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Sales Compensation

The 5 things that work in sales

Jeetesh Harjani
Director of Sales
Published On:
June 9, 2023

1. Designing the plan such that it has something for everyone

Typical teams are made up of Underperformers (20%), Core performers (60%), and overachievers (20%). Overachievers are almost always self-driven, but 80% of the team are not stars, and moving the needle on them can bring significant upside. Using multi-tier plans and bonuses makes sure that you are tapping into that potential too.

2. Giving tools that enable them to estimate earning potential

If reps can estimate how much more they can earn by closing additional deals which are in the pipeline, it allows them to align personal financial goals. You want them to think about which deals should I close to be able to buy the latest iPhone!
Also, having the ability to simulate the construction of a deal (ACV vs payment terms vs multi-year) and see what combination maximizes their incentive earnings, can be hugely powerful.

3. Providing (near) real-time visibility into earnings

If you’ve run a 10K road race, you will know that race organizers have volunteers at every milepost telling runners what their time is. And seeing that nearly every runner pushes harder when near the marker striving to beat their personal best time.
The key learning here is that more information leads to a better result, and sales management and distance running both share the quality that more frequent information about performance drives to a measurably better result at the end.

4. Paying within 60 days of the outcome

Behavioral psychology explains that you must shrink the amount of time between an action and its consequence to motivate behavior. That's why we learn to avoid touching the stove, we did it once and got burned. Very quick feedback, lesson learned. The lesson for Sales here is that the sales reps should see the result of their effort in the nearest possible paycheck.

5. Balancing Incentives with Contests and Recognition Programs to motivate

Beyond a point, the law of diminishing returns starts to apply and incentives start to lose their ability to influence sales behavior i.e. don’t throw the incentive as a solution to all sales management problems. Instead, for all non-revenue objectives (like forecast accuracy, CRM Hygiene, etc.) running contests with non-cash prizes, awarding badges, and certificates, and instituting President’s Club, etc are equally powerful to get the right sales behavior and creating the right culture early.



The 5 things that don't work


1. Simplifying, at the cost of alignment

The best plans are aligned and simple. But faced with a choice, prioritize alignment over simplicity. For sales compensation plans to be effective, they need to be aligned with the behavior the business wants to reinforce.
Consider these scenarios:

Scenario 1: 10K from 1 customer who churns after the first year.
Scenario 2: 10K total from 5 customers. 3 of these will renew, 2 will buy more, and 1 of them will become an advocate (give case studies and testimonials).
An over-simplified revenue plan would equate to them whereas the value of scenario 2 to the company is infinitely more than #1.

2. Having a high base pay

A high fixed component in On-Target Earnings (OTE) could promote mediocrity by giving performers a reason to stay; it also demotivates achievers as there isn’t much of a differentiation. For Sales the pay mix should be between 50:50, 60:40, or 70:30 (the more mature your product is, the higher the variable component).

3. Changing plans mid-year

Please don’t make the critical error of changing the compensation plans mid-year once they are handed out. That is the easiest way to demotivate reps and destroy trust.

4. Ignoring historical data while designing incentive plans

Factor in data points like conversion rate, average deal size, sales cycle, average contact length, and qualitative inputs like ideal time/effort allocation, and secondary KPIs into the plan design to ensure the plan is aligned with your business context. If that’s not the case, your incentive spend will become more of an expense than an investment.

5. Getting the territories and quota wrong

The fastest way to see your sales team stress out and burn out is by setting unrealistic quotas. Current pipeline or historical revenue performance should have little or no bearing on future quotas. Lead quantity and quality (conversion rate), sales cycle, and average deal size are good basis.

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