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“Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement, and its lack is the stumbling block for ninety-eight out of every hundred people simply because they never really define their goals and start toward them.”

Napoleon Hill wrote that in 1937 and his seminal book, Think And Grow Rich continues to inspire business leaders to this day.

“Where are you going?” he asks.

I ask every new client, “What’s in store for your company this year? What are the goals? How do you think you’ll achieve them?”

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve found it surprising, even shocking how frequently clients you’d expect to have a clear vision and goals set, actually don’t.

What if you’re the problem in your business?

Leaders are supposed to lead

As business leaders, it’s our job to envision the path ahead for our companies and —importantly — to share that vision with those who will make it happen.

This article isn’t just about setting goals — why you should, what goals to consider and how to approach it — but also about leadership and productivity.

It’s for business leaders and also marketing leaders. It’s one of our Building Blocks fundamental to the success of your marketing ecosystem.

Remember this idea of setting goals is also about taking stock – what’s working, what isn’t, threats and opportunities you may be overlooking. Having a vision for your company and setting goals and figuring out how you’ll hit them. Articulating it often to your team will help chart a course everyone can rally around.

It’s about taking control.

Several years ago I read a great Harvard Review article by Robert Kaplan, the former Vice Chair of Goldman Sachs, Harvard Professor and now CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. It has rattled around in my brain since. In studying business leaders, he warned, “No matter how talented and successful you are, you will make mistakes. You will develop bad habits. The world will change subtly, without your even noticing, and behaviors that once work will be rendered ineffective.”

You may be approaching this process from a position of anxiety and worry or, optimism and unbridled enthusiasm. If it’s the former, acknowledging your fears and their causes will allow you to start to address them, pivot or at least course correct – either way, it’s the first step to taking control and getting positive. If you’re all kinetic energy springing from a well of optimism, goal setting is just as important to direct and focus your resources on your most important goals.

For me, the new year is the perfect time of year for this exercise. I believe you have to step away from your business. The holidays are an ideal time to go dark. Read a good book, go to the movies, go skating, see your friends, hang out with your family. If you enjoy what you do, you’ll come back not only refreshed but with more clarity and with a fresh perspective.

Of course, any time of year is the right time if you’re not setting goals. Your year-end could provide the impetus. If you’re awake at night and worried, now is the perfect time to kick-start the change you need.

“Nothing interferes with performance quite like anxiety does; it is the productivity killer,” writes Heidi Grant Halvorson in another excellent Harvard Business Review article, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Of course, we don’t need a motivational psychologist to tell us this, but in the depths of anxiety, it might not be as apparent as it is in hindsight.

In my own experience, I’m as guilty as the clients I call out on this. I spent many years on autopilot. But our own story — about sniffing change in the wind, the commoditization of web development and our personal experience with clients unable to realize their potential on their own, meant navigating new directions. It’s through this experience that we adopted our review and outlook process along with weekly, monthly and quarterly practices to check in on our priorities and goals to hold ourselves accountable. It has ultimately has made us a better and more profitable firm.

This annual process will allow you to challenge yourself to look at assumptions you may be clinging to that could be limiting your potential. We coach our clients on what we call “No Assumptions Marketing.” More often than not what you think will never work – does. And vice versa. The point is, our long-held assumptions are often wrong. Testing is the only way to really know. And knowing has never been easier if you’re in touch with your analytics. So be bold!

At the end of the day this process of evaluation, perspective, stating your vision for your company and setting goals could help to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Direct resources more efficiently and effectively
  • Build a better culture in your business
  • Reduce shiny object syndrome and silver bullet tactics in favor of a more holistic and disciplined approach
  • Keep you in touch with your progress
  • Allow your marketing team to build an effective marketing ecosystem in support of the goals

So let’s take a look at how to approach this process, goals to consider and some you may not have thought of and then what to do with those goals.

How to approach goal setting

Before you can set goals for the year ahead, you have to have a vision of where your company is going. I find thinking about your perspective — your opinion about your industry and your place in it is helpful, and in my experience, most leaders have such a view. Whether data based or spidey sense – a feeling about the industry, competition, and forces beyond your control will inform your perspective and you can use this to pivot, course correct, seize the day, and exploit opportunities.

This is the 30,000-foot view of things, and you have to carve out some quiet time to think. It isn’t navel-gazing, it’s your job as a leader. You may want to seek input from your key lieutenants. What’s their sense of things? Who’s brave enough to tell you the truth about what’s working and importantly, what isn’t?

