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How to Set Expectations for Your Sales Team

Expectations are a funny thing. We all have them, at work, at home, in sports, pretty much any team, be it your work team, your home team, or your sports team…expectations are always there. Now here’s the key, in order for expectations to be met or exceeded, they have to be clearly communicated and attainable. That’s where we all often miss on expectations in life. And I know we’ve all been on the receiving end of missed expectations we didn’t even know were expected. Here we’ll uncover the four key areas of setting realistic expectations for your sales team. 

When leading a sales team, you want to set your reps up for success. That means giving them reasonable and attainable expectations that push them to grow and perform their best, without creating burnout or harming morale.

The goals you set should be straightforward and well defined, and you need to communicate them clearly to ensure there is no confusion. Setting expectations is a crucial step for increasing sales revenue and generating a positive ROI.

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

Types of sales expectations to set

The expectations you set for your sales team should fall under three main categories: performance, growth and development, and conduct and compliance.


Performance expectations are the clearly defined day-to-day metrics by which you evaluate a sales rep’s quality of work. Many managers use the SMART acronym when determining these goals, meaning they should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Sales quotas will make up a large portion of these expectations, but other performance expectations might be the number of new contracts signed per period, the number of engaged qualified leads in the sales funnel, the hours spent on sales follow up, and the average time for conversion.

Growth and development

Growth and development expectations define how your performance expectations will change over time. You don’t expect brand-new sales reps to perform at the same level as your seasoned veterans, but you also don’t expect them to stay in the learning stages forever. Reps should demonstrate notable improvements in performance over time. You should, therefore, not only set performance expectations based on experience, but also make it clear how and when those expectations will increase. You may also include participation in additional training or seminars as part of your growth and development expectations.

Conduct and compliance

Beyond the objective numbers related to the sales your reps secure, it’s also important that they conduct themselves properly, get along with each other, work as a team, follow instructions, and respond well to feedback. A rogue salesperson who causes conflicts, disrupts the work environment, or makes people feel unsafe will be a detriment to your business, no matter how many deals they close. So be sure to specify what appropriate behavior in these areas should look like. How do you expect your reps to treat their team members? Leads? Existing customers? Defining these expectations gives your team a roadmap for success, ensures your company is presented in a consistently professional manner, and creates a reference point that can be helpful for navigating potential conflicts.

Two approaches to setting expectations

There are two fundamentally different methodologies for setting expectations: top-down and bottom up. It’s important to understand which approach is appropriate for different types of expectations. Choosing the wrong approach can decrease morale, confuse your team members, and lower your team’s overall performance.

Top-down approach

When using a top-down approach, you begin by setting the broader goal of how much revenue your entire team should bring in or how many deals they should close, and then you assign individual quotas that add up to this goal. For example, if a company wants a quarterly revenue of $25,000, and their sales team has five reps, each rep might be responsible for bringing in $5,000 to hit the target.

You determine the overarching target number based on company goals and objectives rather than the individual abilities of your sales reps. Although it can (and should) be informed by past revenue or deals closed, it can nonetheless result in unrealistic and discouraging goals for your reps. And that can lead to poor morale and an overall decrease in performance.

On the other hand, the top-down approach can work much better for expectations related to conduct, which should be consistent across all team members. Leadership should set the standards of conduct and distribute them to team members. The whole team needs to know what the shared standards are so they can act accordingly, providing a consistent experience with each other and to those external to the company.

As for ongoing development, that will usually involve some baseline level of top-down expectations, along with room for individualized growth based on each employee’s strengths.

Bottom-up approach

The bottom-up approach starts by looking at each sales rep to determine realistic individual quotas for everyone. Examine past sales data to see what they’ve been capable of achieving, then factor in a reasonable amount of growth you can expect from them, and select specific goals that will push each person to do their best without leading to burnout.

To calculate quotas using the bottom-up approach, managers should identify a target number of closed deals or revenue earned for each rep in a single month. Then multiply that target number by the average deal size to get an end-target of what your reps can reasonably produce. Setting quotas in this manner tends to result in more realistic goals, improved morale, and increased performance overall.

Key components of setting sales expectations

Setting effective sales expectations involves four key components: goal-setting, determining KPIs, communicating expectations, and following up with your team. Many sales leaders are particularly strong in one of these areas, and end up focusing on it. But each element is essential.

If you take the time to map out how your current approach to performance, conduct, and growth expectations does in each of these areas, it will help you identify weaknesses that are holding your team back 

And when you’re setting new expectations, make sure you take each of these components into account.


When setting goals, you’re determining how much you want your sales team to achieve, both individually and collectively. How you make this determination will depend on which approach you prefer (top-down or bottom-up) as we previously discussed. Either way, this is the big picture of what you want to accomplish.

Determining KPIs

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the individual metrics you track to gauge performance at each stage of the process. By tracking KPIs, you’re able to not only see overall progress toward your goals, but also identify bottlenecks or specific areas for improvement. The specific KPIs you select will depend on the nature of your business, your goals, and your sales process. For example, if you set the goal of increasing sales by a certain percentage, you’d want to include the sales growth rate among the KPIs you track.

