Communicating the New Sales Comp Plan: Key Steps Part I

Communications Points

Whether changing the sales compensation plan or making a change further upstream in the Revenue Roadmap, a change management plan with a heavy focus on communication will increase the likelihood of acceptance, and mitigate confusion in the sales organization. Doug Holland, director of HR and compensation for Manpower Group North America, says, “If we’re making a big change that’s going to affect a lot of people, the first question our CEO will ask is, ‘Why? What is the rationale for the change?’ His sensitivity is, ‘What is it going to do for the performance in the field?’  He’ll say to me things like, ‘You know Doug, if you present a compensation change for HR, marketing, finance, or IT, and it’s a bit disruptive, it’s not going to bother me. I understand that. But if you introduce a change that’s disruptive, in a bad way, in the field, that is going to bother me.’ That plan could be the greatest plan in the world. It almost doesn’t matter if people don’t understand it, if people don’t know how they’re going to grow their pay,” says Holland. It’s tempting to make one announcement or send out an email describing the new plan and consider it done. But don’t assume that because the people who designed the new plan understand it, that anyone else will. Real understanding – and the questions that pop up along the way from the end users – takes days, weeks, or sometimes months. Begin your change plan by looking at the entire process from evaluation, to plan inception, to design, to implementation. Put yourself in the shoes of the sales organization, concerned with their livelihood and any possible disruption, and develop your change plan to drive the strategy with the sales team in mind. When making your next change, consider the following six steps:

  1. Start strong. Conduct your due diligence to make sure the program is bullet-proof and ready to go.
  2. Craft the change story. Be honest about the reasons for the change, and develop a clear message around the C-level goals.
  3. See the organization’s view. Expect some resistance, and identify who those resisters might be so you can get them on board.
  4. Get the change forecast. Know your organization’s readiness for the change and your team’s resolve to see it through.
  5. Leverage the learning modes. Use multiple methods to communicate with the organization to increase the impact of your message.
  6. Follow the process. Begin communication early and follow your approach until well after introduction.

Start Strong Make sure you cover a few important checkpoints so the plan is ready for introduction. First, enlist the opinion leaders for input at the start of the process. Bring together not only executive stakeholders, but also highly-regarded representatives from the field who have a tactical operating view on the business. These opinion leaders can provide valuable input and help communicate the right messages to their peers. Second, pressure test the plan during the design phase. When the team has arrived at a good set of design drafts, expose the plan to a select group of managers or even top-performing reps for a cold look. This group could also include the opinion leaders. Pressure testing is most easily done in a small group setting or one-on-one. The objectives are to get beyond the team to see how the end users will see the plan. Ask them to react to it, describe how they think the organization might interpret it, and ask them to try and outsmart it to find the loopholes or behaviors the company may not want to motivate. This process also gains additional buy-in from the group because they’ve taken a role in the plan design. The goal is not to negotiate with them or change the design on the fly but to gather intelligence as the plan is finalized. Third, financially test the plan under a range of performance scenarios. Modeling at a high level by looking at target incentive, revenue, and cost of sales tells only part of the story. Payouts and cost of sales can vary dramatically depending upon the organization’s overall attainment of quota and how many reps attain quota. That’s because a sales compensation program often includes payout curves that reward at accelerated rates for high levels of achievement, and incorporates multiple measures that may pay independently from the primary revenue measure, So, very simply, the organization could reach its goal in aggregate but pay more or less than the targeted cost of sales based on how the team reached its goal. If the team reaches its goal on average, but does it with a combination of very high and very low performers with few average performers, then the plan may trigger upside accelerators, increasing the cost of sale for those high performers, while low performers may not cover the cost of their base salaries – a perfect storm. Know every financial angle of your plan to minimize the potential for surprises.   Next week I’ll write about how to craft the change story. Contact me at mark.donnolo@salesglobe.com with any questions.

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