This is the first in a two-part series. Read Part II here.
The people and the politics of sales compensation is about the softer side of sales compensation – who’s behind the scenes collaborating (or not); the steps in the process; how well the process works; how people work together; commonalities between the various functions involved; and solutions for challenges.
The human element touches sales compensation throughout the entire process. It happens during the year – asking sales managers to participate in the plan and convey how the plan is working; asking sales operations and HR to communicate and evaluate the plan. The human element assembles the compensation design team and establishes the principles for how the team will make decisions – who will crunch the numbers; who will evaluate the finished product and finalize the compensation plan. The human element determines the variety of perspectives included to make sure there is a well-rounded representation from the company. How they interact keeps it interesting.
Here are a few of the usual suspects:
1. The C-Suite. The C-level is almost always involved to some degree. Very often we see the C-level person – perhaps the CEO – pop his head in the room to ask, “Is this going to cost me the same or less than it did last year?” Other times we’ll have CEOs actually at the table and involved in the process. CEOs have very different levels of involvement in the compensation process, ultimately because CEOS, based on their personal preferences, have different degrees of comfort with sales compensation.
2. Sales. Sales, obviously, is at the table, and they’re always asking for something (more money) often in the form of a bigger accelerator. They may grumble that HR doesn’t understand sales or what sales needs.
3. Sales Operations. Sales operations sometimes drives the process and other times responds to the process by trying to keep meetings organized and trying to devise a system that makes sense. Depending on where sales operations resides in the organization, these people can have different points of view. Sales ops most typically will be within the sales organization, but sometimes will be within finance or even HR. Where they sit, very often, determines their point of view.
4. Finance. Finance is typically at the table, either at the C-level or someone on the project team. They have an Interesting negotiating position. This perspective often brings some old cliché’s about sales: sales is overpaid; they have no value. Finance wants to negotiate: “If we have an accelerator on the plan, what are we going to take away on the downside so we can pay for the accelerator?”
5. Human Resources. Very often HR drives the process; and if they’re not driving the process they are certainly a partner. Their role is to looking at what’s happening in the market and make sure everybody is aligned with the market; try to bring some discipline to the process; and offer some expertise if that doesn’t reside on the team already.
6. Marketing. Marketing is not always involved in sales compensation, but sometimes they have an agenda, like sales. In a multiproduct or multiservice organization sometimes marketing tries to get a lever in the plan for each of the different products they represent, which can add complexity to the plan.
While all these interactions take place designing the compensation plan, the field sits and waits, knowing they will most likely get a bigger quota – often for a lower percentage increase in compensation. The sales compensation design process brings together many competing points of view and potentially competing priorities. It quickly, as we say, puts the “fun” in “dysfunction” in organizations.
Who are the people involved in your sales compensation design?
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