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Decoding Sales Compensation: 9 Key Challenges Confronting CFOs

Sameer Sinha
CEO & Co-Founder At Visdum
Published On:
June 13, 2023

Sales Compensation - The great equalizer of the business world. It's what motivates our salespeople to hustle and keeps our revenue streams flowing. But let's face it, sales compensation can be a bit of a headache. In fact, it's one of the top challenges that CFOs face in today's business landscape. 

Let’s face it, from contributing to commission plans that actually motivate sales teams to ensuring that those plans are financially viable, there's a lot to consider when it comes to sales compensation management. In this article, we'll explore some of the top challenges that CFOs face when navigating the complexities of sales compensation.

Let’s look at the facts…

CFOS must understand the top challenges associated with sales compensation and develop strategies to overcome them. 

1. Incentivizing Sales Performance while Controlling Costs

According to a survey by Deloitte, 57% of CFOs consider sales compensation to be one of the top three incentives for driving sales growth, but only 26% are satisfied with their current sales compensation plans. This suggests that CFOs are aware of the importance of sales incentives but struggle to find the right balance

It is quite challenging to balance the need to incentivize sales performance while keeping a check on costs when it comes to designing a sales compensation plan.

On one hand, you want to motivate your sales reps to go above and beyond in closing deals and driving revenue growth. On the other hand, you don't want to give it all away just to make your reps happy. 

It's like walking a tightrope - one wrong step and the whole budget could come crashing down. But with careful analysis of sales data and a strategic approach to setting commission rates, it is possible to strike a balance between incentivizing sales performance and controlling costs.

2. Aligning Sales Compensation Plans with Business Strategy and Goals

Another survey by Deloitte found that 62% of companies believe that their sales compensation plans need to be improved. This suggests that many companies recognize that their current plans are not effectively aligned with their business strategy and goals.

It’s not rare for CFOs to face issues while ensuring that the sales compensation plans align with the overall business strategy and goals. It's not just about throwing money at the sales team and hoping for the best. 

You need to be strategic in how you incentivize sales performance, while also keeping an eye on the budget and sales reps' motivation. After all, you don't want to end up incentivizing your sales reps to sell ice to Eskimos, if you know what we mean. Make sure that the compensation plans are aligned with the company's long-term goals, and that you’re not just throwing cash at short-term wins.

3. Sales Rep Retention while minimizing costs

The study found that the average cost of replacing a salesperson is approximately $115,000, which includes direct costs such as recruiting and training expenses as well as indirect costs such as lost productivity and revenue.

Creating plans that motivate and retain top-performing salespeople while minimizing turnover can be a tricky task. On one hand, you want to offer incentives and benefits that will keep your sales team motivated and engaged, but on the other hand, you don't want to break the bank and send your budget up in smoke.

And let's not forget the pressure to retain those top-performing salespeople. Losing them can be a real blow, both in terms of morale and your bottom line. So, you must keep them happy and motivated, whether that's through bonuses, recognition programs, or just plain old-fashioned praise and appreciation.

Obviously being a CFO, you have to keep an eye on the bigger picture and ensure that your plans are financially sustainable in the long term. It's not just about making your sales team happy in the short term; you also need to ensure that your company thrives and grows over time.

4. Creating Metrics and Benchmarks for Sales Compensation Plan Evaluation 

Another study by the Sales Management Association found that only 30% of companies regularly conduct a formal analysis of their sales compensation plans.

Developing metrics and benchmarks to evaluate sales compensation plans is a complex process. And let's not forget about the many factors that can affect sales performance, such as market conditions, competitor activity, and changes in customer behavior.

So, it’s the job of a CFO to come up with metrics and benchmarks that accurately reflect sales performance, while also taking into account all of these external factors which are truly unexpected. 

Moral of the story - Developing metrics and benchmarks to evaluate sales compensation plans is like trying to solve a Rubik's cube blindfolded. It's a tough challenge, but it's also incredibly rewarding when you get it right.

So how do we get it right? 

