New Year’s Resolutions: Professional Development Tools To Level-Up Your Outside Sales Career

Dec 30, 2021

Woman in a suit with a balloon in hand and fireworks in the background

Believe it or not, it’s already time to choose your 2022 New Year’s resolutions. You probably have very different goals for personal development and professional development, but I bet they have one thing in common: They’re both aimed at making something very important to you, better.

In this post, we’re going to discuss the benefits of professional development, share tips for setting professional development goals, and cover how to use professional development tools to accelerate your career.

What Is Professional Development?

Professional development is a process to improve yourself and advance in your career through ongoing training and learning. Some companies offer on-the-job training sessions to their employees,

or even pay for employees to enroll in licensing and certification programs with trusted organizations. Many professionals choose to seek out development opportunities on their own, investing their personal time and money to advance their career.

Common Professional Development Strategies

Professional development can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Pursuing advanced degrees
  • Networking with individuals in your field
  • Conferences and seminars
  • Attending online classes and webinars
  • Volunteering or joining nonprofit boards
  • Joining industry- or career-specific organizations
  • Mentoring

Benefits of Professional Development: How To Be A Better Salesperson

Like any other area of your life, the best way to supercharge career growth is to pounce on any opportunity to learn. You learn more, and as a result, you get better at what you do. It’s pure and simple, but how exactly can you apply it to your career in sales? Don’t worry, we’ve got you.

Here are some specific, practical ways to use professional development to your advantage:

To Meet Company And Personal Goals On Performance Evaluations

Performance evaluation form on a desk with a pen
Performance evaluations are a direct message from your company’s key decision makers about what they think are the most important objectives for the coming year or quarter. 

Most company goals are set annually through a meeting of the minds among its top executives. If you’ve been with a company for a year or longer, you’ve probably received an email or memo outlining your company’s yearly goals.

In the daily hustle of sales professionals, it can be tempting to disregard high-distro communications, but trust us, this one is important! It’s a direct message from your company’s key decision makers about what they think are the most important objectives for the coming year or quarter.

Your professional development pursuits are an opportunity to align your growth with your company’s goals. Plus, it deepens your commitment to see how your work fits into the big picture.

To Correct A Poor Performance Evaluation

If you have received a performance evaluation that was less than stellar, professional development can be used to demonstrate how you are taking steps to improve yourself. Critical feedback stings, but it points you in the right direction and opens an opportunity to create a detailed plan of action.

Even if your reviews are consistently glowing, there isn’t a sales rep on earth with zero room for improvement.  According to Sheila Heen, author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, “Always getting a glowing review means that you’re not challenging yourself.” Challenge yourself to set sales goals that push you past your comfort zone — maybe even ones that scare you a little.

To Stay Up-To-Date With Changes in Your Field

Whether you’re selling medical devices to hospitals or exhaust systems to automobile manufacturers, it’s essential to stay current in your field.

Sales is competitive and executives are busier than ever. Knowing the most current trends in your industry allows you to provide real-time, specific guidance to your customers. It also tells them you know your stuff, and you are in a position to provide real solutions to the problems that keep them up at night.

Gaining expertise in your field and staying up-to-date on trends can be as comprehensive as pursuing an advanced degree, or as simple as sending yourself daily digital nudges. To get your wheels turning, here’s a few ideas:

  • Subscribe to industry trade publications
  • Set up Google Alerts for relevant terms
  • Take in-person or virtual courses related to sales or a specific industry
  • Join a professional organization (e.g., Professional Sales Association)
  • Attend events and conferences
  • Read books in your field or listen to podcasts on the go
  • Follow thought leaders on social media

Woman with a pencil and pad of paper looking at a laptop monitor.
Taking a virtual course is a great way to stay current on important topics in your field.

To Land a Promotion

If you’re looking to advance your rank in your current role, learning new skills is a no-brainer. Why? Your boss probably has an endless list of problems to solve and dream projects he or she would like to tackle.

A common reason this list builds up (beyond simply not having enough time or people to work on it) is that no one on the team has that particular set of skills. An employee who can identify skill gaps within a team — and takes it upon themselves to attain a needed skill set — will stand out from the herd at promotion time.

