When I was 14, my dream was to play college baseball. But I had one small problem: I only weighed 100 pounds. And even though I still had four years to bulk up and improve my skills, I knew I had a long way to go. Fortunately, my coach always knew how to give me opportunities to shoot for that kept my drive alive.
I think of SMART goals like my former baseball coach.
When I first learned about SMART goals, I had an epiphany. I realized the reason why I could keep improving my athleticism in high school was because my coach made me set SMART goals. But, to give you a more professional example, here’s a template that shows how HubSpot encourages users to create their own SMART goals:
In the working world, the influence of SMART goals continues to grow. The reason why successful marketing teams always hit their numbers is because they also set SMART goals.
SMART goals are concrete targets that you strive to achieve over a certain period of time. These goals should be carefully drafted by a manager and his/her 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 you create 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.
The thing I love about sports is the life lessons you learn playing them directly apply to your career. Setting SMART goals not only helps you get better at baseball, but it also makes you a better marketer.
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 get to those metrics.
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 to achieve the goal, you may lose focus and fall short of what you want to accomplish.
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, for example, your job probably revolves around key performance indicators, or KPIs. Therefore, you might choose a particular KPI or metric 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 evidence or more 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 post-customer service 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, for example, try to increase it by 8-10% this month, rather than a lofty 25%.
It’s crucial to base your goals off of 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 track and make it harder to track progress. Rather than saying, “We want to make 10,000% of what we made in 2019,” 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’ll be 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 relies 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’s 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 time frame? 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 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.”
If you want a more concrete understanding of SMART goals, check out the examples below. You can always revisit this blog post and reference them when it’s time to set your goals.
Now that you know what a SMART goal is, why it’s important, and the framework to create one, it’s time to get inspired 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 into a concrete SMART goal.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.