This may be blasphemous to even suggest on a blog dedicated to discussing how new sales compensation ideas and tips will help the industry optimize its field sales compensation plans, but what if the solution isn’t about sales comp at all? Recently, I had a chat with Ashish Vazirani, ZS’s high-tech industry lead, and I posed this exact question. Here’s the gist of our conversation:
Me: Ash, a lot of companies come to me to ask how to fix their sales comp plans, but what if the problem isn’t about the comp plans, themselves?
Ashish: We often face this situation when we meet with tech sales leads, too. The key is to avoid jumping to a hypothesis and, instead, to first ask a lot of clarifying questions. We want to understand what the problem is and what the company is asking the sales team to do. Then we typically ask: “Do the reps know how to do it? Can they do it? Do they want to do it?”
Me: Sounds theoretical. Does it actually work?
Ashish: Yes, and here’s an example: One company recently told us that their team wasn’t doing a good job at cross-selling and brought us in to change the comp plan. As we diagnosed the challenge, we found that the issue wasn’t about people making enough money to cross-sell. It was actually that the reps didn’t know how to cross-sell, and they lacked confidence in cross-selling overall.
Once we identified what the root causes were, we could go back to the comp design as a way to reinforce the behaviors that we think will drive personal success for each rep, not to mention customer success and, ultimately, company success.
Ashish hit on the crux of the issue: Sometimes the cause of a sales comp plan’s failure to improve reps’ performance has nothing to do with the plan, itself. Sometimes the problem lies in the sales teams’ understanding of—or ability to complete—the tasks or behaviors that the plan is trying to drive.
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