Guidelines on Setting Goals when Selling

A goal is “something toward which effort or movement is directed—an end or objective.” Customers’ goals always involve either achieving a positive result or avoiding a negative one. One of your primary sales responsibilities is to motivate customers to understand their goals. Making goals measurable provides customers with that motivation. Goals become the standards against which customers judge your products. You make the goals customers want to achieve work in your favor. You let logic and measurable proof run their predictable course.


Know Customers’ Goals Even If They Don’t

Fortunately, most customers do not know what goals they want to achieve. They do not even think in terms of goals; they think in terms of needs. After all, they have mainly been exposed to sales methods that focus on needs, or pain. Yet, your best opportunities arise when customers do not know their goals. Soon they will— thanks to you. As an industry expert, know what your customers’ goals should be in case they do not. Everyone wins (except competitors) when you help customers to set quantifiable and attainable goals that accurately reflect their priorities and connect to your unique strengths.

When you ask customers what goals they are trying to achieve, be prepared for blank looks as well as wonderment and appreciation. They will respond, “Gee, I have never been asked that question before.” Needs-focused customers and product-focused salespeople do not discuss goals. This lack of goal discussions is to your advantage. Then, they will ask you, ”What exactly do you mean by goals?” You must be able to answer their questions by knowing the typical goals of their industry. You will now have positioned yourself as a customer expert. You will have separated yourself from the typical product-packing salespeople. Caution: The rally killer of a sales call is two “What do you mean?” questions in a row. If the customer asks you, “What do you mean?” after you ask what his or her goals are, you can’t answer, “What do you mean, what do I mean?” Make sure you know typical industry goals.

Therefore, your initial emphasis in sales opportunities is to help customers define their goals. When you help customers set goals, you do not need to wait for them to have an obvious pain to act upon. You act as a catalyst to motivate customers to pursue and achieve measurable goals. You are in control of your own sales destiny when you act (as opposed to when you react).

General Categories of Customer Goals

For examples of general corporate categories and specific customer goals.

Broad Goal CategoriesSpecific Customer Goals
  • Administrative
  • Maximize organizational resources
  • Ensure compliance with laws and codes
  • Ensure longevity of organization
  • Customer Service
  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Improve corporate image
  • Finances
  • Improve cash flow
  • Increase return on investment (ROI)
  • Improve shareholder value
  • Increase profits
  • Competitiveness
  • Increase market share
  • Develop new products and services
  • Maximize engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and selling resources
  • Open up new markets
  • Manage growth and change
  • Operations
  • Improve reliability
  • Increase efficiency and productivity
  • Improve work environment
  • Reduce operating expenses
  • Increase safety

One Big Product Reason to Focus on Goals, Not Needs

Often, customers will request a specific feature that your product does not possess. When you question customers on why they need that feature, it is difficult for them not to question your motive. After all, if you cannot provide the feature, it is in your best interests to discourage them from wanting it. Customers find it hard to view you as an objective participant. However, that perspective changes when you know the customers goals—and question them on how that feature helps them achieve their goals.

For instance, a customer says he wants framing material that consists of half-inch-thick titanium. He knows that you only provide quarter-inch-thick framing material. If you question him on why he needs a half-inch and not a quarter-inch thickness, suspicions may arise that you are placing your own interests (keeping the sale alive) over his interests. However, if you know his goal is to prevent rusting, you could then ask him how he thinks half-inch-thick titanium helps him prevent rust. Once you know the answer, you can determine whether the size difference achieves his goal, or just ends up adding costs as a diluting feature.

From Vendor to Supplier to Partner

When you focus on customers’ needs, you are a vendor. Like a vending machine, you display your products and wait for customers to buy from you. You leave it up to customers with a commodity mentality to choose which goodie they want most. The customers’ purchasing decisions are driven by availability of product and price. It is difficult to sell value as a vendor.

When you are a supplier, you concentrate on helping middle-management customers to achieve short-term, measurable goals with the products you supply. Short-term goals usually involve issues that have an immediate effect on only their department, such as improving operations or reducing administrative expenses. You have moved ahead of vendors on the value chain. You also have the opportunity to be compensated for the value your products generate. However, as customers better understand their short-term goals, it becomes easier for them to start picking their products. You now risk becoming a vendor again.

When you help senior-management customers to achieve their long-term business goals, you become a partner. These goals center on Column 2 measurable benefits, such as improving market share, increasing stock price, and reducing employee turnover. You then help customers recognize how your products help them to achieve short-term goals that are consistent with their long-term objectives. Now the Column 1 value of your relationship and the cost of change become greater barriers to customers who consider competitors to be mere vendors and suppliers.

Market Segments and Customers’ Goals

When you understand the concept of market segments, you understand the goals that customers want to achieve. Market segments are groups of customers with similar goals that respond to the same offers in the same ways. Their goals are predictable. When you can predict their goals, you can duplicate your sales successes. The market segments sharing goals that your unique strengths or strongest features can achieve are your best sales opportunities. They place the highest value on your greatest strengths. How far you segment a market depends on the point at which customers’ goals match up to the unique strengths of your products and your company.


Salesperson Judy M. sells laundry services to hospitals, but not just any hospitals. She knows that large hospitals and publicly funded hospitals do not make good prospects.

The former have their own laundry facilities when they have more than three hundred beds, while the latter always bid out laundry services solely on lowest prices. She realizes that hospitals are not a market segment because they have many varying factors. Instead, she classifies private hospitals with fewer than three hundred beds as a high-opportunity market segment.

The more specific the market classification, the better the chances that your target market segments respond to the same offer, the same way. Obviously, do not classify market segments to the point where their size is minuscule (niche markets) unless your profit margins on those sales are huge.

The concept of market segments further highlights the differences between goals and needs (pain). Businesses set up their organizational structure to concentrate on different market segments. Almost any company these days has groups of employees who cater to specific groups of customers with similar goals. It would not make sense for this type of structure to exist if customers bought primarily for subjective or emotional reasons (pain, needs)

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