How The Subscription Economy Has Changed Selling

Oct 14, 2016
3 min read
The sales landscape is continuously evolving. Learn how you can adapt your organization and train reps for the rise of the subscription-based sales environment.

Once upon a time, a sales rep would fight their way into a meeting, duke it out with the competition, close the deal, take their commission, and then never be heard from again. The product would be delivered; there might be a service component. The role of the sales organization, however, was typically over (except for asking for referrals).

The commission plan reflected the close, but not the customer. This has to change as more and more companies offer a better solution to the client than a “one and done” drive-by sales pitch. Enter the subscription economy, covering everything from SaaS software to the Hello Fresh food box that shows up at my house every week.

This subscription revenue relationship brings new complexities when building a sales strategy, which includes changing the incentive plan, needed to drive the right sales rep behavior. The sales team now needs to think about the long-term relationship.

This new market approach results in companies employing increasingly complex go-to-market strategies that involve multiple channels and complex sales models that make annual quota setting difficult, and mid-year adjustments even harder. In addition to multiple channels, there are multiple roles, geographies, and verticals involved— creating segmentation within the sales teams.

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A Deloitte study identified that 46% of the SaaS industry employs segmentation or specialization within their sales teams whereas only 24% of non-SaaS companies do so. This can make sales crediting a challenge when the orders start rolling in. To approach this, a new type of incentive and bonus plan is needed. Instead of just measuring the value of the initial sale the entire customer relationship needs to be measured, tracked, and incentivized.

Sales teams are now selling multiple types of business—new, existing, renewals, and upsells. They sell on multiple measures like recurring revenue stream (measured in ARR or MRR), Total Contract Value (TCV) and the length of the. Finally, there are multiple potential payment triggers such as contract signature, billing and invoicing, revenue recognition, and finally cash collected.

The world has become much more complicated.

As the industry continues to grow and mature, transaction volumes are going to be very high as each new customer continues to trigger measurable activity that should be reflected in sales plans. As the number of transactions increases, managing incentive compensation can get out of hand.

Multiple data sources are used, and the sales operations team will find itself needing to sift through and manipulate these disparate data sources when calculating incentive comp at the end of each pay period.

As the data and team size grows, multiple spreadsheets are created, or a complex homegrown system is built on the fly. Errors will creep in, and with growth those errors will compound impacting sales productivity as the team spends more time fighting about their commission check instead of taking care of the customer. Running this operation off of the back of the envelope (or from a quick spreadsheet) is not going to work well.

Xactly has been working with Zuora to make it easier for companies make the transition to the subscription relationship. The data feed from Zuora that tracks the entire subscriber lifecycle feeds into Xactly’s Sales Performance Management software so that the sales team can focus on the measures and successes, instead of wondering if and when they will be paid (and without needing to check for accuracy).

A few final thoughts on how to build out the incentive plan for this business model:

  • Pay early and pay often. The temptation to pay on cash collected over the period of the relationship will be high— but that puts the sales team into a situation where they are making money off of an annuity stream instead of adding clients. The subscription revenue stream is great for companies, but does not drive the team to get out and close the next deal.
  • Track the contract length. A one-year deal is great, but a three-year deal is better. This is where measuring TCV (Total Contract Value) comes into play. Develop a model where the value of the deal is understood at signing, and pay for that. You should make sure that you have an element of breakage (clients who never go live) in your incentive plan to make sure that you don’t reward closing business that was never going to go live.
  • Separate your Hunters from your Farmers. Once the deal is done, you want your Hunter to go out and bring in more new business. The Farmers should be taking over and managing the relationship now. Their measures are going to be churn, growth, and renewal rates.
  • Upselling opportunities will be split depending on your business model. It might require the sales rep to come back into the relationship, or it could be handled by the Farmers. Make sure you identify this early and have clear rules of engagement for your teams so that you can avoid conflict.
  • Sales Performance Management
Erik Charles
Erik W. Charles
VP, Solutions Evangelist

Erik W. Charles is an accomplished professional with more than two decades of experience in Marketing, Consulting, and Product Evangelization.