Be (In)credible: 15 Ways for Sales Ops to Improve Their Credibility

Feb 21, 2018
6 min read
Sales operations drives the planning in sales organizations. Discover best practices and ways for sales ops leaders to improve credibility and performance.

What does it take to be incredible? Merriam-Webster defines incredible as “amazing, extraordinary; too extraordinary and improbable to be believed.” Sounds like a tough title to earn and live up to. To many people, the athletes competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics are incredible. However, in the business world, the definition changes, and closing that impossible deal or inspiring your sales reps to reach that unattainable quota can seem incredible.

How Can Sales Ops Be Incredible?

Sales operations, or sales ops as they are sometimes known, is a relatively new position in the sales field. Many companies are still trying to grasp the true understanding of the sales ops role on their sales team, but first and foremost, they stand on their company’s compensation podium as the gold, silver, and bronze champions of the company’s sales compensation plans.

Alongside their planning team, sales ops professionals are tasked with developing compensation plans that inspire sales reps, are aligned with company objectives, and drive top line growth. As the sales ops leader in your company, this isn’t always an easy task. To help you do the impossible, we’ve created a list of 15 ways sales ops can improve their credibility and be (in)credible! 

1. Make Compensation a Team Effort

Building a successful compensation plan isn’t always an easy task. As a sales ops leader, you must bring together a team that will push for compelling sales incentives, while keeping the company’s budget and objectives in mind. Build your compensation planning team with members from the finance, HR, and marketing departments to get a perspective from each role. A team of 4-5 members is a good place to start.

2. Use Data as a Guide

Everyone knows the saying “the numbers don’t lie.” This is especially true for sales compensation. Use past compensation and financial data to uncover which elements of your compensation plans have worked in the past to reach company objectives and which haven’t. Compiling previous years’ data allows you to build a smarter compensation plan to ultimately inspire sales rep behaviors that are aligned with company objectives and drive growth.

3. Benchmark, Test, and Repeat

No compensation plan is perfect. Even the most well thought out compensation plan may have its faults. That’s why it’s important to test your proposed compensation plans alongside the finance team to ensure that the plan has realistic outcomes. Industry data from products like Xactly Insights can be extremely helpful to understand compensation trends, as well as arm you with the tools and data needed to predict, test and build plans that attract and retain top sales talent.

4. Create Incentives That Drive the Right Sales Behaviors

When your sales goals are aligned with company objectives, everyone is aiming for the same target. Your incentive compensation plan should motivate sales reps to sell, but success is more than just making a sale. Understanding your product and services offerings will help your create incentives that drive the sales behaviors that will ultimately help you reach company objectives. Work with your product team to understand the company’s product and services focus. You can then use a relative rate commission plan to place emphasis on the most important products and service offerings through your incentive design.

5. Consider Each Team Member’s Role & Responsibilities

There will never be a one-size-fits-all compensation plan. Each member of your sales team has different roles and responsibilities, and their incentive compensation should recognize that. For example, consider the different responsibilities sales managers have compared to the sales reps that report to them. Managers will split their time between sales and administrative work, while reps focus more on closing deals. You should look closely at different roles and build plans that compensate each sales role appropriately.

6. Understand the Difference Between a Bonus and Commission

Perhaps the biggest component of your plan is deciding how sales teams will be paid. There are two popular ways to do this–bonuses and commissions. While it usually depends on the employee’s role, the two payment structures are very different. Commissions are the most common way of paying sales reps for sales, usually with an earned percentage for each deal, such as 5% of each sale, $5,000 per unit sold, etc. Other plans use bonuses, which are usually a stated payment amount, such as $10,000 or 10 percent of base salary.

7. Consider a Tiered Commission Structure

Commission plans can be set up in a number of different ways, but tiered commission plans have grown in popularity in recent years to motivate sales reps to overperform and sell beyond their quota. Tiered commission structures give reps a series of goals with increasing commissions at each level. When a rep reaches eat new goal, their commission rate also increases.

8. Don’t Cap Commissions (if Possible)

It can be somewhat frightening to tell sales reps that the sky’s the limit for their commissions, but research has found that when commissions aren’t capped, sales reps tend to over perform and bring in more revenue for companies than when commissions are capped. Capped commissions have been found to de-motivate sales reps, accelerate turnover, and ultimately lower profits. So, if possible, work with your finance team to avoid capping commissions.

9. Consider Non-Financial Incentives

Everyone knows that people do what you pay them to, which is why it’s no surprise that money has been shown to be one of the biggest motivators for sales reps. However, non-financial incentives have also been found to be extremely successful in motivating sales teams. Consider adding non-monetary compensation to your plan, such as team lunches, personalized gifts, and schedule flexibility.

10. Don’t Forget to Inspire Your Compensation Team

Where would the sales team be without the team that supports them? As a sales ops leader, it’s important to recognize that employees in every department are fundamental to the success of the business, and they should all feel like their work and effort is appreciated. You can’t expect that sales team to perform well if their support system isn’t inspired as well. Work with your compensation planning team to find ways to ensure each member of your organization feels rewarded and valued.

11. Openly Communicate the Incentive Plan

One of the quickest ways to kill a strong incentive compensation plan is through poor communication. When there is confusion on how the plan works, you’ll never gain executive support, which is critical for motivating sales reps. Be as open as possible and communicate clearly when unveiling your compensation plans to executives and sales leaders. You may even consider putting together a calculation tool that will show reps how the plan benefits them individually.

12. Gather and Track the Right Metrics

Data is one of the most useful tools you can have as a sales ops leader, but it’s important that you’re gathering and tracking the right data. You need to measure overall sales effectiveness, sales performance, and ultimately, the success of your sales compensation plan. A good starting point is to track:

  • Percentage of reps meeting quota
  • Lead response time
  • Sales win rates
  • Time spent on sales coaching and training
  • Sales rep satisfaction

13. Take Advantage of Automation (and Find the Right Tools)

Managing earned commissions and tracking sales metrics requires precise calculations and management. Using a spreadsheet to monitor and collect this data can be overwhelming and increase the chance for errors and inaccurate calculations. Work with your IT and finance leaders to find technology that will simplify the compensation process and ultimately increase your company’s overall efficiency.

14. Monitor Your Compensation Plan Consistently

Your job as sales ops leader doesn’t end after you implement a new sales compensation plan. The strongest incentive plans are continuously monitored and analyzed throughout the year. While you shouldn’t anticipate any large changes to your compensation plan in the year, you should monitor it periodically (at least once every quarter) and make any small tweaks as needed.

15. Learn From Sales Compensation Experts

Compensation success comes with experience. The longer sales ops leaders work to create incentive plans that inspire sales reps, the more they learn about what works in compensation plans. Network with other sales ops professionals and research compensation best practices to ensure your plan is competitive and built with best practices in mind. Earning the title of incredible is something sales ops leaders aim to do everyday.

By aiming to please as many people in the company as possible, their credibility and trustworthiness to put together a smart, well-designed compensation plan is both amazing and extraordinary–they’re earning the gold like Team USA at the Pyeongchang, South Korea!

  • Sales Performance Management
  • Sales Planning
Karrie Lucero
Karrie Lucero
Content Marketing Manager

Karrie Lucero is a Content Marketing Manager at Xactly. She earned marketing and journalism degrees from New Mexico State University and has experience in SEO, social media and inbound marketing.