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Top Sales Compensation Challenges of 2016

Wednesday, November 9, 2016
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High performing sales organizations know the importance of their sales incentive plans and work diligently throughout the year to design, communicate, tweak, and evaluate those plans. Here are the top three sales compensation challenges for 2016 from a recent survey conducted by SalesGlobe.

#1. Setting Effective Quotas

While arguably not completely part of sales compensation design, setting effective quotas tops the list of challenges year after year. In my experience, about 30 percent of companies do not have quotas ready at the beginning of the year. This is alarming. For compensation to be a good communication tool, sales reps need clear direction on what the company wants them to do. 

The survey also found that companies continue to set quotas based on historical sales and top-down financial requirements, neither of which are best practice because they do not take market opportunity into account. However, research indicates trends moving toward incorporating total market opportunity and account portfolios to determine a goal.  

In addition, the survey found that less than half of the participants (48 percent) report that at least 50 percent of reps are achieving quota. This is significantly lower than prior surveys, which average 60 percent of reps achieving quota. (I recommend that 50 percent to 70 percent of the organization should perform at or above quota.)

#2. Plan Complexity

Plan complexity is a constant challenge every year for the majority of survey participants and clients. As businesses and solutions have become more complex, the risk of putting too much in the plan has increased as well. While the early pioneers of sales compensation may have paid simply on revenue or units sold, modern plans may not only pay on revenue, units, or profit, but also on the type of revenue, the type of customer, product and service mix, growth from protecting base revenue, growing current customers, winning new customers, and whether the sale was booked or billed. The possible combinations can make a rep’s head spin and lose direction. 

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To create a clear message, an effective sales compensation plan will typically have three or fewer performance measures. What’s more, no measure will carry less than 15 percent weight of target incentive. By focusing the measures, the organization can increase the focus of the person in that sales role.

#3. Managing Cost and ROI

Managing cost and ROI continues to be a challenge for 42 percent of participants, up from 37 percent in in previous surveys. In fact, most C-level executives want to know the answer to two questions: 

  1. What are we getting out of our sales compensation plan?
  2. How much does it cost us? 

There are many ways to develop your company’s sales compensation ROI equation. Your end result will depend on what is most important to your company. To keep it simple, companies have defined their resource costs as base salary plus incentive pay excluding benefits, or actual total compensation. Sales compensation is one of the single largest expenses a company incurs. Maximizing the impact of the investment is critical to gaining a competitive advantage.

More Challenges on the Radar

Other top sales compensation challenges in 2016 include:

  • supporting sales strategy and roles
  • driving solution selling
  • making the plan competitive
  • keeping the organization engaged
  • managing administration/polices
  • differentiating top performers
  • aligning executives and the plan
  • global account selling and planning
  • managing competing priorities. 

What are your top challenges?

About the Author
Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results and What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation. He focuses on helping companies grow profitably by developing and implementing strategies that improve the effectiveness of their customer-facing sales, marketing, and service organizations. His areas of focus include sales strategy, customer segmentation, channel strategy, sales organization design and deployment, performance management, and incentive compensation. Mark’s work spans several industries, including technology, telecommunications, business services, manufacturing, and financial services.
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