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OKRs: The Most Direct Path to Success for Sales Teams

By Seth Elliott, Chief Operating Officer, Gtmhub
Four mountain peaks, three with a green check mark above them and the tallest has a red flag that reads “success”

Did your team meet its sales quota? Clear goals and expectations are essential in sales. Amid rapid digital transformation, organizations continue to search for effective ways to align teams around company goals without dropping some new sales platform albatross upon reps that is expensive, convoluted, or both.

Many forward-looking companies recognize that objectives and key results (OKRs) are a tailor-made solution. This goal management methodology checks a number of critical boxes when it comes to driving sales team success – easily integrating with your existing tools, driving sales, adding value, and leading to happier employees and optimized operations.

“For sales teams,” according to OKR pioneer John Doerr, “you want to craft OKRs that extend beyond quotas, so it is easier for employees to push themselves and set higher goals.”

What motivates sales teams? More specifically, what motivates individual sales reps?

  • Feeling engaged
  • A sense of individual agency and accomplishment
  • An opportunity for coaching
  • Trust

These are things the OKRs process instills in several ways.

1. Clear and Focused OKRs for Sales Teams

OKRs are straightforward and brief. Each sales rep has one to three aspirational objectives with three to five measurable key results that define each objective. That measurability is key: While the objective is qualitative, the key results must be quantitative.

Let’s say, “Midwest region delivers a blowout quarter” is the objective for the fourth quarter. Of course, “acquire 100 new customers” could be a key result, but that is simply the top-level sales quota. It also ignores much of what we know about motivating a sales team. What’s a better objective? “Instrument the key results.”

Most selling motion is exactly that – motion, generally expressed in the form of preparatory actions and funnels. If you can instrument your business such that you know which actions predictably lead to sales, these can be expressed in key result form and lead to the desired KPIs (in this case, sales quota).

Objective: Become a selling machine. 

Key results: Perform 200 new prospect demos; generate $100,000 of new weekly pipeline.

These are leading key results vs. relying on the yes or no of simple quota achievement. An added benefit? This instrumentation enables sales leadership to identify issues in real time throughout the quarter based on the key results – and deploy any course correction actions needed.

2. They are a Reach, Not a Gimme

Hitting a triple on a curveball is more impressive than a homer on a high-hanging fastball. Achieving 70% of a challenging result brings sales reps both a sense of accomplishment and recognition among their peers and managers.

3. They are Transparent and Aligned

A rep’s objectives should align with the team’s objectives, which should align with the company’s objectives. This prompts the whole department to work toward the same priorities while allowing the people closest to the challenge to creatively determine the best actions to drive outcomes.

4. They Empower Sales Reps

Each employee alone (or in collaboration with the sales manager) can set their own key results to accomplish the objective. The sales reps get to decide what works best for them. This allows differentiation among sales reps and builds to the strengths and needs of each.

5. They Facilitate Coaching and Self-Improvement

Coaching – despite the best intentions of both managers and reps – can fall by the wayside. OKRs can make sure this job satisfaction factor doesn’t get overlooked.

Objective: Improve your skills. 

Key results: Complete a certification program through the National Association of Sales Professionals by the end of the next quarter.

6. They Reinforce the Sales Process

They can underscore the importance in sales of building and maintaining relationships.

Objective: Improve the customers’ sales experience.

Key results: Complete a business review and assessment with the client within 120 days of closing.

“The sales process,” according to an article in Harvard Business Review, “is a roadmap to creating the kind of sales experience that customers value and that differentiates you from the competition.”

7. They Foster Creativity

As the sales environment continues to change, sales approaches will need to change, too. OKRs can help track whether new software tools are helpful or how a new strategy is performing. OKRs replace assumptions and anecdotal evidence with measurable outcomes. OKRs provide a clear framework to let you know how your initiatives are performing so you can take more chances with creativity.

Conclusion

Yes, you need quotas in sales. But focusing on that outcome alone will leave you stumbling when the sales environment shifts yet again. You need to establish a process, an experience – a culture that deftly drives outcomes quarter by quarter and leads to growth, where managers and sales reps are aligned on priorities.

A smart OKRs platform can help. OKRs are a simple way to set an ambitious course and stay on it.

Seth Elliott is the chief operating officer for Gtmhub, a leading OKRs and strategy-execution management software. With over 25 years as a founder or senior executive of growth and middle-market enterprises, he has accelerated corporate growth in diverse markets on behalf of a variety of companies in multiple industries through economic conditions ranging from boom to bust.