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How to Sell Your Sales Comp Plan: Tactics for Making Your Plan Compelling

Great inspiring speeches. We’ve all heard them. Our history both as a culture and as individuals within that culture is marked by motivational words from a public figure, a coach, a teacher, a friend, a parent, a movie, or a recent TED Talk on any number of subjects. 

"Fourscore and seven years ago…” Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address

“I have a Dream…” - Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“Life is a game of inches..." - Al Pacino, Any Given Sunday 

"The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave." - Ronald Reagan, Challenger Shuttle Explosion Address

"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius..." Russell Crowe, Gladiator

The main element of a truly motivational speech can be boiled down to ONE thing…Purpose. Now we’re not saying you need to deliver an earth shattering address here, but ensure you are clear on the why of it. When you’re pitching your sales comp plan to your team, it’s imperative that they understand it and that it’s filled with purpose, not gimmicks. 

Your sales comp plan should motivate your sales team, drive sales, and advance organizational objectives. An effective sales compensation plan aligns your sales reps’ incentives with your company’s goals to drive the kinds of sales activity that will best serve the business.

But a sales comp plan only works when the sales team understands it and finds it compelling. If you want it to be successful, you have to sell your plan to your team. So you’re going to need a good pitch.

In this article, we’ll walk you through what it takes to help your team capture the vision behind your sales comp plan, bringing them fully on board with the goals and objectives you aim to accomplish.

How to make your sales comp plan easy to understand

Selling your sales comp plan starts with ensuring your sales reps can easily follow and understand it. If the plan itself is overly long, confusing, or filled with unnecessary details, your reps will have a much harder time retaining the crucial details needed to properly motivate them. So before we get into making your plan compelling, let’s go over a few ways to make it understandable.

Start with an executive summary

The first thing anyone should see when they look at your sales comp plan is a summary of all the most crucial pieces of information.

Ideally, each copy of the plan will have an executive summary that is specifically catered to the role of the person receiving it. That way a sales rep, a sales development rep, and a sales manager will each see a different summary of exactly the info they need, without details that pertain to other roles. The full plan will of course contain everything, but the executive summary should be as relevant as possible to the person receiving that copy of the plan.

This saves team members from the tedium of sorting through pages of legalese to locate and interpret the points that affect their day-to-day jobs. Finding that information should be effortless.

The executive summary should also include any limits or caps in the plan. Transparency is key, and the one thing you want to avoid is surprises. Even if (or perhaps especially if) a policy may be unpopular, it’s essential that team members know what to expect. It’s far better for morale, retention rates, and ongoing productivity if reps have a chance to air their complaints from the outset, rather than being blindsided later on.

Keep the plan simple and short

While the full plan will include all the details that the executive summary leaves out, you should still work to keep it from becoming any more complicated than absolutely necessary.

In many cases, sales comp plans become overly long as a result of companies trying to control how much an employee can earn. They impose limits because they want to avoid paying too much. But this can be counterproductive on a number of levels. Besides making the plan too complicated, it also disincentives productivity.

Why should a sales rep work their hardest when they know they have no further rewards to look forward to after they cross a certain threshold? They’ll end up adjusting their level of effort to just barely reach their maximum payout, and then step off the gas until the next period when they can start earning again.

Instead, try structuring the plan to fully align with the company’s goals and motivate the right behaviors. Don’t penalize reps for hitting their stretch goals. Reward them by making it so that the more they sell and the more the company profits, the more they succeed. It shouldn’t matter if the company has to pay a rep additional compensation as long as there are additional sales.

This isn’t to say that caps and limits are always to be avoided. Every company’s situation is unique, and you know your own context best. But before adding them, it’s worth considering whether a differently structured plan could accomplish the same goals without introducing drawbacks.

Include a what-if calculator and real-time insights

Seeing a plan on paper is one thing. Experiencing how it actually works is something else.

By including a what-if calculator, you allow your sales reps to input any scenarios they may face, and see exactly what their returns will be. This gives them a concrete understanding of what to pursue, and it eliminates the possibility for confusion around what they can earn.

Similarly, your reps should have access to real-time insights into their performance, their progress toward any quotas or goals, and their earnings. You don’t want them to rely on “shadow accounting”—or homebrewed and potentially inaccurate calculations—to know what they can expect to bring home. At best, it’s a waste of time and productivity. At worst, it sets the stage for disappointment, complaints that you’ll have to address, and suffering morale.

Performio’s incentive compensation software provides what-if calculators and real-time insights as part of our intuitive dashboards. We also give your reps access to leaderboards, encouraging friendly competition to further motivate sales.

How to make your sales comp plan compelling

With an easy-to-understand sales comp plan in place, it’s time to make your pitch. You want to make your sales reps believe in your plan as much as you do. Here’s how to do it.

Bring rationale

People don’t want to just be told what to do—they want to understand why they’re being asked to do it.