To help you get started, we’ve put together an article explaining nine example sales KPIs worth tracking.

Communicating expectations

With your goals set and your KPIs locked in, you need to clearly communicate all expectations to your team. Managers should speak with sales reps to explain their quotas, talking through what they’re expected to accomplish, where those numbers come from, and what reps can expect to get out of it, as well as addressing any concerns they may have. And at the team level, managers should also communicate the quotas they’re working toward as a group. Keep in mind when setting or updating expectations that you’ll need to sell your plan to your team  in order to bring them fully onboard with why the changes are good for them and necessary for the business.

Following up

After you’ve explained the expectations initially, you’ll want to periodically follow up to see how each rep is performing and help to keep them on track. Talk with your team about their progress toward goals, and make sure they’re equipped to meet them. At times, this may also involve refining expectations in light of new information or circumstances. No matter how well thought out, sometimes the goals you set won’t end up being viable, and you don’t want to penalize your reps for something beyond their control. Failure to meet an expectation should never be a surprise—and surpassing expectations should never go unnoticed.

Best practices for setting expectations for your sales organization

We’ve identified a few key principles to keep in mind when setting expectations. Following these best practices will help you motivate your sales reps, boost morale, and improve productivity.

Communicate clearly and often

Your team and individual reps should never be left guessing about what’s expected of them. You should communicate during the onboarding process, at the beginning and end of each sales compensation plan period, at regular intervals throughout each period, during employee reviews, during team and department meetings, and any time the compensation plan changes.

In addition to frequent direct communication, you should also provide documented commission plans that your people can reference as needed. Ideally, these plans should be accessible via centralized dashboards, such as those provided by Performio.

[Image request: screenshot of comp plan in Performio dashboard.] 

Acknowledge the differences between groups and individual reps

Many factors go into the performance of each sales rep and team. For example, some territories will inherently perform better than others for reasons having nothing to do with the quality of the reps that make up each team. Additionally, different individuals will provide different levels of performance depending on things like their seniority and experience, as well as any industry connections they may already have.

So you have to set expectations with these differences in mind. If you try to assign equal quotas across the board, you’ll end up with some reps who could easily achieve much more than you gave them, while others burn out from unrealistic expectations. Instead, you want attainable goals that motivate each rep and each team to do the best they can.

Keep expectations simple

The more complex you make your expectations, the more your sales reps’ eyes will glaze over when you explain them. You don’t want them to jump through hoops to reach their goals. Keeping your expectations simple and straightforward makes it far easier for your reps to simply do their work and stay on target.

Expectations should be direct and easy to remember. And they should be even easier to reference. Sales reps should be able to see not only what you expect of them, but also how far along they are toward meeting those expectations. Performio’s dashboards provide sales reps with real-time insight into their performance and progress toward goals.


Prioritize results, but include activities

Sales staff are ultimately evaluated based on their results. However, sometimes unforeseen circumstances or events outside of your sales reps’ control keep them from delivering the results you expected. This can include things like an economic downturn, employee illnesses, or just plain bad luck. Your reps don’t deserve to be penalized for such things, especially when the resulting poor performance is a one-off in an otherwise exemplary history.

So you need to make sure your expectations are flexible enough to factor for the unexpected. You can do that by including sales activities in addition to those broader results. Cold calls made, follow-up calls made, emails sent, demos booked, and proposals sent are all examples of activities that can help you gauge a sales reps’ level of effort, even when their results aren’t quite what you (and they) had hoped for.

You’ll still look at results first, and if those are up to par, great! But if their results aren’t where you want them to be, check their pipeline. If their pipeline is full of opportunities, ask for a simple status update. And if their pipeline isn’t as full as you need them to be, talk to the sales rep about their activities.

Examine past data to inform both expected results and activities. And look to current data to see how it lines up with your expectations. Performio can track, manage, and analyze all of this data for you.

Monitor and adjust expectations over time

As you monitor your team’s performance, you should also examine your pipeline to discover what’s working and what needs to be adjusted. Keep an eye out for processes that are broken or in need of improvement. Locate bottlenecks, and look for ways to break them open. And remove distractions to keep your sales team as free of non-sales activities as possible.

It’s your job to ensure that the expectations you set are reasonably attainable. If you find that expectations are too high for the sales team to meet, you may need to lower them. Your team shouldn’t be held responsible for failing to meet unrealistic expectations.

On the other hand, as you work to improve processes, eliminate bottlenecks, remove distractions, and streamline sales, you may find that expectations need to be raised accordingly.

Keep your sales team on track with Performio

Whether setting expectations initially, updating expectations as your business grows and evolves, or managing day-to-day activities to help your team meet those expectations, you need sales data.

Past data gives you a baseline for the performance you can expect from your reps. Real-time data lets you (and your reps) see how well everyone is progressing toward their goals. And all of that data informs projections to guide your team toward future success.

Performio gives you access to all the data you need. You’ll have all the necessary insights to set reasonable expectations that will drive your team to success. And they’ll get a real-time window into their performance, allowing them to see their sales, how far along they are toward meeting their goals, and what they can expect to earn.

Ready to see what Performio can do for your business? Request a demo today.

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