Kaplan’s article shines a light on how detrimental it is to the company and your career when underlings won’t tell you what isn’t working or what you’re doing wrong. It really is lonely at the top.

While we advise clients to formalize setting goals annually – it doesn’t have to be formal. You just have to do it and give yourself time for thinking deeply.

Here’s how we approach it at Quarterback.

Following the holiday break, my partner and I get together and divide up our discussion into five parts:

  1. What went well last year and a review of previous year’s goals, key performance indicators, and our year-end financials.
  2. What didn’t we accomplish and why? (We don’t belabor this, but we do look for underlying reasons that may be holding us back to decide if we can overcome this year.)
  3. What’s our perspective on what we’re doing for clients and the industry in general?
  4. What’s our vision for the year ahead? What are the big goals or plans?
  5. What are the specific goals and targets we need to set to achieve our mission? How can those goals be further reduced to quarterly, monthly and even weekly targets to make them real and manageable?

Let me provide an example of one of our goals.

We are a content machine for our clients. For ourselves? Not so much. No content, no subscribers. No subscribers and we’re not doing the kind of lead generation and nurturing our clients love us for.

Oh, the irony!

As my business development mentor, Blair Enns often says: “Experts write.” And I have the expertise to share, so my goal is to write one well researched and truly useful article a month. (My partner will write another.) Note it is not to write five articles of poor quality, but one useful article a month. (Feel free to let me know if this one checks that box for you … or not.)

The next goal follows from there: to build our list by 500 subscribers in 2018. That’s 125 per quarter or about 41 per month or 10 per week. In a large firm, the CEO sets the big picture goals, and the Director of Marketing translates them into strategy and targets. More on that momentarily.

Write out your vision for the company and where you’ll be at this time next year.

Next document some vital goals and importantly, how you think you’ll hit them. The goals have to be realistic and specific. If not it will kill your motivation and determination. You can’t just say, “more leads.” Documenting your goals forces you to be specific about it.

Get inspired: Goals to consider

Let’s take a look at some different goals to get the wheels turning. We’ll start with the obvious:


  • Revenue – what’s realistic and where will your revenues come from?
  • Margins – could your charge more? What inefficiencies can you nix?
  • Increase the lifetime value of customers (reselling, upselling and cross-selling goals)
  • Customer retention – better customer service, honing your marketing for your customer segment.
  • Sales goals – by product, geographical regions that show promise, new segments of buyers, new uses for an existing product.


  • Instead of the easy goal “more leads”, challenge yourself to figure out why you’re not generating more leads.
  • Engagement: What are you doing with your leads? How can you provide a better experience for leads and customers?
  • Automation: Are you prepared for specific leads when they arrive? Are you repeating low-level tasks that could be automated?
  • Strategy: Less time spent on shiny-objects and a greater commitment to building an end-to-end ecosystem that has a long-term impact.
  • Embracing a “continuous improvement” mindset for constant gains


How is the culture of your team impacting your ability to hit your goals? In our experience, the marketing department — a term I’ll use loosely as it’s often one to a few people with the weight of the world on their shoulders — is dealing with unrealistic demands for digital marketing that requires a digital marketing unicorn. It’s demoralizing. No one person and no small team possesses the strategic, creative, tactical, technical know-how and sheer resources to get it all done. And so they leave. And employee churn, as we all know, is expensive.

What can you do to solve lingering performance issues?


How many of us are working too many hours? Weekends? Not taking holidays? Not able to reflect and plan, and to address the needs of key team members because you’re too busy doing the kinds of things that you should have delegated years ago?
What would your vision of the company be if you could focus on the really big stuff? What kind of attitude are you projecting? And what would you convey if you had more time off, were better rested and were able to really unplug for several days or even weeks at a time?

Don’t disregard the personal goals — the vision of yourself a year from now. Think about:

  • What you’ll stop doing this year – what can you delegate?
  • Time you’ll free up for reading, learning or participating in mentorship or mastermind group of other leaders like you. (A game-changer, in my own experience.)
  • Better health: more sleep, weight loss, exercise, less drinking, and smoking.
  • Positivity through more balance in life, try meditation.

A word of caution: don’t set goals in all these areas. They’re just meant to expand your visionary horizons beyond the typical XXX leads per month, $1.2M in revenues per quarter sort of goal setting. Dig a little deeper to affect the change that will help you hit the goals. But keep the list short. Too many goals can have the opposite effect you’re aiming for — focus and accomplishment.