In the world of sales compensation, this certainly holds true for your sales reps, who will want to know why their pay structure is changing. And it likewise applies to all stakeholders, who will want to know how the changes will improve the company’s bottom line.

You’ll need to establish a canonical reason for why any changes were made. Be ready to show how the new sales comp plan not only advances the company’s goals, but also puts each sales rep in a solid position. Sometimes it may mean immediate opportunities for additional growth and extra compensation. Other times it may relate to a long-term strategy that will help to ensure stable employment for years to come.

In addition to the “why” questions, you should also be prepared to answer the “why not” questions. Just as important as why the new plan incentivises one thing is why it doesn’t incentivise something else—especially if that something else was a sales activity your reps have become accustomed to pursuing.

Whatever the specifics may be, when a sales team can understand the reasoning behind a change, they’re better able to get behind it and commit themselves to the same vision that informed the new plan.

Make sure the incentives are compelling

Your sales comp plan should incentivise sales reps to make the right kind of sales, but that’s only going to happen if they find your incentives to be compelling. There are several things you can do to ensure that’s the case.

Start by looking at compensation benchmarks to understand the industry standard levels of compensation. This only serves as a baseline, but it can give you a good idea of the ranges of acceptable pay. If your compensation is well below the competition, you’ll struggle with your retention rate.

Next, meet with sales leadership. Have them review any proposed changes to incentives, as they’ll have a better feel for what their sales reps will go for. Ask leadership if any elements of the old plan could be updated to become more compelling.

Then, field new compensation ideas to the rest of the sales team using anonymous surveys. Be sure to include open-ended prompts where sales reps can explain why they like or dislike a proposed idea or how they think it could be made more compelling.

Bring all of this feedback together and implement your findings in the new sales comp plan. Understand that you’ll never be able to make everyone completely happy all the time. But by listening to a wide array of feedback, you should be able to create a plan that will motivate your team for success. You might also be able to identify specific points of confusion or frustration, and address them from the outset.

Craft a narrative to explain the changes

It’s important to place the new sales plan into the context of a narrative—an overarching story that adds a broader perspective and roots your sales team in a bigger picture.

Start with the company’s mission, reaffirming the driving force behind everything your organization does. Explain how the new comp plan is incentivizing people to follow that mission. Draw out the connection between the comp plan and the company’s values, demonstrating how the plan operates as an expression of how those values play out today.

Then look to the external forces at play in the market. You’ll want to talk about the overall economic environment, new developments in your industry, the state of your competitors, and shifting customer preferences. Explain how your company needs to react to all of that and how the new plan will advance your mission and values in this particular context.

For simplicity’s sake, it can be helpful to distill that narrative into a simple sentence—a rallying cry that is easy for your sales team to remember and get behind. For example, one common approach follows the pattern, “This is the year of X.” That “X” could be anything, but it needs to get at the heart of what your new plan seeks to accomplish.

Walk your team through the existing problems your new sales comp plan will alleviate. Ideally, these should be the problems felt directly by your sales reps and sales leadership, as they’re the ones you’re selling on this plan. Be specific about how the old plan failed to adequately address these problems, and how the new plan will offer relief. Walk through the benefits the plan will provide to the sales organization.

Tell the story with visual aids

According to some studies, approximately 65 percent of the population are visual learners, meaning that they actually need to see your plan visualized in order to fully comprehend and retain it. And for the rest of your team, visual aids provide a great additional way to drive home what the plan really means for them. You can use slides during your presentation and/or include graphics in the plan itself.

Your graphics should use charts and graphs to show specifically—on a role-by-role basis—how the new plan will benefit your team, including expected performance and payouts. Pull actual data metrics from previous periods, calculate what those numbers should look like based on your new plan, and display the difference side by side.

Show them a vision of what success looks like when they sell this or that under the new plan versus the old one. Letting your team see their potential returns clearly visualized is a powerful tool for motivation.

Relate the new plan to your customers

Once your team has grasped the overarching vision of the new plan for the company as a whole and for them as individuals, it’ll be time to walk them through how it will affect the way they’ll talk with customers.

The benefits may sound great, but a new plan comes with new talking points, and your team might be hesitant to disrupt the script they’ve become accustomed to. When we know something works well, we tend to want to stick with it.

Help them out by going through the new talking points one by one, explaining the rationale behind them, demonstrating sample conversations, and addressing any questions or concerns your team may have. You’ll also need to address any previous talking points that must now be deprecated.

Reinforce your sales comp plan with Performio

Selling a new plan when you introduce it can be challenging enough, but then comes the job of keeping your team motivated and on track at all times. Performio’s incentive compensation software helps you with both.

You’ll be given powerful tools for creating new sales comp plans, tracking performance of individuals and the team as a whole, calculating commissions, generating reports, and seamlessly communicating within the team.

And your sales reps will be given access to their real-time performance, letting them see all the sales they’ve made, what they can expect to earn from each, how far along they are toward their quotas and goals, and what more they need to accomplish in order to meet them.


Ready to see what Performio can do for your business? Request a demo today.

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