When I was 14, my dream was to play college baseball. But I had one small problem — I only weighed 100 pounds and could barely hit the ball out of the infield. Even though I still had four years to bulk up and improve my skills, I knew I had a long way to go before I could play at the collegiate level.
Fortunately, my high school coach always gave me opportunities to shoot for that kept my drive alive. After a grueling practice or workout, he would harp on how a long-term goal is just a series of short-term goals, and he made us write down our off-season training goals every year. But he didn’t just accept the first draft of your goal sheet. He would make you edit it until you knew exactly what your goals were and how you were going to achieve them.
Setting a goal like “improve upper body strength” wasn’t enough. You had to write down how much you would improve your bench press by and how many times you would work out per week.
Every year, I set off-season SMART goals, and since I had a plan and clear direction, I always achieved them. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had gained 70 pounds and earned a baseball scholarship.
In this post, you’ll learn exactly what SMART goals are and how you can set one today. Want to skip to the information you need most? Click on one of these headlines to jump to that section.
In the working world, the influence of SMART goals continues to grow. The reason why successful marketing teams always hit their numbers is that they also set SMART goals. Use the template above to follow along and create your own SMART goals.
SMART goals are concrete targets that you aim to hit over a certain period. These goals should be carefully drafted by a manager and their direct report to set them up for success. “SMART” is an acronym that describes the most important characteristics of each goal.
The “SMART” acronym stands for “specific,” “measurable,” “attainable,” “relevant,” and “time-bound.” Each SMART goal should have these five characteristics to ensure the goal can be reached and benefits the employee. Find out what each characteristic means below, and how to write a SMART goal that exemplifies them.
When you make goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, you’re increasing your odds for success by verifying that the goal is achievable, identifying the metrics that define success, and creating a roadmap to reach those metrics.
SMART goals are important to set as they:
If your goals are abstract, if you don’t know what it will take to achieve success, or if you don’t give yourself a deadline to complete steps, you may lose focus and fall short of what you want to accomplish.
In short — yes, if done correctly. Setting unrealistic goals and trying to measure them without consideration of previous performance, overly short time frames, or including too many variables will lead you off course.
These goals work if formulated properly and if they take into account the motive and cadence of those working on them. Additionally, your SMART goals can only succeed when the employees working towards them have the means to achieve them.
Let’s take a look at some realistic examples of SMART goals to paint a clearer picture of what they are.
SMART Goal: One year from now, our landing pages will generate 30% more leads by switching their forms from one column to two columns.
When writing SMART goals, keep in mind that they are “specific” in that there’s a hard and fast destination the employee is trying to reach. “Get better at my job,” isn’t a SMART goal because it isn’t specific. Instead, ask yourself: What are you getting better at? How much better do you want to get?
If you’re a marketing professional, your job probably revolves around key performance indicators or KPIs. Therefore, you might choose a particular KPI or metric that you want to improve on — like visitors, leads, or customers. You should also identify the team members working toward this goal, the resources they have, and their plan of action.
In practice, a specific SMART goal might say, “Clifford and Braden will increase the blog’s traffic from email …” You know exactly who’s involved and what you’re trying to improve on.
While you may need to keep some goals more open-ended, you should avoid vagueness that could confuse your team later on. For example, instead of saying, “Clifford will boost email marketing experiences,” say “Clifford will boost email marketing click rates by 10%.”
SMART goals should be “measurable” in that you can track and quantify the goal’s progress. “Increase the blog’s traffic from email,” by itself, isn’t a SMART goal because you can’t measure the increase. Instead, ask yourself: How much email marketing traffic should you strive for?
If you want to gauge your team’s progress, you need to quantify your goals, like achieving an X-percentage increase in visitors, leads, or customers.
Let’s build on the SMART goal we started three paragraphs above. Now, our measurable SMART goal might say, “Clifford and Braden will increase the blog’s traffic from email by 25% more sessions per month … ” You know what you’re increasing, and by how much.
This is in the same light of avoiding vagueness. While you might need qualitative or open-ended evidence to prove your success, you should still come up with a quantifiable KPI. For example, instead of saying, “Customer service will improve customer happiness,” say, “We want the average call satisfaction score from customers to be a seven out of ten or higher.”
An “attainable” SMART goal considers the employee’s ability to achieve it. Make sure that X-percentage increase is rooted in reality. If your blog traffic increased by 5% last month, try to increase it by 8-10% this month, rather than a lofty 25%.
It’s crucial to base your goals on your own analytics, not industry benchmarks, or else you might bite off more than you can chew. So, let’s add some “attainability” to the SMART goal we created earlier in this blog post: “Clifford and Braden will increase the blog’s traffic from email by 8-10% more sessions per month … ” This way, you’re not setting yourself up to fail.
Yes. You should always aim to improve. But reaching for completely unattainable goals may knock you off course and make it harder to track progress. Rather than saying, “We want to make 10,000% of what we made in 2021,” consider something more attainable, like, “We want to increase sales by 150% this year,” or “We have a quarterly goal to reach a 20% year-over-year sales increase.”
SMART goals that are “relevant” relate to your company’s overall business goals and account for current trends in your industry. For instance, will growing your traffic from email lead to more revenue? And, is it actually possible for you to significantly boost your blog’s email traffic given your current email marketing campaigns?
If you’re aware of these factors, you’re more likely to set goals that benefit your company — not just you or your department.
So, what does that do to our SMART goal? It might encourage you to adjust the metric you’re using to track the goal’s progress. For example, maybe your business has historically relied on organic traffic for generating leads and revenue, and research suggests you can generate more qualified leads this way.
Our SMART goal might instead say, “Clifford and Braden will increase the blog’s organic traffic by 8-10% more sessions per month.” This way, your traffic increase is aligned with the business’s revenue stream.
When your company is doing well, it can be easy to say you want to pivot or grow in another direction. While companies can successfully do this, you don’t want your team to lose sight of how the core of your business works.
Rather than saying, “We want to start a new B2B business on top of our B2C business,” say something like, “We want to continue increasing B2C sales while researching the impact our products could have on the B2B space in the next year.”
A “time-bound” SMART goal keeps you on schedule. Improving on a goal is great, but not if it takes too long. Attaching deadlines to your goals puts a healthy dose of pressure on your team to accomplish them. This helps you make consistent and significant progress in the long term.
For example, which would you prefer: increasing organic traffic by 5% every month, leading to a 30-35% increase in half a year? Or trying to increase traffic by 15% with no deadline and achieving that goal in the same timeframe? If you picked the former, you’re right.
So, what does our SMART goal look like once we bound it to a timeframe? “Over the next three months, Clifford and Braden will work to increase the blog’s organic traffic by 8-10%, reaching a total of 50,000 organic sessions by the end of August.”
Having no timeframe or a really broad span of time noted in your goal will cause the effort to get reprioritized or make it hard for you to see if your team is on track. Rather than saying. “This year, we want to launch a major campaign,” say, “In quarter one, we will focus on campaign production in order to launch the campaign in quarter two.”
Now that you know what a SMART goal is, why it’s important, and the framework to create one, it’s time to put that information into practice. Whether you’re setting goals for a personal achievement or as part of hitting important marketing milestones, it’s good to start with what you want to achieve and then reverse-engineer it into a concrete SMART goal.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.