Keep in mind, in order for a promotion or raise to happen, the company must be in a position to provide it. Also, vocalizing your desire for a promotion and clearly demonstrating your ability to do more at a higher level is a must. Even if a promotion isn’t in the cards, keep in mind that any skills you add to your toolbox could qualify you for an even better opportunity in the future.

Professional Goals In Outside Sales: What Types Lead to Professional Development In a Sales Career

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably looking for professional development goals that are going to bring you tangible results in your career in sales. So let’s zero in on the general categories of goals that can really move the needle; the goals that lead to higher commissions, salary increases, expanded responsibilities, and career advancement.

Productivity Goals

When we talk about productivity goals in the field sales world, we’re not just talking about putting in more hours. In order to decrease costs and increase revenue, sales professionals should seek to get as much done as possible in as little time as possible. The more productive you are as a field sales rep, the less time and effort you must invest in each deal you close.

Contributing to Organizational Goals

Let’s circle back now to those uber-important, high-level company goals.  If you’re asked to write a self-evaluation, always make a point to work these objectives into your own personal goals and tie them to your professional development pursuits.

For example, if your company’s goals include breaking into the pharmaceutical sector, your personal goals could include attending x number of pharma-related conferences or events to better understand their needs and make connections. This strategy makes you a more informed sales rep and positions you as a team member who understands the organization’s objectives.

Learning and Continuing Education Goals

A room full of professionals at a seminar listening to a presenter.
Continuing education seminars and workshops can sharpen your skills.

Continuing education refers to learning activities like programs, workshops, seminars, and courses that help professionals refine their skills and develop new ones. They typically result in a participant receiving some type of credential to validate what they’ve learned, like a certificate or badge.

Sales training programs can range from theoretical and broad discussions on how to overcome objectives to highly targeted courses, like addressing customer attrition post-pandemic. Seek out continued learning programs that align with your personal sales goals, address day-to-day pain points, or help you improve your weaker areas.

You don’t need to spend an astronomical amount to further your sales skills. There are training and certification programs available for every budget, and every lifestyle. Learning is available in classrooms, online, and at conferences across the country (tackle your networking and education goals at once!).

One option we highly recommend is obtaining a sales certification. A recognized sales certification can set you apart from your peers and propels you into a sales leadership career track faster.

Networking Goals

Three professional woman and one man holding plates talk to each other in a hotel area.
A tried and true method for making helpful connections with professionals in your field is by attending events like tradeshows, conferences, lunch-and-learns, or even just happy hours.

Networking is an essential process with both personal and professional advantages for sales professionals. If the business of sales is understanding and helping people, networking is the art of meeting and connecting with those people.

To set networking goals, first understand who you want to network with, and what you hope to accomplish. Are you looking to meet new prospects, or grow your relationship with current clients? Do you want to meet other sales professionals who can help you improve your skills? Do you know what types of events prospects in your industry attend?

A tried and true method for making helpful connections with professionals in your field is by attending events like tradeshows, conferences, lunch-and-learns, or even just happy hours. Joining professional associations is an easy way to find people with similar goals and interests. If you prefer to network online, no worries! There are LinkedIn Groups for pretty much any topic under the sun, and virtual meet-ups are more common than ever.

Next, to maximize your time, create very specific goals to make the most of your time at a sales conference, and hold you accountable for following up with new contacts.

How To Use SMART Goals For Professional Growth in Sales

You’re ready to make the commitment to professional development. You’ve set your sights on the most important and relevant areas for your career. Now, it’s time to set some goals that will stick!

If you’ve set goals or resolutions in the past that petered out by February, we feel your pain. According to Psychology Today, 30 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions fold by the two-week mark. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible; it means you need SMARTer goals!

The SMART goals chart
Field sales professionals at all levels can easily apply the SMART method to their professional development efforts. Source: Hydrate Marketing

The SMART framework is a well-established tool for setting goals and objectives.

SMART stands for:

S – Specific – be detailed and specific about what you want to accomplish.

M – Measurable – set criteria that makes it clear whether the goal was accomplished or not.

