You’re always told to think big, to dream big, to reach for the stars.  That makes sense. There certainly is a benefit to setting stretch goals, to pushing yourself beyond your limits, but in your day to day life and your focus on accomplishing things, there is often overlooked power in thinking small.

Huge progress is usually made in small steps.  You’ve heard the old proverb that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.  As the joke goes; “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time! ”

The largest of challenges you face, need to be broken down into smaller, short term accomplishable tasks.  You will usually struggle to make progress without that step. There are logical as well as emotional reasons why the short term, small task focus is especially crucial in sales.

Logistically, if you don’t break down your lofty goal into smaller tasks, you’ve failed at the very first step of goal achievement, which is to have a specific plan.  The cliche saying on that one is; “Most people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.”

I’ve worked with a lot of clients who make this critical mistake with their sales force, or as an individual contributor.  The day to day focus is on results, like contracts or revenue generated, or pacing towards the quarterly or monthly number.  The flaw there, is that it puts all of the focus on outputs, which your sales people do not directly control.

That is the dirty secret of sales, we don’t control results, we control activities.  Don’t get me wrong, you need the sales goal, but you don’t need to focus everyone’s attention on it daily.  Their attention is already on it, that’s what the commission plan does.  Your sales team is paid to reach for and attain the goals, but what they do need to focus on daily is the inputs, what they need to actually do to attain the goal.  That means breaking down the monthly or quarterly goal into daily behaviors or activities, and managing to them.  How many tasks or steps you break it down into will vary by industry, but they need to be measurable and achievable in the extremely short term.  In other words, they need to be small.

When you manage those daily, it needs to include celebrating activity success, even the activity that is devoid of direct results.  This is the emotional benefit of thinking small.  While folklore and the media loves to celebrate the story of the person who toiled without success for decades, only to succeed in one large moment or one large decisions, the reality is far different for most of us.  Success or failure is rarely attributable to one large decision or action.  It is usually related to a series of small actions or decisions, over an extended period of time.

The reality for most sales people, is that 90% of the activity we do every day does not directly create a sale.  If the daily focus is on the large target (the sale or the goal) we are in a state of emotional failure most of the time. While proper sales technique is necessary, it is a way smaller portion of sales success than activity.  If all you celebrate, as a sales person or as a sales leader is a win, your celebration isn’t focused on the number one contributor to the success of your sales efforts, activity.

To use a football analogy, you need to focus on first downs and scoring drives, not just touchdowns or the game won.  Think small, and keep your sales focus on the very controllable daily activity.  That allows you to celebrate every day when you hit the activity level you’ve set as the benchmark.  That means it is directly under the control of the sales rep to contribute at the level that warrants celebration.  The emotional tone that sets is one of positive feedback daily, managing to daily expectations.

Dream big, set the bar high, but follow that up with thinking small, defined as focused on daily tasks that move you closer to your stretch goals.