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Chances are when companies large and small developed their salesforce incentive plans for 2020, in no way did they envision the unprecedented challenges to come with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In the current climate, salespeople — many who rely on variable pay programs tied to once more attainable business goals — may be filled with anxiety about their ability to meet or exceed benchmarks. Their total annual income could suffer as prospects for a solid financial future become less certain.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

From the customers’ point of view, they may not need what your salespeople are selling right now. But they will when the economy rebounds. Nurturing and retaining the trust of loyal customers becomes job number one for salespeople in this scenario, but that approach may be counter to the design of a variable pay program.

The economic impact of the coronavirus has been swift and deep, so adapting your salesforce incentive plans for the remainder of the calendar year is advisable. In cases where the current performance level is less than 25% of the target performance level, it is imperative. Here are some reasonable approaches to consider so that your company is in the best position when the recovery comes:

Actionable Options

Since there is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation that will work for every organization, it is important to consider a variety of approaches, then weigh the pros and cons for each strategy.

1) Straight commission: based solely on sales achieved.

This pay-for-performance approach may look attractive on paper, but even in a robust economy only about 20% of businesses are using a straight commission plan. A draw against commissions is part of this option.

PROS

  • Easy for management to set the commission rate and execute.
  • Simple for salespeople to calculate if the plan is communicated well.
  • Acceptable to Finance Department as clear “pay for performance.”

CONS

  • Research shows that older salespeople want income stability versus a high-income opportunity. Younger salespeople tend to be more risk taking. Depending on the age profile of your sales team, it may be difficult to find the right balance.
  • May improperly promote the message SELL ANYTHING versus what the customer really needs. Not only does this potentially damage the customer relationship, it also hinders management’s desire to upsell premium products.
  • Can create increased anxiety among the salesforce while motivation decreases.

2) Adjusted straight salary.

This option replaces bonus/incentive payouts with a temporary base salary increase of 12-15%. Companies need to rethink the overall sales goal and recalibrate individual sales goals.

Photo courtesy Pixabay

PROS

  • Provides income stability in these uncertain times.
  • Adjustment percentage is a function of current bonus/inceptive plan specifics.
  • Once established, the plan is easy to administer.

CONS

  • Removes motivation among salespeople to meet or exceed sales goals.
  • Could have a ripple effect across other management groups or sales teams who may seek a similar arrangement.
  • May be hard to return to the old incentive plan once the sales period ends.

3) Guaranteed threshold income.

Each salesperson is guaranteed the threshold incentive dollars for the time period. The incentive or bonus plan stays in place as is so that any incentive earned above the threshold level would be paid out.

PROS

  • Maintains motivation of sales force while achieving income stability.
  • Easy to administer and communicate.
  • Can be extended into the next calendar year with ease, if warranted.

CONS

  • Not every culture will embrace the idea of guaranteed incentive income for all salespeople.
  • Guaranteed income may be unacceptable for companies facing insolvency or bankruptcy.

4) Guaranteed threshold income plus innovation bonus.

This option guarantees incentives at the threshold level and offers incentives for those creating new revenue streams.

PROS

  • Taps into the creativity of your employees to generate new ideas for growth and reasonable cost reduction.
  • Aligns everyone with the company vision, mission and values in a way that promotes “we’re all in this together.”
  • Gives salesforce a reason to seek input/feedback from customers on how they can better serve their needs.

CONS

  • Often difficult to judge the value of new ideas or to quickly implement.
  • Any bonus would need to be significant and reward employees for their entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Could be demoralizing for some companies or lead to confusion if no ideas are implemented or if the execution is botched.

5) Index performance: resets incentive performance target and payout.

In this scenario, the company shifts the incentive performance/incentive payout to reflect the median current performance level while maintaining the performance distribution. The current median performance result becomes the target/100% performance result.

Photo courtesy Pixabay

PROS

  • Provides a tailored approach for the entire salesforce or to each company division.
  • Easy to implement and execute with the proper communication and documentation.
  • Appealing to top performers, unless management limits the upside of incentive earnings payout or makes major downward earnings adjustment at year’s end.

