In the current therapeutic climate, mortality rates from systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) remain unacceptably high. Although new therapies are on the horizon, pending their emergence and availability, optimization of the currently available therapies is potentially achievable. A 'treat-to-target' approach is now considered routine for many diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, for which it has substantially improved patient outcomes. The heterogeneity of SLE, as well as lack of universal agreement over methods to measure disease activity and treatment responses, has impeded the development of such an approach for this disease. In this article, the potential benefits of a treatment-target definition are explored, obstacles to the development of a treatment target in SLE are identified, and possible strategies to achieve this goal are discussed.