How Can You Improve Goal-Setting and Achievement?

For every period goals are set, there is constant evaluation of their merit, achievement, and changes for the upcoming period. By far, this is the topic met with the most debate, with every organization looking to get it right. Here are 3 ways you can help your organization solve the goal conundrum.


QUESTION No. 1: Should we assign sales goals or rely on business insight?

I have heard from Sales Operations departments about the pros and cons regarding assigned versus self-selected goals. The truth is that goal achievement is more about the WHY, and not so much about the WHO. In pharma in particular, it’s not always necessary to show how the business insight was gathered, but what goes into the goal and how a rep be effective.

Before you assign goals based on pharma insight, make sure sales reps get the rationale by:

  • Showing historical TRx volume / share or account sales
  • Offering insights on future pharma trends
  • Explaining the factors used to generate goals (for instance, prescribing/purchasing history, payer mix, and managed care influence)

The better you communicate the reasons behind new goals, the sooner you will gain commitment and achievement.

QUESTION No. 2: How do we maintain commitment throughout the period?

With extensive communication and some soft skills, sales ops and managers can get sales force buy-in for the new goals. But maintaining that commitment over the long term? That requires additional know-how and a set of different skills. Because the organization evolves and sales reps performance is also subject to change, frequent updates on goal achievement are critical.

Sales tips to help you improve goal achievement and maintain commitment:

  • Optimize goal commitment with frequent updates and projections, and tie everything to the bonus plan
  • Don’t cloud goal commitment with too many KPIs – focus requires not getting buried in details that don’t matter
  • Pharma can also tie call planning in by showing changes in prescriber behavior that are directly aligned to sales rep effort

Framing all this data can bolster goal commitment throughout the measurement period. To optimize focus, pharma organizations should also report on the smallest-area accomplished.

If early in the measurement period, focus on the smaller amount accomplished, and not the larger amount remaining.

As the period progresses, show the remaining smaller amount to maintain the necessary momentum to strive towards goal achievement. Countless times sales people give up too early (“I can’t get there!”) or relax towards the end (“I’ve got this.”), leaving the organization short on achievement and long on missed opportunity.

QUESTION No. 3: How do we handle goal achievement setbacks?

Despite all the planning and calculations, goal achievement is highly emotional. After some preliminary results, based on forecasts or simple intuition, pharma reps can get a sense of their goal achievement or failure. In my experience, this triggers strong positive or negative emotions associated not only with their earnings, but also with the idea of achievement itself. The difference between the initial goals and what was actually put in place causes the real problem. These setbacks are emotional, painful, and can lead to a negative tailspin.

pharma targeting

Pharma sales managers can leverage ‘Missed Opportunity’ reporting to determine how to better achieve or consistently exceed the goal. Here is more advice to help managers tap into these emotional states, and redirect the salesforce goal commitment for the next period:

  • Create plans for top targets, scheduling frequent visits and messaging
  • Look at favorable formulary status in customers’ prescribing population
  • Align marketing messaging to doctors who will likely switch therapy after a previously failed one
  • Identify responsiveness to messaging and potential marketing waste


To drive goal achievement, it starts with transparency in the goal-setting process, and ends with proper sales manager coaching. Along the way, receiving frequent, timely updates will bolster commitment and follow-through. It will be a major win to get these minor points right, gaining the buy-in organizations need to meet the brand expectations.

To get more pharma tips and information on sales targeting, you may also check our whitepaper – Seven Deadly Sins of Pharma Targeting.


  • Latham, G., & Locke, E. (2006). Enhancing the Benefits and Overcoming the Pitfalls of Goal Setting. Organizational Dynamics, 35 (4), 332-340
  • Koo, M., & Fishbach, A. (2012). The Small-Area Hypothesis: Effects of Progress Monitoring on Goal Adherence. Journal of Consumer Research, 39, 1-17
  • Brown, S., Cron, W., & Slocum, J. (1997). Effects of Goal-Directed Emotions on Salesperson Volitions, Behavior, and Performance: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Marketing, 61 (1), 39-50

Michael Nagorski

Senior Consultant

Michael has 6 years of experience delivering business insights that enable change in sales and incentive performance.

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