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What’s the Key to Your Incentive Comp Success

What’s the Key to Your Incentive Comp Success?

We see it so many times. Companies pour enormous resources into crafting thoughtful, detailed, well-calibrated sales-comp plans… only to subsequently see uninspiring results that fall short of goals and objectives. The most common culprit in that breakdown? Communication. 

Communicate,  Communicate, Communicate

Too often, sales management unveils the annual comp plan with great fanfare – commissions, targets, quotas, SPIFs, accelerators, and all the other bells and whistles. But as the luster of your sales kickoff meeting fades and the nuances get lost in your 30-page plan – complete with technical jargon and complicated exceptions – your sales force can lose focus and fail to see their own progress and potential.

The key: Don’t take your sales force for granted. Instead, consider your comp plan to be a strategic sale. You need to sell your comp plan to a sometimes-skeptical, always-distracted audience that – despite all your incentives and motivation – must still be persuaded and reminded of the benefits that lie ahead. The following principles can help you sell that plan to your team through a multifaceted program:

1. Formulate and Articulate

Too many commission plans dive straight into the tactical mechanics with a myriad of tables and specifics. What do they lack? The backstory and strategy that sales teams want before they commit. The best performance from your team starts when you obtain their buy-in. 

Articulate the “why” – the principles, purposes, and goals of your incentive plan. Clearly describe – right from day one – what the total pay opportunity is and the downside risks. Articulate how performance is measured, how it’s weighted, and the mechanics of how to connect their performance to their rewards. 

But keep it short and sweet. If you can’t describe the plan in three pages, it’s too complicated. Strive for something digestible that a salesperson can quickly read and understand how their performance gets measured and how they get paid.

2. Motivate and Communicate

The best people to motivate your sales team are at the top of the org chart. In virtually every company, sales success always starts with the sales leadership team. They need to actively communicate their endorsement and 100% backing in the strongest possible terms at the kickoff, and they need to be sending out the communications as the plan-year unfolds.

Involve your leadership team – by name – in every important comp communication you make. Their visible involvement strengthens the motivation in your team and increases their willingness to remain engaged throughout the plan-year.

3. Calculate and Illuminate

An ICM platform like Performio facilitates the labor-intensive, error-prone manual process of calculating each rep’s compensation to date. You want to let reps track their actual target online and focus their energies on closing business – not waste time with “shadow accounting.” 

We often see situations where the comp plan gets distributed and the targets are issued, but six months later, the sales rep says, “I never got the targets.” That's a communication breakdown. With Performio, you embed targets within the tool and get people to sign off on their targets.  That actively engages the participants and confirms they have signed off on the targets.

4. Collaborate and Calibrate 

Throughout all your plan year, you want to make sure you’re measuring and refining your plan to reflect the real-time experiences of your team. Drop in on sales meetings to get anecdotal measurements about how your plan is being received. 

However, the ultimate, objective method to quantitatively measure how your plan is tracking is to perform in-depth analytics. Start with user adoption. See how many people log in or the number of users who have enrolled — the percentage adoption metric. Ideally, of course, it should be 100 percent, but you can also drill down into different teams where adoption is lagging and take corrective actions. For example, if there’s a very low adoption rate in one region, you can visit those sales meetings and talk to the sales leadership team to try and find out why they aren’t buying in.  Or you can measure how people engage with the plan documents and reports, and see the level that people are buying into the sales comp program. For example, see how many people access the what-if calculator.

5. Appreciate and Congratulate

For many companies, comp-plan statements are a wasted opportunity. A rep might receive a statement three weeks after month-end – with no meaningful context. A cryptic commission statement might appear in their inbox occasionally. But these low-effort initiatives come across as rote, impersonal, and outdated exercises that lack any engagement.

Instead, it’s important to prominently show that you value the ability of your sales team to attain goals, quotas, thresholds, and other incentives. Performio users have the option to leverage the group email feature that helps you keep the lines of communication – and motivation – open after you’ve launched your comp plan.

Each delivery of a monthly statement represents another opportunity to deliver messages that show appreciation or that congratulate the rep on a successful milestone. For instance, you could create a simple “congratulations” email to send to people who have attained more than 100 percent of a specific target (e.g. a monthly or quarterly quota, new-logo attainment, upsell target, or SPIF). You can send an “encouragement” email to people who are near target as deadlines approach. For maximum impact, make sure your message is personalized to the individual.

This means your communication is relevant and timely, reinforcing the activities and efforts that are focused on the company’s strategic priorities.  

And of course, there’s no substitute for facetime. Go out and press the flesh and hear what people are saying about the comp plan. Good sales managers will always talk about the comp plan and how it works.


Even the best sales-comp plans will yield better results when you regularly communicate to the entire organization. With these five recommendations, you’re far ahead of most peers and poised to outperform competitors in your space. As you take aim on your goals for 2022, make sure communication remains front and center in your strategic plan.

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