Monday, June 2, 2008

Tweak your Sales Compensation Plan - A Tale of Diverging Opinions

In case you are not familiar with it, the Canadian Professional Sales Association (CPSA) has an excellent magazine called "Contact". The best part is that this magazine is entirely available online, for free, and without any registration. Today I wanted to bring your attention to an article by Jay Somerset called "The Compensation Challenge" which appeared in the Contact Spring 2008 edition.

"It may be time to change - or tweak - your sales compensation plan to better compete in today's employee-driven market, but if it is done incorrectly you could send your sales team packing. "

Indeed, tweaking a sales plan is tricky business. Stats mentioned in the article back this up: Less than 10% of North American sales organizations redesign their comp plans in a given year, while the other 90 percent only perform minor tweaks. I think ideally, closer to 100% organizations should only perform minor tweaks. Redesigning a plan could be a sign that it had not been planned out properly, and sometimes organizations are compulsive about trying new plans rather than improving their existing plans by tweaking them.

Diverging Opinions
Greg Blysniuk, president of TopLine Sales Compensation Solutions in Toronto advocates simplicity. He says that sales managers often believe their compensation plans must be sophisticated and complex to compete; Greg believes one or two quantitative measures is all what is required to incent people and to ensure the plans are easy to understand.

David Johnston, president of Sales Resource Group Inc in Oakville, Ontario believes compensation plans should factor in qualitative metrics. "Qualitative metrics can be measured according to milestones or key events".

ICM Applications:
Greg says the main barrier to adopt an ICM application is their cost. He is in favor of using Excel spreadsheets for compensation data collection and analysis. He says that "Spreadsheets are simple to use, inexpensive and they do the basic job".

David does not agree; he says that spreadsheets are "too basic and error-prone". He also says that "sales is much too complex for a spreadsheet". He concludes that there is a middle ground with smaller-scale on-demand ICM applications such as PlanIt (which I reviewed previously), that do not require a large upfront cost.

The Bottom Line:

No matter which approach is used, I'm sure we can all agree that the goal is to make the compensation plans as straightforward as possible. If there is a valid reason for a plan to use some "complex" measurement, fine... as long as it's easy to understand and clearly communicated to the payees.

As for the need for an ICM application; if an organization is small enough with a low enough order volume and is happy with their current spreadsheet, and if they don't see any benefits in real-time analytics and dashboards, auditability, modeling, forecasting, and all the other benefits provided by an ICM solution, then there probably no incentive to replace the spreadsheet by such an application.

I agree with Greg that spreadsheets do the "basic job", but in my experience it does not take very long even for small organizations to realize that the "basic job" is not enough anymore to keep a competitive advantage.

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About Me

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Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Julien Dionne is a well-rounded consultant with global business management experience and outstanding technical, business and leadership skills. He earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in Software Engineering from the University of Ottawa, Canada, and he is a member of the Canadian Professional Sales Association. The views posted within this blog do not reflect the views of Julien’s current or previous employers and clients. Julien can be reached at julien.dionne@gmail.com