Target setting aligned to business objectives

Setting sales targets – a view from management and from the sales team

Sales targets are expressed in a variety of ways with common examples being; revenue, margin or number of units sold.  Targets may be set at the point that an order is taken, when the product has been delivered or the service has commenced or even when the customer pays.

Targets should be set taking account of any factors that could distort actual performance such as seasonality.  The setting of targets should also allow for anomalies such as special offers that may be made after the targets have been set.  We look at both issues in the accompanying article on compensation schemes.

Simplistically, the sum of the sales targets held by individual sales people should equal the amount of business the company wants to acquire through sales in a particular period and typically a trading year.  In a business where customers have an ongoing relationship and pay fees on a regular basis such as for an outsourced service, the target will often be in two main parts; business from continuing contracts and business from new contracts.  The role of maintaining existing relationships and finding new customers may be undertaken by separate teams or it may be a shared role and in the latter case the sales person will normally carry two targets for; continuing business and new.  Where continuing business is part of the mix targets may be applied to maintaining the level of existing business or it may require the sales person to grow it.

Approaches to setting targets

Let’s consider a simple example of a sales team of four people working for a company that wants to grow from current revenue of £3m to £4m over a 12 month period.  If the company has no annuity revenue, as it only supplies products, the whole £4m will have to come from new orders won by the sales people in the 12 month period.  If on the other hand the company does have annuity revenue and of the £3m revenue, £2m is ongoing maintenance contracts then the task for this year is to find £2m extra revenue.  In both cases consideration must be given to whether the sales team have the capacity to find and sell either the £2m or £4m and whether all the support facilities are in place; marketing, lead generation, pre-sales support, technical support, manufacturing & delivery capacity, etc.

Making targets meaningful

I work with a lot of sales teams and a common feeling is that targets are set arbitrarily, by taking the overall target the board has set for the business and dividing that by the number of sales people.  In the simple example above, the company has four sales people who achieved revenue of £3m last year and the same four people will now be required to achieve £4m.  Unless there has been some significant change e.g. better products, it is difficult to see how the fixed sales capacity can achieve an increase of 33%.

This approach invariably leaves sales people demotivated as they feel they are likely to be blamed for any failure to achieve the new target.

There is no point setting unachievable targets, in fact it is dangerous.  The target will usually be the bottom line of the budget so there will be other dependencies within the budget on achievement of the target and in particular expenditure commitments.  So, for example, if a business is planning to take on additional space to cope with the additional work the cost of the space will be committed and incurred before the company knows whether the sales team can achieve the target.

A safer and more meaningful approach to target creation is to work it bottom up, so continuing with our example:

  • Last year the four sales people achieved £3m and the company thinks they can achieve the same this year plus 3% from an already agreed price increase = £90,000
  • A new product will be launched that will increase the value of some orders resulting in an uplift of £120,000. This will feed into the KPIs around which targets can be set.
  • A new re-seller partner has been recruited who is forecasting to sell £250,000

So the above suggests the existing sales team plus the new re-seller partner will produce £3.46m of sales in the year, of which £3.21m  will be down to the in-house sales team.  So logic suggests the budget and targets should be built bottom up from the projected revenue and reflect where emphasis needs to be given, e.g. new product sales to existing customers, contract renewals, …  If the individual sales targets are now determined from this logical approach the company is more likely to achieve its goals and the sales people will understand their individual targets so they are more likely to feel committed and motivated to pursue them.  Rational target setting also supports the sales manager as they work with the sales people in their efforts to achieve them.

If the example company really wants to grow to £4.0m they need to carefully consider how they can achieve it, e.g. budget for additional sales resource, but if they are only just thinking about this as the year is starting they need to allow for the time required to recruit and get the person up to operational speed.  They would also need to consider the fact that the new re-seller is an unknown quantity so may not produce what they have forecast to do.

Having set targets, we now need to consider how to incentivise the sales team to achieve and exceed those targets.