Aug 272017

In Sales and sales management circles few would argue that compensation, a major component of which is income, is trivial or a minor issue. Modern management theories tell us that not only happy workers stay longer, but also they are more productive. We know that pay is often top of mind for employees, but other factors also chart well. When one is not caught in the vice of low or unsatisfactory pay, one is enjoying his or her work and is therefore engaged, committed and sees a future.

In the book The Code of The Extraordinary Mind the author speaks to Richard Branson about the secret to the billionaire’s serial success. Branson tells the author the secret is to have a vision, hire great people to execute it and then get out of their way. Notice, he didn’t say pay them 30%, or whatever, in commissions.

Imagine now for a moment all this evidence, wisdom, research and information out there and next to none of it is applied to the profession of sales by the responsible management and the companies at which they work. The whole thing is on autopilot, has been for years and clichés abound. The conventional wisdom hangs like an albatross around the neck of management and human resources. In the well-argued book Drive author Daniel Pink makes an evidence-based case for not paying salespeople commission and SPIF when creativity is required.

Is any company taking heed of the applicable information? All indications point to the answer being ‘no.’ This website has long argued that people management has to be personalized for the individual and one size does not fit all. Why are so many sales departments and companies struggling, and why does anyone need extra pushing and shoving, if salespeople uniformly respond to extra commission and variable incentive? The answer is that salespeople do not and like any other profession and group individuals respond differently and have different motivations. We even wrote about motivation for salespeople as a function of their cultural background on this site in November, 2016.

Why then are companies not overhauling how they compensate their employees in general and sales department in particular and instead prolapse to the same old? We know now that as a matter of random statistics a portion of the sales team likely responds better to and is more responsive to things other than being paid on commission. How about looking at 100% salary entitlement? There is also this, which likely lead to companies taking action like this.  In addition to the above arguments, there must be a reckoning that today’s customers are better informed and sales is becoming more of a team sport. A successful sales team is not only comprised of different people (inside, outside, technical, post-sales consultancy..), but also requires adapting to customers’ buying process, which is an outward outlook and not necessarily satisfied by internal necessities.

ventilation pipe (flexibility)

Photo Credit: Bilderjet

Instead could individuals be motivated and double their efforts for:

  • Peer and employee recognition
  • Additional time off
  • Health, or other, club membership
  • A gift card for the salesperson’s significant other
  • Paid learning opportunity or mentorship
  • Paid-for recreational classes such as cooking, climbing or arts and crafts,
  • Job promotion (with a caveat)

Keep a higher emphasis on variable compensation for those who are actually and demonstrably motivated by it and remove the yoke from those who just do not care for it and either do not perform better given the scheme or do so only marginally.

There is no doubt that driving sales and winning deals is the raison d’etre of any sales organization. The question we should be asking is what actually drives performance versus what we have always accepted drives performance.

Indeed, sales management must measure all that leads to a sales win (could be customer engagements, presentations, customer meetings, marketing response rates, etc.) and develop a compensation plan based on low and upside potential calculations, team alignment, composition and of course how all of this is being measured, but understand that the drive to create the components of success is propelled by different means among individuals.


*Things That Need To Go Away: We Do It That Way Because It Is Always Done That Way



Photo Credit: Geralt


Feb 152016

Sometimes it is a wonder how easily a percentage of sales management professionals forget or never learnt the fundamentals of sales compensation and motivation.

This is not a knock against the vital and, if the job is being done correctly, difficult sales management position. However, for different reasons sales managers act counterproductively to the desired outcome when it comes time to set goals and define compensation plans.

money bag









Reasons may include:

  • Sales managers forget what being in a sales (individual contributor) position was like.
  • Sales manager was never in a direct sales position.
  • Sales manager is junior and has not found his or her rationale or voice. This person would go with flow and not make waves.
  • The sales compensation model is of course derived from the company’s strategic plan for the year and is handed down from the office of the Chief Financial Officer and, by extension, board of directors. The sales chain of command was unable to wholly or partly contribute to the puzzle.








Here are examples of what I term counterproductive sales compensation modelling. Before doing that though let us remember that we are not dealing in absolutes. This is not a black and white edict. A compensation plan could very well lie on a spectrum between ‘good’ and the ‘bad.’

Sales professionals are often vocal, and correctly so, with sales compensations when:

  • The numbers are not what the company has in fact budgeted. By the time the sales manager has adds his 5%, the director had added her 10% and the vice-president has tacked on a discretionary 5% the number has ballooned by 20% and is demotivating the sales team. With the team finding the number out of reach sales people react in several ways. They check out when concluding that the target is not realistic. Worse, they become resentful believing the cards are stacked against them. Moreover, when facing a tough market and competitive landscape sales comes to fret a lack of friendly cover. You might be thinking how would the team know (that the numbers have been altered)? It is not the absolute number that poses a challenge, but the delta between numbers and the path to achieving it.
  • Sales numbers are based on one-offs or special circumstances. If a salesperson who happened to walk into a large sale or had a major sale based on a special circumstance that is not repeatable finds the new quota follow the (FY -1 Special Circumstance * FY0 Uplift%) formula he is likely to balk at the number calling it irrational along the way.
  • Similarly, salespersons with spectacular achievements are given congruently higher quota than counterparts based on last year’s success. The message is ‘Thou Shalt Be Punished For Thine Hard Work.’ Looked at conversely weaker salespeople were rewarded.
  • Under adverse circumstances, salespeople hold back – it even has its own term ‘sand bag’ – possible sales from one quarter to the next or worse from fiscal year to the next. Forget helping salespersons over-achieve; under such circumstances sales is actively not achieving.

It is important to not create sales compensation in isolation from the very salespeople who are tasked to execute it. It is also critical that salespersons do not be handed a disincentive and be demotivated by sales management and their compensation plans. Most importantly, managers must examine the compensation plan to eliminate any perceived or actual unfairness. Operating in an environment that is not a level playing field will have the opposite of the intended effect and lead to charges of favouritism or unprofessionalism.

Keep the numbers above board, uniformly applied and view the sales team as mature allies.

*Things That Need To Go Away: not soliciting the sales team’s feedback on the sales compensation model or, worse, soliciting and subsequently ignoring it.