Sales compensation plans, also referred to as benefit and reward schemes in the UK, are extremely powerful tools for businesses that want to motivates sales reps. Bonuses are one of the quickest motivational levers that management can use to impact performance and incentivize staff in a company. However, many organizations do not have the tools to do so or do not know what makes a sales compensation plan effective. So, where should businesses start when compensating sales reps?
We recently caught up with Ron Burke EMEA Leader, Sales Effectiveness & Rewards at Willis Towers Watson, based in London. He shared five quick tips on motivating sales reps and optimizing their sales compensation plans based on his experience helping global companies design, build, and manage effective compensation structures across a wide range of industries.
1) Manage your compensation during times of business change
Organizations generally adhere to a normal plan cycle when setting their compensation programs. However, there are times when they need to make changes mid cycle due to an unanticipated change in the business, such as a merger or the launch of a new product. At times like these, companies need to ask themselves, are we driving the right behaviors? Do we have the right alignment with our strategic priorities as an organization? It’s also important to consider fundamental questions about the metrics that are being used, and how they align with the overarching business goals of the company.
2) Supplement your gut instinct
When developing compensation plans, the majority of sales leadership and management teams lean heavily on their gut instinct in the absence of facts and data. For the most part, their gut feel is valid as it comes with experience and time. However, once you look at the data of the business there are instances where it doesn’t support what management thought. The problem for organizations is that the data may be spread across different systems and not easily accessible to support decisions when creating plans.
3) Data is vital to optimize compensation
Companies need a real-time, detailed, and holistic view of both the individual and also overall company performance. Access to additional data provides the fact base to build a solid incentive compensation plan design. It allows companies do a lot more analysis than they would otherwise be able to do. As a result, the business better understands where its success will come from, and is able to map out compensation plans more accurately.
4) Establish benchmarks to stay competitive
Senior management are always curious about how they compare to other companies, whether that’s competitors or simply those in the same sector or geography. It is also important to think about benchmarking from a recruitment perspective, not just competitors for business, but competitors for talent. In terms of benchmarking competitiveness, the most important comparison is levels of pay, to make sure that you are paying appropriate salaries, and that your offerings are appropriate for the market.
5) Employee visibility significantly boosts performance
Providing real time feedback to sales people on their performance is absolutely critical to the success of a compensation program (here are some examples of how to go about it). Technology is impacting people in both their personal and professional lives through an increasing range of accessible tools. It’s important for organizations to deliver consumer grade communications to employees giving them visibility into their performance. One of the biggest failures of many sales incentive plans is they end up being very backward looking, telling an employee how they have done rather than allowing them to see how they are doing, or could do, during the period. It’s not enough to tell employees they will get a bonus ‘if they hit targets’. Employees need to be able to map their own performance, for example sales expectation and foresight, and understand what is needed to achieve their targets, remain loyal and productive, and keep on track of the business and its goals.