Start by collaborating with sales and finance teams to gain insights into the most important aspects of sales performance and financial impact. You can consider using a balanced scorecard approach i.e. a mix of leading and lagging indicators, including both financial and non-financial metrics. It provides a more holistic view of sales performance and helps prevent overemphasis on a single metric. Let’s not forget using, technology to make complex work easier like sales compensation software

6. Navigating Cultural, Legal, and Currency Related Policies

According to a study by Deloitte, cultural differences can also impact sales compensation strategies. For example, some cultures may value teamwork over individual achievement, which may require adjustments to compensation plans.

Different cultural factors affect sales compensation and that's enough to make one's head spin. In some cultures, the value of teamwork is more than individual achievement, which can require some creative tweaking of compensation plans.

Deloitte's study pointed out, what works in one culture may not work in another. 

Apart from cultural, the legal factors can also impact sales compensation in many ways when companies deal with sensitive customer data and compliance with data privacy and security regulations.

Sales compensation plans should consider data protection laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States.

Let’s not forget how much different currencies can impact sales compensation. For example, fluctuations in currency exchange. If your company operates globally or has sales teams in different countries, changes in exchange rates can result in significant variations in compensation amounts when converting from one currency to another making it more complex.

7. Compliance and Conflict Mitigation Risks associated with comp

According to a survey by the Sales Management Association, over 70% of companies have experienced sales compensation disputes or disagreements. The same survey also found that the most common reasons for disputes were related to plan design, disputes over commission calculations, and changes to plans mid-year.

Mitigating the risks associated with sales compensation plans is a serious matter. The CFOs are responsible for ensuring no potential legal and regulatory compliance issues and conflicts of interest arise. 

Firstly it is essential to have a well-designed sales compensation plan that aligns with the company's goals and values. This means ensuring that the plan is fair, transparent, and consistent across the organization.

Second, it is crucial to ensure that all calculations and payouts are accurate and based on measurable, objective criteria. Any discrepancies can quickly erode trust and confidence in the sales team and the company as a whole.

Lastly, communication! Keeping your sales team informed and engaged throughout the process can help mitigate potential disputes or disagreements. Provide regular updates and feedback that can help build a strong relationship and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

8. Efficient Administration of Sales Compensation Plans

A study by the Sales Management Association found that companies with more complex sales compensation plans spend more time and resources on administration than those with simpler plans.

The moral of the story is- Keep your compensation plan simple.

CFOs are often left feeling like they're stuck in a never-ending game of paperwork and data analysis, all while trying to ensure that the sales team is properly incentivized and motivated to hit their targets. 

It's a constant battle, trying to balance the needs of the business with the demands of the sales team.

Let’s not forget the constant headache of managing CRM after every converted lead as each system may have its own unique data structure, terminology, and data entry practices that create discrepancies and inconsistencies when trying to reconcile data between systems.

Not only this large volumes of data and complex data structures like numerous transactions, customers, products, and interactions, can add to the complexity of reconciliation. It ends up overwhelming finance professionals, leading to potential errors or difficulties in identifying discrepancies.

9. Ineffective technology systems that don't talk to one another

It seems that in today's world, among many more things, the most elusive than a sale is a unified data system. 

According to a survey by the Alexander Group, a whopping 39% of companies suffer from a lack of visibility into sales performance due to data silos and incompatible systems.

You invested in all these fancy new technologies to improve your sales performance, yet you're still left in the dark when it comes to actually understanding your numbers. Let’s face it your great technology is not going to help you if you don’t have an understanding of your sales compensation and you can’t explain it to reps. It will leave both you and the reps in the dark, and eventually, the reps will no longer go to the CFOs with their compensation doubts. 

In conclusion, the complexities surrounding sales compensation pose significant challenges for CFOs. From aligning sales targets with customer objectives to ensuring proper training and support for sales representatives, CFOs must navigate a multitude of factors to optimize sales performance and drive revenue growth. Balancing the need for incentivizing sales reps while also delivering value to customers requires careful strategic planning and a data-driven approach.

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