BSC’s Design Guide to Success – Part 7

Each week, we will highlight one of BSC’s Top Ten Tips from our acclaimed Design Guide to Success. To download the full guide, click on to the Articles page.

7. Garner Qualitative Input

Motivating behavior and rewarding for actual results represent typical goals of a sales compensation plan.  While data can test for the correlation to results, it becomes more of an art than a science to discern if your plan actually creates incremental or targeted activities in pursuit of those results.  BSC strongly recommends that qualitative input be gathered and presented to sales leadership and the design team.  In addition to providing perspective on how sellers perceive and react to the plans, the effort to collect field and manager input provides the opportunity to address real issues the sales team encounters.  It also provides a basis for achieving field buy-in to any recommended changes.

There are four methods for collecting field input:

  • Monitor and catalog activity with a web-based or call-in process related to questions, issues or challenges with the current plans.  This represents a passive approach to defining input and limits “field buy-in” impact, unless some confirmation of the issues is communicated back to those responding.  This effort can identify current issues but may not provide an exhaustive or go-forward assessment of the selling environment or any recent field changes. It’s a lower energy and lower impact approach.
  • Conduct an online survey.  This provides a broad touch and valuable data for report back to the field as new plans are communicated.  Survey results are best used to create conversations about the implications of the data, rather than to be used as raw facts.  While open-ended questions and requests for comment can add understanding, they don’t provide give and take on the “context” of the commentary.
  • Conduct focus groups of similar sales roles.  Staging focus groups with individuals who perform the same sales role can provide in-depth understanding of how salespeople actually perform their job and how the sales compensation plan impacts their activities or targeted results.  Combining dissimilar sales roles (e.g., major account lead with territory manager, or direct sales rep with channel sales manager) causes more time to be spent on surface discussions of unique job situations, rather than a deep dive into core issues shared by the participants.  The sessions should be well structured and should include:  reaction to survey data if available, analyses of issues and concerns, brainstorming of possible solutions, and testing of alternative options. Focus groups can be cost prohibitive as they require sellers to come to a common location, yet they can add a great deal to the understanding of your current situation.  This cost must be weighed against the strong participative and high quality interaction benefit they provide.
  • Interview top performers.  Conducting interviews of individuals in the top half to top quartile of your sales performers can allow for detailed information gathering as well as highly targeted participation messaging to valued contributors.  These are best for providing job specific and sales deal specific information.  Have the individual talk through the sales process with specific customers and detail the impact the compensation plan has on how they sell or attempt to influence the customer’s purchase decision.  Enough interviews are needed to provide critical mass of information for each role so as to avoid over-generalization of the individual situation to the total sales team.

We would be remiss to not point out that the sensitive nature of these data gathering efforts require assurance that individual input will be held in confidence. Outside third parties can be very helpful in providing a safe process and ensure information is shared in a non-biased manner to the design team.