Don’t Set Goals, Master Your Skills

David is on his third book this month. He’s noticed a change in how his buyers are buying. He can’t put his finger on it, but he senses there is a change and he’s determined to identify it.

Traditionally in the top 5% of performers, David is a student of sales. He continually evaluates and assesses his approach to sales and each sale in general. He has a mentor he engages with regularly. He creates new and untested approaches to selling based on what we sees the market and then evaluates them for success.  He works with his boss regularly requesting feedback and coaching.

David is driven to master the vocation and art of sales.  He is motivated by engaging in a deeper understanding of sales and what it takes to be the best sales person he can be.

Marybeth is the top rep. She’s driven and sets high goals. She’s maniacal about making Presidents club, being the top rep and making a lot of money.  Her goal this year is to buy a convertible Porsche. Marybeth is extremely bright and knows how to sell. She doesn’t read many books. The ones she does read need to be instantly applicable to closing more deals or getting closer to quota or she’s not interested. She’s not into social selling, it takes too much time and she doesn’t care what someone had for breakfast. Marybeth is an animal. She wins almost every sales contest and hates coming in second.  Marybeth is a performance monster.

So, who is the better sales person.  #1 Marybeth or consistently top 5% David?

To answer this question we have to look at their motivation and David and MaryBeth are motivated have two VERY different motivations.

Marybeth is motivated by external indicators such as Presidents Club, being top sales person, making enough money to buy a Porsche, winning the sales contests etc.  Marybeth achieves her satisfaction through recognition and accomplishments.  Her motivation is driven by performance.

David is motivated by mastery. David’s satisfaction is driven by his ability to deeply engage in the selling process and learning how to make it work. Unlike Marybeth, David’s perseverance increases with setbacks and loss. To David, it’s about understanding how it all works and how to master it.

So, who’s the better sales person?  Overtime, it’s David. Marybeth will crash. Her focus on performance is not sustainable.  Performance oriented people are motivated by extrinsic drivers. As much as their satisfaction and motivation are influenced by performance, they become discouraged with lack of performance. Performance orientation can lead to increased temptation to cheat, manipulation and play unfair. This is not true with mastery oriented people. Those who’s motivation derives from mastering, perseverance increases, even in times of setback.  Their motivation is intrinsic, in which solving the problem, improving their skills and accelerating learning is the reward.

Don’t believe me?  I know, it’s not what we know sales to be about.  However, science doesn’t lie. A 2010 study showed that mastery orientation related to good GPA attainment, where performance orientation did not. The study showed that those who’s intention to master their skills were successful in achieving their goals, where as those who’s intention was to simply achieve their goals did not perform well. The study also noted, students with performance orientation didn’t necessarily enjoy the fruits of their work, even though they worked hard to perform.

Sales has long been about performance as it should be. We have to hit our goals.  However, coaching and managing to performance may not deliver the results we want.  The study suggests sales organizations can improve quota attainment by teaching and training it’s sales people on how to master their selling environment and establish mastery goals rather than performance goals.

Setting mastery goals gets to quota, setting performance goals doesn’t.