Commissions Confessional: Gaining Buy-in for an SPM Project Blog 3 of a 6-Part Series

Eugene Lim
Eugene Lim
In Guest Blog Series
With years of marketing and PR experience in companies ranging from Austin start-ups to global tech organizations, Eugene is fluent in social media and content development. As the “voice of OS”, she is committed to clearly communicating the years of industry expertise and front-line knowledge that resides in the OS tribe. In her spare time, she loves running around Lake Austin and drinking local coffee.

Manheim, the largest subsidiary of Cox Automotive, currently has an incentive compensation payment accuracy rate of 99.9%. A year ago, this wasn’t the case. This world-class sales operations organization once struggled with recurrent late nights of commissions payment processing, until a call to order pizza became a wake-up call for their sales ops team. In this blog series recounting Cox Automotive’s journey to creating an unstoppable sales force, we explored the first steps to turning the commissions process around by defining the problem and creating a roadmap to change their Sales Performance Management (SPM) solution with a team of experts. In this blog, we’ll examine how the Cox Automotive team got support from key internal stakeholders to turn their SPM project into a reality.

For Cox Automotive, building the business case for stakeholders was a challenge because of the diverse range of needs and goals from each set of stakeholders at the executive, end-user, and payee levels. Further, the user needs had to be considered to build a strong, functional incentive compensation team that could support an ever-changing organization. The sales ops team believed that the key to getting buy-in from all levels within the organization was to build trust, address pushback, and prove their authenticity.

Building Trust by Asking for Feedback from Payees and End-Users

The people of Cox Automotive first made the commissions payout pains known through the company’s annual Global People Survey, but the sales ops team needed more detailed, on-the-ground information to shape the incentive compensation plan. The Senior Director of Sales Operations for Manheim, the largest subsidiary of Cox Automotive, Justin Ritchie, along with the SPM project management team, decided to host “commissions confessionals,” a series of short informal interviews with sales reps – the payees – intended to solicit honest input about their comp plans, the tools used to access them, and the metrics that drove their payouts.

The “confessionals” were conducted randomly and with no prior notice so that sales reps had no opportunity to prepare canned answers, instead compelling them to provide candid, off-the-cuff feedback that could not be gained from the Global People Survey. Additionally, during the week of Launch – Cox Automotive’s sales onboarding class – the project management team took the green sales reps by surprise by attending the Launch social hours and dinners to gain more feedback from these fresh pairs of sales eyes seeing the existing sales tools for the first time. According to Manheim’s Director of Incentive Compensation Jessica Owen:

Feedback can be diluted when there’s a formality behind it, so we didn’t want to give them time to prepare. We wanted them to tell us what they really thought about how our organization was supporting them.

Not only did they take initiative to get feedback from payees, but they made themselves accessible and expressed a genuine willingness to receive feedback, good or bad, from all end-users from the sales team. By putting people first and establishing a culture of listening, the sales reps felt safe and valued which led them to freely share their concerns. According to Owen, “Willingness to step up to any challenge is huge in creating trust – even if people dropped into the office to talk about stuff on the spot, we made it clear that we were up for it.”

Addressing Pushback by Telling the Story

Not all departments and team members were on board during the initial meetings about researching and implementing a new SPM strategy. As projects across the organization competed for attention and backing, making a large investment in a functional but imperfect sales ops system seemed to some a lower priority. However, buy-in was needed from almost all departments to secure the budget required to initiate the project. To push back against the pushback, the project management team had to tell the complete story to every department that interacted with the sales organization. Each of these departments needed to understand what the SPM project management team was trying to do, starting from educating the audience on sales comp basics to walking through the SPM evolution roadmap, to highlight the importance and necessity of making the investment in a new SPM strategy. According to Owen, one of the project management team’s strengths was the ability to paint a clear picture of what they were going to deliver and illustrate the value of it. For example, to the frustrated sales comp team working late to resolve commissions calculation errors caused by inconsistent data, the SPM project team explained: “The data doesn’t match, but with this platform we can make it match.”

Cox Automotive partnered with the OpenSymmetry team to leverage their expertise as a way to further validate to stakeholders that the tools and plan would move them from chaos to best-in-class. Scott Werstlein, Vice President of North American Sales at OpenSymmetry, led a meeting with all outside partners (including Xactly, SCI, and TerrAlign) and the Cox Automotive executives, as well as the project management team, with the main objective being to earn trust and gain credibility by telling the story of how this project would give time back to the sales reps. More time to focus on sales became one of the core mantras throughout the project. With a door-to-door sales strategy, this mantra provided a strong backbone for the project as the daily journey of the sales rep involves battling traffic, shouldering through bad weather, and scrambling for good mobile connection – and ultimately, what sales reps wanted and needed most was more time. Time no longer squandered manually calculating and recalculating a plan to maximize their commissions or even to determine their commission payouts could be channeled into far more productive activities – like selling.

Knowing the value of transparency and visibility to the sales reps’ performance, data integration, real-time feedback, and information accuracy were core themes that pushed the project forward and quieted pushback. The project management team made a commitment to absolute transparency about the sales team’s numbers. This required a fearless willingness to answer any and all questions about the current state, projected costs, and estimated return.

Proving Authenticity by Communicating the Plan

After receiving specific, concrete feedback from the “commissions confessionals,” the project management team communicated that the feedback was heard and confirmed that there would be an action plan to address the feedback. According to Owen, “We listened to what they told us and built something based on it. We showed that we listen and deliver, because it’ll have the biggest impact on their business, not ours. Then we continued the dialogue.”

They put together a presentation capturing the feedback as well as the plan to address all issues that were identified. This presentation was shared with department leaders throughout the organization, representing sales effectiveness, sales, people strategy and human resources, sales ops, and IT. They had a particular focus on HR to show how the project would alleviate angst among the sales team created by the sales comp plan, which in turn caused issues for HR. They also invited IT stakeholders to all major meetings to ensure that everything flowed smoothly related to the technology stack and data sources. At every milestone, progress and results were communicated to the organization. The overarching message was, according to Owen, “Not only did we promise to do this, but here’s what we’ve accomplished so far and here’s what we’re working on now.”

Slowly but surely, with their feedback driving the solution, both users and check signers endorsed the project. With support from all levels of the organization, the next step for the Cox Automotive SPM project management team was to partner with OpenSymmetry to take a good, hard look at their data feeds and uncover the hidden stories told by the data, including the gaps between projected numbers and actuals, the impact of data siloes, and the reality of dirty data. Join us for the fourth blog in our series, scheduled to publish the week of October 16, as we share the journey of digging through Cox Automotive’s data and data sources, as well as the surprising results we found.


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Commissions Confessional: Gaining Buy-in for an SPM Project Blog 3 of a 6-Part Series

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