August 24, 2021

5 mistakes sales teams make with OKRs

Lucy Hitz
Lucy Hitz

An objectives and key results (OKR) program provides the perfect combination of structure and stretch, rallying your sales team to be more productive, more effective, and more focused than ever. However, getting started with OKRs can be a tricky business, especially for sales teams that are used to other goal or performance tracking methodologies. 

To give your team a better chance of success, we’re calling attention to the 5 big mistakes we see sales teams make when beginning to use OKRs—and how to address them. 

[Read More: OKR Mistakes]

Sales mistake #1: Moving too fast to get buy-in from your team

The key to any successful OKR program is that goals are set from the top-down, but buy-in is necessary from the bottom-up. Leaders and managers should gather feedback from individual team members before solidifying sales team OKRs at the beginning of each planning cycle. 

Sales teams

From there, individuals can use the team OKRs as context to create their own. This way, OKRs are aligned from top to bottom, and everyone’s doing their part to keep the entire organization tracking toward the same goals. 

Sales mistake #2: Looking only at the numbers

When setting OKRs, it’s important for sales teams think beyond sales quotas. Objectives should be targeted at the drivers that will lead to better business outcomes (in most cases, revenue). 

Having additional sales calls or meetings may not be enough to move your business forward, unless there are behavioral changes that result in sustained business impact. Instead, consider building objectives around process improvement, a better team spirit, improved cross-functional collaboration, or any other goal that, if successfully achieved, would end in behavioral change. 

Here’s an example:

Objective: Streamline sales pipeline in order to help our AEs work more efficiently 

Key Results: 

  • Reduce sales cycle from 35 to 24 days 
  • Increase quota attainment by rep from 60% to 78% 
  • Increase SQL win rate from 40% to 56%

Sales mistake #3: Playing it safe

Unlike a sales quota, OKR progress shouldn’t be tied to compensation. It might take time for your sales team to adjust to this difference in performance management. Because of that, they may be more hesitant than other teams to develop ambitious, stretch goals, and play it safe with easily achievable goals. 

Challenge sales teams to create at least one ambitious OKR each planning cycle.

Clearly communicate that the purpose of adopting OKRs is to enable positive business outcomes, not to introduce a new way to measure compensation. Need help delivering this message? Check out our Why OKRs? guide. 

Sales mistake #4: Treating OKRs like a task list

The temptation to use OKRs like a task list likely won’t be unique to your sales team, but it’s important to understand how OKRs differ from a list of projects your team is working on.

Here’s the simplest way to explain it: a task is something you do, an OKR is something you want to achieve

If you see delivery-oriented language sneaking into your key results, you can use Projects in instead. We understand that it’s in our nature to want to keep tabs on the tactical parts of our work (and see how it’s tied to OKRs every step of the way). In, Projects give you a space to organize the work you need to complete in order to achieve the key results that you’ve set. 

Sales mistake #5: Being too afraid of change

To operate at their best, sales teams need to be able to adapt quickly to changes in the market. One of the benefits of OKRs is that they’re not set in stone. Instead, they allow teams to be agile and offer frequent opportunities for refinement. 

In the first few weeks of an OKR period, it’s entirely reasonable for goals to change if a more advantageous priority arises or if you uncover new information that reveals a need for goal adjustment.

The faster you identify and accept the need for change, the faster you can make the necessary adjustments that will allow your team to keep progressing forward toward your goals.

Getting used to OKRs takes time, so don’t expect your sales team to get it right overnight. If you apply this advice and work together as a team to implement OKR best practices, you’ll find yourself with a goal framework you can rely on. End result = tight alignment between your Sales team and your business’s goals and fundamental cross-functional teams like Marketing and Biz Ops.

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