We often talk about learning as a journey. We talk about success as never-ending. We acknowledge that habits require time to take hold and that progress, like a stock market chart, is never linear. So when it comes to maintaining sales motivation, do you have the discipline and perspective to maintain focus on progress? Do we actually have the patience for it?
I was in my gym late last December when I realized that the app I use to check in when I arrive could show me historical data about my check-ins — how many times I’d checked in to the gym that week, that month and even for the year. My interest piqued, I took a look and saw… well, my dedication hadn’t been great for the year. The number of check-ins was basically half of what I thought and knew I should be doing.
I was determined to change. To improve. But how? Like so many other people, I’d made New Year’s resolutions many times before. Exercise more. Read more books. Spend more time doing X… Vague goals that I’d think about periodically but weren’t adequately being measured at any given point in time. I had no checkpoints in place to see where I was against these admirable but nebulous goals. And this gym app was also showing me that what I thought I might be doing could be very different from reality.
So I committed to a different approach. One tactic I implemented was to break down goals for the year by month- and with much greater specificity. I wasn’t going to “go to the gym more.” I was going to “go to the gym at least XX times in January.” I wasn’t going to “read more books.” I was going to read “at least 250 pages in January.” And so on. At the end of each month, I would be able to see and reflect on exactly what I did (or didn’t) do, think about why and solidify my goals for the following month.
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones… It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”– Confucius
Now, more than three quarters of the way through the year, I look back and can see a few things. One, I’ve actually only hit my monthly workout goals a couple of times. I have hit my reading goal almost every month. But I can also see that, year-to-date, I’ve exercised more than 60% more often than I had at this time last year. And here’s something I’ve learned: Progress and improvement are what matter most. Progress fuels and motivates you- often more so than the final goal.
The proper way of measuring progress? Look backwards, not forward. Look from where you are today, back to where you were when you first started and appreciate the progress you’ve made.
Don’t allow your ideal self to be the enemy of the self that’s made progress.
What it Takes to Achieve That Big Goal
If you’re in sales, you probably have a goal that was set for the year. But all too often, we skip the critical process of setting goals for the all-important incremental steps along the way that will get you to that big goal. When we don’t articulate and appreciate these smaller, interim steps, it actually makes it easier to procrastinate. Rather than doing something, anything, we just keep pushing the big goal down the road, telling ourselves we’ll make up for it next week or next month.
Behavior change, as we know, takes time. Sometimes it has to be forced when we least feel like it. The simple action of doing — even if it’s not done all that well — is, in itself, progress.
“The first time I threw a football, I wasn’t very good at it. The first time that I tried a math equation, I wasn’t very good at it. So in different ways, the first time you try anything it’s not gonna be the easiest way and you’re just gonna have to keep working at it.”– Tom Brady
Research in goal achievement shows that if a goal seems too distant or impossible to attain, we end up reducing the effort we put in to achieving it. It doesn’t seem possible, so it doesn’t seem worth all that effort. Runners do this in races. If a runner sets a desired finish time for a race, but that finish time seems to become unattainable at any point during the race, the athlete is likely to pull back on their effort.
Our tendency toward resignation and despair only gets amplified with more nebulous self-improvement goals like, “I want to get impatient less often,” or “I want to have more confidence,” or “I want to be a better parent/spouse.” Without any kind of tangible how or measurable steps to get you closer to the goal, it begins to feel even further out of reach. It can even affect your happiness by creating a mindset that teaches yourself to always put happiness and success off until that great milestone is achieved.
Building Progress Toward Your Goals
It’s fine to set stretch goals. But not at the expense of celebrating the small wins that prove we’re capable of making change for the better. Focusing on smaller accomplishments can bolster positive feelings, motivating us to take on larger goals.
The point of setting sales goals isn’t just to set out a target; the process should also motivate you to make progress toward the target, day in and day out.
These incremental steps are the construction, the foundation, that supports the goal, and it’s okay if you backslide a little along the way. Some days you may add tier after tier toward your goal; other weeks, you won’t make any gains at all and may even knock off some of the blocks you previously set. Progress is not linear; it’s a long-term building process. Progress can be made in better understanding why steps backward happened just as much as it can through actual progress…
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.– Henry David Thoreau
Researchers have found that individuals who focus on the progress they’ve made with a goal have more motivation than those who focus on how far they have left to go in achieving a goal. A sense of accomplishment and progress, however small, gives people the juice to keep going. It’s a momentum builder that can better sustain us when interruptions and slip-ups inevitably happen.
Even something as small as writing down your goals and weekly (or monthly) progress has a profound impact. Most people who write down their goals, actions and provided weekly progress to a friend successfully achieved their goals.
Here are some action steps that will help you adjust (and better maintain) your sales motivation by shifting your focus from distance to progress toward your goals:
- Concentrate on your progress and not on what you still lack. Instead of focusing on how high your castle rises into the air is, focus on how much of the foundation you’ve built beneath it.
- Maintain a clear line of sight on the greater purpose of your goals. Why do you do what you do? Why do you sell what you sell? It will fuel your sales motivation and equip you to face risks and conquer setbacks.
- Be more intentional about measuring your progress. Set aside time for self-examination and reflection.
- Rather than expecting things to simply go up, up, up and to the right (like a bar chart), expect and accept that progress will take the form of a repeating pattern of moving a few steps forward and one, or maybe more, steps back.
- When you do encounter plateaus or a dip in your progress, don’t freak out and dramatically change things right away. Evaluate the situation without judgment and maintain focus on what’s ahead.
- At the end of a day, write down two or three “wins” that happened in the past 24 hours. Count the big wins and the small.
- At the end of every month, write down your accomplishments. Be specific. How many times did you reach out to a past client? Hit your weekly prospecting goals? Reinvigorate or advance a stuck opportunity?
- At the end of every quarter, write down how you’ve improved (data-based and anecdotally) in the past 90 days. This can often be a good one to involve your manager in as part of a coaching conversation.
- At the end of the year, take time to reflect and write down ten big wins you’ve made during the previous 12 months.
This practice will help you see the progress you’ve made, generate confidence and motivate you to keep on keeping on. Just as important, it will help you be more aware of and grateful for what you’ve accomplished and all the good things you have in your life.
Fight Your Hard-Wired Negativity
The human mind is designed with a negativity bias. We pay more attention and give more weight to negative experiences than positive ones. There’s likely a perfectly good evolutionary reason for this — increased sensitivity to potentially negative stimuli would have kept our caveman ancestors safe from life-threatening risks. It paid to be a bit paranoid and neurotic when a rustle in the leaves could mean a man-eating tiger.
All of us have inherited this negativity bias from our ancestors in varying degrees, and it’s still sometimes useful. While death no longer stalks us at every turn, there remain things in life that can definitely kill or maim you, or just be psychologically damaging, and being able to recognize and avoid them is important. But it’s also important to understand when that negativity bias is doing you more harm than good.
Like everything that’s worth anything in life, learning, growing and achieving your goals all require patience. Instead of becoming overwhelmed or feeling dejected by a big, elusive goal up there in the clouds, focus on the building blocks that will lift you up and support you along the way.
“Every single important thing we do is something we didn’t use to be good at, and in fact, might be something we used to fear.”– Seth Godin
Measuring your foundation can help salespeople rewire their brains for greater sales motivation and fulfillment. If you’re tired of feeling jaded, focus on your wins. Even if others aren’t recognizing or praising you for it. You’ll know and that’s what really matters.
Chief Marketing Officer
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