A – Attainable – the goal must be realistic and achievable (inspiring, not discouraging!).

R – Relevant – the goal should be in alignment with your overall objectives and values.

T – Time-Based – the goal must have a specific timeframe.

The true beauty behind SMART goals is that they address multiple issues that lead to unsuccessful goal-setting, head-on. When you write goals that are well-defined, realistic, measurable, and relevant to you, you create a roadmap for success that is both motivating and satisfying.

How To Improve Sales Skills With SMART Goals

Field sales professionals at all levels can easily apply the SMART method to their professional development efforts. Let’s say you’re a field sales rep, and your professional development goal for 2022 is to identify more leads while on the road. We’ll use the Map My Customers sales tool as an example, because it can help you do just that.

Here’s what that SMART goal could look like:

  • Specific: I want to be more productive and make better use of my time on the road by using Map My Customers to identify leads close to my scheduled appointments in X region.
  • Measurable: My goal is to identify Y additional leads In Q1.
  • Attainable: I have visits scheduled in X region in Q1. My company utilizes this tool, and our research shows there are untapped prospects in this territory.
  • Relevant: As a field sales rep, I spend a lot of time traveling (when I wish I could be prospecting). Finding more prospects on the road means more opportunities for sales, without losing time.
  • Time-Based: By the end of Q1.

Read more about how to create and measure SMART goals.

Professional Development Tools: Build A Diverse Toolbox

There’s more than one road to success. And for every professional development goal, there are dozens of resources at your disposal. Whether you prefer to read, listen, watch, network, or do all of the above, you can!

Here are just a few of the many tools and strategies you can use to sharpen your sales skills and advance your career:

Online Courses

You don’t have to sit in a classroom to take worthwhile courses anymore. Professionals can use online educational platforms like LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare, and MasterClass to take classes taught by experts and develop skills across pretty much every industry and skill-set.

Platforms are generally subscription-based, but if you’re not sure online learning is right for you, you can get a 1-month free trial of LinkedIn Learning, or take some of the free courses offered by Udemy or Skillshare.

Career Pathing

If advancing at your current company is your goal, career pathing may be just what you’re looking for. Career pathing is the process of charting a path of career development within your organization. Your plan will set short and long-term goals and identify the skills and training necessary to get from Point A to Point B.

Professional Coaching

Looking for an experience that’s a little more hands-on? Professional or executive coaching is a partnership between an employee and a manager (or an employee and a professional certified coach) aimed at helping an individual explore what they want out of their career, set meaningful goals, and identify the skills needed to reach those goals. Coaching is usually a one-on-one relationship, but companies can also hire outside coaches to conduct group coaching for their employees.


Research conducted by Ohio State University found that sharing goals with someone that they respect or see as “higher status” made them more committed to their goals. As opposed to coaching, which is usually a more structured and short-term partnership, a mentorship is a less formal, long term relationship with a trusted advisor. Mentors can act as a sounding board, give constructive criticism, and potentially grow your professional network.

Join Up With Professionals With Similar Goals

The internet has made it easier than ever to seek out like-minded individuals. Peer groups like the Sales Leader Forum allow you to connect with and learn from other sales professionals. LinkedIn Groups also has numerous groups for sales professionals to network and share ideas online.

Book Lists and Podcasts

If you enjoy reading, learn directly from accomplished sales and business professionals by scooping up a copy of their books. Many printed books are also available in digital form, or as audiobooks from platforms like Audible.

And if listening is more up your alley, you can learn for free by subscribing to sales podcasts. Like audiobooks, podcasts have the added benefit of being hands-free, so you can listen while you work out or drive from appointment to appointment. Check out our list of 15 sales leaders and experts with great podcasts here.

2022 Resolutions For Salespeople: Set Your Sights On Professional Development

Professional development is an essential self-improvement process that stretches across your entire career. Setting goals for your professional growth can help you obtain the skills needed to advance in your career or improve important sales KPIs. No matter what you’re trying to achieve, you have a bottomless pool of professional development tools at your disposal to help you learn and grow in whatever form works best for you.

So what are your professional development goals for 2022?