And by the way, I’ve bundled all of this up in handy in a handy checklist for leaders.

What to do with those goals: Articulating your vision, leadership issues, and how to empower your team.

Step 1: Articulate your vision frequently.

If you’re not going to share your vision, the goals you’ve set and how you think you’ll achieve them with your team, there’s no sense embarking on this journey.

So I’m going to assume you’re going to rally the troops around your vision and goals. The next point is a biggie: you have to revisit your vision and the goals a lot. It’s not a once and done deal. It has to become ingrained in your team.

I want to share the part of Robert Kaplan’s article that really stuck with me. He writes, “It’s surprising how often business leaders fail to ask themselves: how frequently do I communicate a vision and priority for my business? Would my employees, if asked, be able to articulate the vision and priorities?” Kaplan

And this is the nut of it really:

“Unfortunately, in the press of day-to-day activities, [leaders] often don’t adequately communicate the vision to the organization, and in particular, they don’t convey it in a way that helps their people understand what they are supposed to be doing to drive the business. It is very difficult to lead people if they don’t have a firm grasp of where they’re heading and what’s expected of them.” Robert Kaplan

And this is where I see the value in the vision/goal/articulation exercise. If this awareness is lacking in your team, imagine the performance bump you might realize from both sales and marketing. Imagine a more effective allocation of resources as their focus sharpens.

Step 2: Checking in on your goals

As I mentioned earlier taking big annual goals and breaking them down into quarterly, monthly, even weekly goals keep teams on track, let’s you know if you’re hitting targets or not and allows you to make course corrections early on.
It also helps reinforce the vision and each team member’s contribution to the goals to keep from sliding back into old patterns.

As Kaplan points out, many firms do an end-of-year evaluation of employees. Regular check-ins with the goals allow your team better align themselves along the way rather than waiting for the end of the year to find out how they were underperforming. Imagine the cumulative effects this change in management could have on the company over the course of the year.

He also makes this important point: “People tend to take their cues from the leader when it comes to time management — therefore, you want to make sure there’s a match between your actions, your business priorities, and your team’s activities.”

From my own experience when leaders fail to commit to their own goals, the team anticipates the lack of will and never buys into it in the first place. Ouch!

Discipline is important. Sometimes the goals we set are hard. But discipline or willpower is a muscle you have to exercise, a trait Halvorson attributes to successful leaders.

What your marketer will do with your goals

Now that you’ve done your job, the marketing director becomes the official translator of the goals into an overarching strategy for the digital marketing ecosystem. Marketing will now plan content for critical segments that will generate leads, nurture relationships through behavior-based automations, and drive traffic with better advertising. Key performance indicators will help her team know how they’re doing.

Whether we’re coaching a client’s team or we are the digital marketing team, we talk to the director of marketing and key sales reps to get a range of perspectives, insights and to spot gaps in the translation of vision and goals to the processes and organization to achieve them.

We use a very handy model called the DMMM or Digital Marketing and Measurement Model lifted directly from the brilliant mind and work of Avinash Kaushik, Google’s digital marketing evangelist and Analytics uber-nerd. While that’s a subject for another article, the reasoning is simple:

The model is a tool to provide structured thinking about the real purpose of campaigns with objective measures that determine success or failure.

If you’d like the DMMM template, I’ve provided it here.

Let’s do this: Final tips

My final tip is to keep it real.

Not to get all Grinch-y about milestones … but don’t be in a hurry to celebrate. University of Chicago psychologists Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fishbach studied what was better: a focus on how far you’ve come or on how much is left to reach the goal. I love how Halvorson put it: “when we focus on how far we’ve come we begin to slack off. We wind up with lots of pots on the stove, but nothing is ever ready to eat.”

Keeping it real also means setting realistic, achievable goals. Too many goals or goals that far outpace performance of the past will just serve to demoralize your team. This handy acronym and model from The Balance may help you keep it real:

SMART Goals:

  • Specific – You have defined what you want to accomplish.
  • Measurable – You have identified targets and milestones to track your progress. (And check in on them regularly.)
  • Attainable – Your goal is realistic and manageable.
  • Relevant – You have identified a goal that fits with your business model.
  • Time-Based – You have identified a specific period for the goal.

Need some help setting goals for your team or translating those goals into an end-to-end marketing ecosystem? Let’s talk!