Why settle for ordinary quarterly reports?

I believe that the biggest factor in a stock's ability to beat the market is to beat the market's expectations. That's why I look every week at three companies that have humbled Wall Street's pros over the past few trading days. If a company has more in the tank than the analysts figured, capital appreciation often follows.

We can start with salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM). The enterprise-software provider with a cloud-computing bent saw earnings more than double to $0.17 a share. Analysts were expecting a profit of just $0.15 a share. Moving enterprise solutions to a Web-stored platform is cheaper than conventional offerings, and that's why Salesforce is growing during a corporate slowdown.

Target (NYSE:TGT) earned $0.79 a share in its latest quarter, well ahead of the $0.66 that Mr. Market was banking on. The report comes a week after larger rival Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) also beat the pros.

Sympathy plays don't always work out. For instance, Home Depot (NYSE:HD) delivered better-than-expected results on Tuesday, when it announced a quarterly profit of $0.64 a share, just ahead of the market's $0.59 profit target. Sexier rival Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) stepped up a day earlier, though, and fell short. So we can't make a blanket statement about home-improvement chains for the quarter.

Keep watching the companies that surpass expectations. Over time, doing so will be a rewarding experience for investors, as the market rewards the overachievers. That's the kind of surprise we look for in the Rule Breakers newsletter service. Want in? Check out a 30-day trial subscription.

Either way, come back next Monday to learn about more stocks that blew the market away.

salesforce.com is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Home Depot, Lowe's, and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of toppers. He owns no shares in any of the stocks in this column and is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.