It's 11:35 on a Monday morning and Chris Wilkerson is smiling. Having completed his second sales call of the day, he finds himself two-for-two; two appointments, two sales. As he strides toward his car, having hit his goal for the week, he dials his cell phone to reserve a 1:00 p.m. tee time for an unexpected but well-deserved round of golf.

And in the blink of an eye, a great day begins to take a quick slide toward an average week, all because Chris started his process by setting the wrong goals.

Goal-Setting Problems

Everyone knows the importance of setting goals. The problem is in the type of goals people set.

Many salespeople operate with what are commonly called yes-goals. They are goals based on the number of times prospects say "yes." This approach - while it's the one we've all been taught to use and follow - is significantly flawed for one main reason. Once we achieve the objective, we tend to divert our attention to other tasks or to reward ourselves for our success. And how do we reward ourselves?

By slowing down, taking a day off, playing golf or catching up on paperwork.

There is a better approach that can dramatically increase the performance of anyone who employs it: stop setting yes-goals and start setting no-goals. In other words, stop setting goals for the number of sales you intend to close or dollars you want to generate, and start setting goals for the specific number of prospects who tell you no. Operate with a failure quota rather than a success quota. Admittedly, the process of setting nogoals requires a radical change in thinking. While the concept can be difficult to embrace initially, the results can be immediate and dramatic.

Performance-Quota Pitfalls

You need only to look up the word "quota" in the dictionary to see the problem. Quota is defined as a proportional share, which makes sense.

Everyone should be responsible for his or her proportional share. However, the definition goes on to say, "the highest number or proportion." Therein lies the problem. Most people treat their quota as a shutdown mechanism - the ceiling of their performance - rather than the floor it is intended to be. That's the insidious thing about quotas; they often end up limiting sales rather than propelling sales upward. Maybe the worst part of Chris' example is he's just ended what is commonly referred to as a hot streak.

So how does setting no-goals make a difference? Again, let's take Chris' situation and see how no-goals would have changed the outcome.

With a two-for-two start, the first thing Chris should have done is take advantage of his momentum. After all, when you're hot, you're hot. And the last thing you should do in the midst of a hot streak is slow down or - even worse - stop. Having set clearly established nogoals would have helped Chris avoid this.

Instead of starting with a twosale goal for the week, Chris would have set the no-goal of gathering 12 rejections. After going two-for-two, Chris would have found himself saying, "Wow, Monday is half over and I haven't gotten a single "no" yet. I've got to step up the number of calls if I'm going to get to 12 for the week."

Before, Chris's success would have led to a decreased number of calls for the week. The same success will now lead to an increased number of calls. Chances are good Chris will obliterate his quota for the week, and if he keeps it up, for the month, quarter and the year as well. That's the power of setting no-goals.

This points to one of the great ironies in business (and life); having too great of an emphasis on achieving success can lead to failure, while placing a greater emphasis on increasing your failure can often lead to massive success. Success can often become our greatest enemy, for with success comes complacency. As Ben Franklin said, "Success has ruined many a man."

Is this to suggest that salespeople should ditch their success quotas entirely? Perhaps. In fact, there are many top performers who never set traditional yes-goals, opting instead to focus solely on the behaviors needed to generate results. They understand that the act of setting yes-goals and/or quotas of any kind - consciously or unconsciously - could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, placing artificial limits on their income and their performance.

Face it. Few managers plan to shift from years of traditional quota setting in favor of a behavior-based process like no-goals. So, when you get your next quota handed to you, look at it, smile and set it aside in favor of aggressive no-goals for the number of times you plan to fail. When you shift your focus to achieving your no-goals, the results - the yeses- will come.