CONS

  • May create uncertainty around benchmarks and indexes for next year if sales come back stronger than expected.
  • Incentive payout winners may feel they have nowhere to go but down in 2021, so they seek employment elsewhere.

Summary

Unlike other business downturns, this one has no precedent. This makes developing a plan for recovery that leverages the talents of your salesforce and keeps them motivated more important than ever. After all, the prospect of rebuilding your sales team from scratch after the worst is over may leave you further behind the eight ball.
Don’t wait. Act now. Your salesforce and your customers will thank you.

Contact Us

If you have questions about this or another salesforce compensation topic, please contact Tim Weizer at (614) 500-0509 or timweizer@msn.com. You can reach Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com. In addition, please share or pass this article along to anyone you think may find it of interest.

The year 2018 has been one of major volatility in many markets creating widespread uncertainty. In this environment, it is understandable that companies are evaluating the impact market volatility may have on their salesforce incentive plans for 2019.

Fortunately, mindful planning and clear communication about your salesforce incentive plan can accelerate growth even in an uncertain economy. But first, two important next steps are to sell this new plan to the C-Suite and effectively communicate the new plan to the salesforce. Getting these steps right creates a double win. Salespeople win because appropriate rewards are available to them, while the company wins with a more motivated sales team aligned with the company’s goals.

Here are four recommendations supporting a win-win outcome by gaining approval of your salesforce incentive plan with the C-Suite:

1) Provide a Clear and Crisp Upfront Summary. Make the first page of your summary a topline summary. Start with the reason for change, a brief description of the approach used in analyzing the current plan, the primary plan changes being suggested, and the results of the new plan’s simulations. Then end with the benefits of the new plan (for example, better alignment with the company’s business strategy or more focused emphasis on margin enhancement).

2) Present the Rationale for the Recommended Plan and Tailor It to Your Audience. Visual perception research suggests that presenting a picture can often be more persuasive, engaging and powerful than text and speech alone. You can think of using a visual, for example, to demonstrate the extensive analysis done on the current plan.

Also, consider using a well-constructed table with numbers to let the C-Suite see for themselves the point you are making.

3) Strive for Clarity and Transparency. Sufficient time should be spent to ensure each page of the presentation is crisply worded and each chart can be clearly understood. Without this, the credibility of the speaker and the recommendations will both suffer.

4) Tell Them Again What You Told Them. At the end of the presentation, share an executive summary to refresh everyone on the main takeaway points. Then ask for agreement. Be prepared and open to engaging your audience in discussing your recommendations, alternatives you reviewed, or objections that may arise.

After securing approval for changes to next year’s salesforce incentive program, it’s time to move to the task of communicating the plan to your salesforce.

Here are three recommendations to get your salesforce on board with the incentive plan:

1) Provide a Clear Summary Incentive Plan Description. Including these elements in the description will promote understanding.

  • State briefly the business reasons why the incentive plan has changed.
  • State the incentive plan components along with a clear description of each. 
  • Show an example of how the new incentive plan payout at target compares to the old plan by using an example of “Salesperson X average performer”.
  • State the process that will be used, and by whom, to address any issues.

You may want to consider adding a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section at the end of the written plan description.

2) Create a Short Video to Support the Plan’s Introduction. With the increasing popularity of online videos and the shrinking of attention spans, an engaging two or three minute video can deliver the elements of your incentive plan in a compelling way.

For example, in the video the company’s president could briefly state why the plan has changed, while the vice president of sales could highlight the new plan’s components and how they align with the company’s strategy. A sales administration manager could then state the target earnings opportunity and payout frequency and refer the viewer to the summary plan description for further details.

3) Anticipate Resistance and be Prepared to Counter Challenges. Our experience shows that it is very likely that an individual or a group will resist the proposed changes to your sales incentive plan. For example, a star salesperson may see the need for plan adjustments, yet still feel anxiety about the changes. Anticipate resistance and be proactive. In this case, meeting in advance with your star salesperson may offset objections during your official presentation.

Contact Us
To learn more or discuss your sales compensation concerns, please contact Tim Weizer at tjweizer@gmail.com (phone 312-479-6411) or Neil Lappley at nlappley@lappley.com.