Learning vs. Performance Goals in Sales

Why Top Sales Reps Don't Focus on Performance

Good morning and Happy National Pickle Day! As my old manager always said, a great sales rep is like a pickle: seasoned, made to last, and always a bit salty. Some people think they’re great, and others can’t stand em’. 🥒 

In today’s Follow Up:

  • How top sales reps operate 🧠 

  • An objection handling email tip 💡 

  • Sales across the internet 🖥️ 

  • New sales jobs 🤑  

Learning vs. Performance Goals in Sales

Sales is all about goals.

> Hitting quota.
> Getting Promoted.
> Making President’s Club.
> Not getting reported to HR after the company Christmas party.

Setting a goal is great. But you know what’s even better…?

Accomplishing the goal.

This weekend we stumbled upon a Sales Study from 1998 that compared sales reps with a learning goal vs a performance goal to see who is more successful.

The study is 44 pages long, so we had a tough decision to make…

1) Spend 2 hours reading through the study or
2) Make the intern read it and pull out everything we need to know.

Luckily for us, the intern had no choice, and we went with option 2.

So grab your coffee, set your Slack status to *In a meeting* and let's dive in. 👇️ 

The Study 🔬 

The researchers teamed up with a $140M medical supply company to track the sales performance of 153 of their sales reps. The study was conducted during a promotion the company ran, and the reps were given a $5.4K medical product to sell with an additional $300 bonus for every unit they sold.

According to researchers, there are two types of salespeople:

  • Learning Goal Oriented: These reps care about developing their skills and mastering new challenges.

  •  Performance Goal Oriented: These reps care about being recognized for their skills and hitting every target they’re given.

To better illustrate, here’s a breakdown from the intern:

🧠 Learning Goal Larry: The growth hacker. Larry’s always curious and looks at an impossible quota as a learning opportunity. His motto is: "Effort breeds success."

💪 Performance Goal Patty: The showbiz star. Patty loves the limelight but not so much the grind. He’ll fake an opportunity in Salesforce just to get on the leaderboard.

To figure out if the reps were more like Larry or Patty, they asked them to rate the following statement on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 = disagree, 7 = agree):

  • Learning how to be a better salesperson is of fundamental importance to me.

    • 1 = performance, 7 = learning

  •  I very much want my co-workers to consider me to be good at selling.

    • 1 = learning, 7 = performance

The researcher labeled the 153 sales reps as learning or performance goal oriented and followed them throughout the company’s promotion.

At the end of the study, the researchers got the sales records directly from the company to see what reps sold the most.

The Winner 🏆️ 

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the sales reps with a learning orientation outperformed the goal oriented reps by 60%.

The learning goal reps set higher goals, invested more effort into selling, and engaged in strategic planning.

They didn’t care about looking good. They cared about being good.

On the flip side, sales reps with performance orientation cared too much about being recognized as a top seller, and not enough about doing the work to make it happen.

The Learnings 💡 

If you want to improve your sales, focus on learning and skill development.

Set personal goals, take the time to plan your strategy, and don’t just aim to impress – aim to improve. If you’re faced with a seemingly impossible quota or challenge, view it as a growth opportunity rather than a guaranteed failure.

When a new month starts and the scoreboard goes back to 0, the only thing you’re left with is your skills and learnings (and that ice cold lead that told you to follow up in Q1. 🥶)

If you manage or lead a team, it’s crucial to encourage a learning goal environment. Focus on activities that drive learning and growth, rather than competition and recognition. Not only will you create better sales reps, but you’ll also drive more results (and massive commishchecks.)


  • Be more like Learning Larry and less like Performance Patty.

  • View your quota as a growth opportunity, instead of an impossible challenge.

  • Create a culture where the learning goal orientation is encouraged.

  • When hiring, stay away from purely performance goal reps.

Is Your Sales Org More Learning or Performance Oriented?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Sales Tip of The Day 💡 

Is your prospect asking for pricing over email before jumping on a call?

Try responding with:

✍️Our pricing is dependent on many factors such as xyz, so it’s hard to give an accurate quote. Are you open to a 5 min call to discuss what you’re looking for and what an accurate price range looks like?”

If they insist on a pricing range before the call, ask qualifying questions to understand their needs and quote an accurate pricing range.

Sales in the News 🗞️ 

Sales Jobs at Cool Companies 🤑 

Sales Meme of the Day

What did you think of today's newsletter?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Want to advertise in The Follow Up? Click Here