Sales Compensation Culture

SalesGlobe Managing Partner Mark Donnolo discusses how sales compensation culture affects an organization at a 2010 SalesGlobe Forum event.

 

DONNOLO:

Many companies today want to become more sales-oriented as a business. So, they spend time trying to understand their sales culture: Is it more focused on operations or service to customers than it is on new sales? Does the sales culture center around finance?

Sales culture is important because it determines how the sales organization is spending its time, and whether or not they are driving growth for the company. If the sales culture does not match the objectives of the company, it may be time for a cultural overhaul.

Consider a technology company we worked with recently. Over time this company had lost a grip on its sales culture. In the mean time, their market became increasingly competitive and — to stay in the game — the company realized it needed to differentiate its products. They wanted to sell solutions, become more proactive in battling competitors, steal some of their competitors’ share and win new customers.

At the time, they had a sales force that was basically a customer service organization — a highly-tenured, service-oriented organization. They wouldn’t take people out. Low performers were permitted to live in the organization for long periods of time. But eventually, this company reached a point where it had to re-orient its sales culture to survive. They had to ask hard questions about their own tolerance for change and their ability to move aggressively.

They asked, “How do we re-orient the sales organization around sales performance?” The answer is not to simply make a change to one lever — like the sales compensation plan — with the hopes that will change the whole culture.

To create a more sales-oriented culture, we led the company through an examination of the following disciplines:

  1. Sales roles. Consider the sales roles in the company. Do we have positions that are true selling positions, or are they designed to be selling and operations, or selling and service? Do we have clean roles?
  2. Execution of those sales roles. We may have well-defined sales roles, but are they contaminated with other types of operations or services? Are we implementing the role correctly? Remove the non-selling activities to allow the sales people to have a true sales focus.
  3. Talent. Once we define the sales job and remove the non-selling activities and decontaminate the job, sometimes we find the inventory of talent isn’t right. We don’t have true sellers; we have service or operations people. Is our talent trainable to be re-oriented into sales roles? When they stop performing all the service areas on their account and we raise their quota and we ask them to go out and book more business, can they do that? Do they have the talent, or do we have to reconsider our talent inventory and go out in the market and acquire new talent that is really sales?
  4. Compensation. The compensation plan can drive a more sales-oriented culture. Do we have the right value proposition? Is our pay plan competitive enough in the market to attract the people we want to attract? Is it competitive enough to retain people in true sales roles? Where once we could have kept a more service-oriented seller in a lower performing sales comp plan, now we have to redesign the comp plan to attract the talent we want.

There are also several questions within sales compensation to ask:

  1. Employee value propositions.  The sales role, career path, work content and affiliation with the company are all components that can make the job attractive to someone. With compensation, also consider the types of performance measures we’re using in the plan, whether they are measures that align with sales results or measures that promote service activities. For example, is the comp plan individually oriented around performance, or is it oriented at the company level or “big team level” that doesn’t drive sales as much?
  2. Pay-out curve. Do we have a philosophy that significantly rewards top performers and doesn’t over-pay bottom performers? We want to have a plan that won’t allow underperformers to survive in the company for a long period and a plan that is attractive for those at quota or above.

The result of this process was the technology company was able to pull out of its declining revenue trends and move into a double digit growth trend. But considerable change was required in the organization to do that. They developed hunter and farmer roles and changed the payout plan to reward high performers and drop low performers. They had turnover, and they acknowledged they needed to, even though they had been operating in the opposite way for years.

Moving to a sales-oriented culture means asking, “What are you prepared to change? What are you prepared to do? What is the management’s appetite for change? What is the organization’s appetite for change?” Changing the sales culture can mean you are going to literally turn over certain parts of the organization that don’t align with the culture and bring in new talent.

It’s kind of like a high fat diet. You can live on a high fat diet — or a non sales-oriented culture — for many years. But in the end that high fat diet could end up killing you. It builds over time. Lack of a sales culture will make you less competitive and hinder your ability to attract top talent. You will end up with a B and C-level sales organization, with B and C-level players versus A-level players. Eventually, that can spell the demise of your organization.

Cultures, left unchecked, change within organizations over time. Do you want to be in control of the change or a victim of the change?

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For more information from Mark Donnolo on sales compensation culture, contact SalesGlobe at 770 337 9897 or email Mark at mark.donnolo@salesglobe.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Great article! Keeping track of sales commissions for each member of the time makes awarding sales compensation a lot easier. I’d recommend keeping track of sales in this easy to use template: http://www.oneclickstatements.com/commission-statements.html

    Rita R.

    Reply

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