? Good habits are the fuel that can drive individuals and teams past simply achieving goals and into world-class performance.

Why goals without habits are bad for you

Goals, without the underpinning of habits, are not just ineffective. They’re actively bad for you. Here are 3 reasons why.

1. Goals have endpoints

When a goal is reached, the motivation for achieving that goal often ends along with it. The runner whose goal is to complete a marathon may fall out of shape after the marathon. The dieter whose goal is a certain number of lost pounds may go back to eating badly and regaining the weight. A salesperson whose goal is $500,000 in sales this quarter may slack off when the target is hit.

2. Goals rely on factors we can’t control

If you plan to write a book this year, but you end up in the hospital unable to type, you will miss your goal. If you plan to run a marathon but you’re in an accident and break your ankle, you will miss your goal. If you plan to close a $250k deal but the customer loses funding at the last second and can’t complete the deal, you will miss your goal.

3. Goals trick the brain

The human brain is a powerful tool. It is also a weird one. And one of its quirks is that it sometimes interprets something we have imagined as though it has actually happened. In practice, this means that when you spend a lot of time setting goals and envisioning their achievement, the brain can trick you into thinking you’ve already accomplished them, often without your conscious knowledge.

Our brain can interpret something we have imagined as though it has actually happened.
George Brontén

Consider what happens when a salesperson is near their goal and has two or three deals in the pipeline that they expect to close before the end of the quarter. How often have you seen a salesperson, in this situation, get “lazy” and stop pushing more leads into the pipeline or working those deals hard?

It happens all the time, because at this point, the salesperson has mentally checked their goal off the “to do list,” and determined it’s time to take a break. They probably don’t even realize they’ve done this, but the effect is the same–they end up falling short of their goal and blaming those deals for not closing on time, when the real culprit is that they stopped trying.

Why habits are the magic ingredient

“Habit is persistence in practice.” ~ Octavia Butler

Goals supported by good habits are what your team needs in order to achieve more. Here are 3 reasons why.

1. Habits make hard things easy

Goals can be big and scary and hard. Write a book. Run a marathon. Sell $2 million.

Habits, on the other hand, are small and manageable. Write 200 words every day. Run around the block this week, and add a bit more time each week. Make X number of calls each day. Spend 1 hour a day nurturing accounts with growth potential.

Habits are easy, but when they’re well aligned with your goals, they lead to the same outcome. Habits make hard things easy.

2. Habits rewire the brain

Habits, for better and worse, actually change the wiring of our brains. When we engage in a bad habit–say, eating a donut for breakfast every morning–it’s a massive act of will to break that habit. But the inverse is true, also. When we are in the habit of eating oats and blueberries for breakfast every day, that habit becomes easier than doing something different.

If your sales team’s habit is to come into work, hang out by the cooler for twenty minutes, check email, scroll social media, call an old client, and then maybe do a few cold calls… well, getting them to do something different (and better) is going to be really hard. It will require that their brain be rewired.

Good habits do the same thing. Once established (which takes about 30 days), a good habit is easier to keep doing than to stop doing. Over time, a few small habits will rewire the brain and more habits can be added to compound the beneficial effect, which leads to the next point...

3. Habits compound

The bad habit of eating a donut for breakfast may cause you to think, “Well, I’ve already eaten a donut, no point in eating a healthy lunch.” Or you choose not to exercise that morning because you just don’t feel like it after loading your body with all that sugar and gluten. It becomes a habit to lie around instead of going for a walk.

Over time, these behaviors compound into new habits, and before long you are dying of heart disease.

Researchers refer to “keystone habits” to discuss this pattern. Keystone habits are specific small habits that readily compound into bigger habits that then result in major outcomes.

A person who makes a twenty-minute yoga session into a habit will likely find themselves choosing healthier eating options, adding a walk to their routine, choosing the stairs instead of the elevator, stretching their body during the day, and starting a meditation practice. Each of these habits builds on the others and adds up to a healthier body and mind and, ultimately, a more fulfilling life.

Likewise, salespeople who start with small keystone habits, such as checking in to their sales enablement platform and using checklists, are likely to build on those habits to establish a pattern of habits that result in high achievement.

Here’s the payoff

When sales teams build habits rather than only focusing on goals, a lot of nice things tend to happen. Three examples:

1. Your salespeople–and therefore your team–overshoot their goals

Assuming the habits your team has established are calibrated to your strategy and goals, you will probably start overshooting your goals. Why? Because habits do that.

Imagine again that you’re writing a book. You decide to write a book in six months. That’s a big goal, and about halfway through you get bogged down and put it off for a while and maybe you finish the book and maybe you don’t but ultimately it takes three years.

Now imagine instead that you would like to write a book in one year, but instead of setting that as a goal, you establish supportive habits. You decide to write 200 words a day, every day, without fail. This is an achievable habit and after about 30 days, you find it more difficult NOT to do it than to do it.

Habits, for better and worse, actually change the wiring of our brains.
George Brontén

Some days, you write 200 words. Some days, you write 500 words. Other days, you write 1000. Sometimes, you write a little in the morning and have to run to a meeting, but because you wrote those 200 words, an idea is running along with you and when the meeting is over you sit down to write out that idea and the 200 words becomes 1500 and then you realize you’ve actually got a whole new chapter to talk about and you outline it right then and there so that when you sit down the next day, your 200 words come so fast you write another 750. And so on.

By the end of twelve months, you’ve written two books and published one of them.

This habit, by the way, of writing 200 words a day? It was practiced by Terry Pratchet, who wrote more than 70 books over his lifetime and sold 75 million copies.

Habits work.

2. Your salespeople won’t quit when they hit the finish line

When your salespeople have established habits instead of focusing only on goals, they won’t hit “end of quarter blahs” and quit working just because they hit their target.

3. Habits will make your salespeople more resilient

Life happens, and sometimes events knock us off our feet and no matter what we do, we can’t meet goals we’ve set for ourselves. This can be highly demotivating.

Good habits are the antidote.

The dieter who spends a weekend at an event where the only thing to eat is coffee and donuts may become demotivated when they gain five pounds and see their goal weight receding away from them. The person who has developed a habit of eating healthy foods, however, can bounce right back into that habit as soon as the weekend is over, and will probably be glad to be back in their routine.

Likewise, salespeople with good habits who are knocked out of the game due to family emergencies or because a big deal falls through outside of their control can jump right back into their old habits and recover much more quickly than someone who was relying on that time or that deal to meet a goal.

Habits stick through thick and thin...

and they persist even after goals are met.

Habits have the power to shape our lives.

We get to choose whether we design those habits deliberately, or let happenstance design them for us.

You know which way effective sales teams choose...

If you want to begin establishing better habits on your sales team, start with an effective milestone-based process that identifies the specific activities and behaviors salespeople need to engage in to achieve results. Then make those activities a habit for your team members.

I developed Membrain specifically to help you establish your process, execute on it, and reinforce the daily habits your salespeople need in order to consistently outperform expectations.

Contact us today for a demonstration.

George Brontén
Published August 28, 2019, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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