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X-Factor Compensation Leaders: How to Be Incredible at Incentive Planning (Nuance Communications)

11 min read

The sales planning process can become quite complex, especially when it comes to designing sales compensation plans. From building a team to analyze metrics and company goals, the job carries a large amount of responsibility. Ultimately, the new compensation and incentive plans must successfully motivate the right sales behaviors to achieve goals, all while driving growth.

Fortunately, sales compensation planning doesn’t have to be a tiresome, drawn-out process. As part of our Friends of Xactly (FOX) Community, we’ve spoken with sales compensation leaders to create a blog series about their journeys in sales compensation, best practices, and the Xactly advantage. In this post we're sharing tips from Nuance Communication Commissions System Manager, Robert Walters.

Meet The Expert - Robert Walters, Commissions System Manager

Who: Robert Walters
Position: System Manager, Commissions
Company: Nuance Communications
Time in sales compensation: 4 years

Bio: Robert Walters grew up in the Boston Area and graduated from Umass Lowell with dual degrees in Business Management and Finance. He started his career in Order Management, and gained experience over time in general accounting, revenue accounting, general finance, etc.

Outside of work, Walters enjoys rowing. In the past, Walters has rowed, coached, volunteered at (and directed) regattas in many capacities, and he is now a licensed US Rowing Assistant Referee. Walters is very passionate about the sport and his career with sales compensation, which has helped him excel in both areas.

Nuance Communications is a multinational computer software technology corporation that is “reinventing the relationship between people and technology.” Based in Burlington, MA, Nuance Communications has “pioneered the highest functioning speech software in the world, perfecting the ability for machines to recognize and emulate the human voice.”

Tell us about your career journey in sales compensation. (How did you get your start? How did you end up where you are today?, etc.)

“I started using Xactly back in 2014 when my previous company implemented Express, and they needed someone in Finance to help manage the system. The company was a startup and both the company's and my career growth were moving fast. I decided to make a shift from what I was doing originally to managing commissions.

After close to a year, we decided that Express was not flexible enough to handle our complex plans and increasing number of reps, so we decided to implement Xactly Incent in 2015. From there, I earned 2 years under my belt as an Xactly Admin doing everything commission related from beginning to end. I flew out to the west coast for multiple training courses and conferences hosted by Xactly which fed my appetite for learning how to improve our system and processes. I was promoted to Commissions Manager in 2016 and eventually my company was acquired and a new opportunity landed me here at Nuance Communications.

Nuance had just implemented Xactly Incent a year or so prior to my joining but was in over their heads after some key Admins left the company. I now work with a team of 9 individuals to manage about 4 times the size of my previous company's plans and sales reps. I manage the system from a technical standpoint and support my team with whatever they need to be successful at their job.”

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role today?

“The biggest challenges are related to gathering and making sense of the information being used to calculate commissions (whether Transaction Data, HR data, or plan data).

We have 850+ sales reps across four separate, unique company divisions. Every sales/sales ops team treats their commissions plans differently. Trying to keep decisions in check and influence designs to bring consistency to our plans is a constant struggle. However, it helps improve our ability to process the data efficiently and accurately.

We have seen major improvements in the past year and are looking forward to more consolidation as we rethink our processes and start implementing further automation in our system.”

How has technology played a role in your evolution as a sales compensation professional?

“Technology has had a huge impact on my evolution as a compensation professional. From learning a lot of tricks in excel, to implementing multiple systems in Xactly, I have learned a lot more than I would have ever expected to in the time that I have been working with the data.

The ability to create formulas and tie records and rules together to be able to automate what used to take hours of analysis (and a large number of spreadsheets) has freed up my time to learn more about compensation in general and constantly improve and simplify our processes. It also makes me feel a lot more comfortable about the data because there is a lot less risk of manual errors.”

Describe your company's sales compensation planning process, your role in it, and how Xactly has changed this process (What is your favorite Xactly tip/trick that you’ve learned?).

“My company spends a lot of time planning our compensation plans. We start months in advance to ensure that we are all on the same page with our expectations of the following plan year. We discuss areas that need improvement and try to consolidate and update our processes as best we can.

We don't typically receive the quota details or HR changes until the last minute, but we try to have templates set up and the majority of other decisions made so that we can quickly setup the plans and send out the plan documents.

My role is to ensure that all of the needed formulas, rules, records, and reports are set up. I work with the plan admins to identify the needed credit types, quotas, earning groups, and custom fields for each team and division. I enable the system so that they can just fill out an upload template and import the data for the new plans. They then validate the data in the Plan Docs and route as needed.

One of my favorite Tips/Tricks is to use Lookup tables to reduce the number of formulas and rules that you need to create and manage. By using lookup tables to identify the correct formulas, rate tables, and pay curves for a given situation, it reduces the variations of formulas and rules that are required to be able to handle many different scenarios.”

What piece(s) of advice/lessons have you learned on your journey that you would share with your peers or younger self?

“The biggest piece of advice I can think of is to keep your mind open. It is very easy to get trapped in your ways of doing things and understanding things without realizing that there are often better solutions and perspectives out there.

The only way you are going to continuously learn and improve is by keeping your mind open to new ideas and being courageous and determined enough to go out there and find them.”

How do you envision the future of sales compensation?

“I envision a much more automated, streamlined, and consistent approach to Sales Compensation.

I anticipate a lot of growth in our own collective processes and knowledge of the system that we use and I look forward to further improvements and updates being released by Xactly that will help us reach that goal."

Discover the Xactly Advantage for Your Company

At Xactly, we partner with our customers and arm them with the data and tools they need to for an integrated sales planning process. Sales compensation is a vital part of your company’s growth and success, but the process should never be a struggle with error-prone spreadsheets or manual commission calculations. Find the right Xactly solution for your business, industry, or role. Schedule your personalized demo today!