Anticipating the Aftermath of a Sales Comp Plan Rollout

January 24, 2017

“This change means that you might not be able to pay your mortgage this quarter.” Those weren’t your words, but that’s what the salesperson heard as you launched the new comp plan.

In a recent article for WorldatWork, I wrote about how not to roll out a new sales compensation plan, touching on the fact that people don’t like change. A sales comp plan is the lifeblood for any salesperson as it’s how they plan for mortgages, vacations, and children’s tuition payments. Knowing this, how do you anticipate the aftermath of the rollout? You can’t tell people not to get mad, but you can plan for what you’ll do when they do get mad, and it starts by knowing how your team will respond.

You can't tell people not to get mad, but you can plan for what you'll do when they do get mad.

Break out of the ivory tower

“You’re all out there in operations. You don’t really know what’s going on in sales – it’s all theory to you."

Maybe this seems like an unfair assessment from the sales team, but often, comp plans are made without a proper readout from salespeople. Companies don’t want to do these pre-rollout readouts, because they might feel uncomfortable. But we’re living in the real world and dealing with real people, so go to them before rolling out (or better yet, even before designing) your new sales comp plan.

Maybe you planned to tell your sales force to “deal with it,” but keep in mind that this may cause turmoil, and turmoil is bad because it means people will stop selling. And that means lost revenue. You must prepare for the turmoil, or risk seeing a huge business impact on top of the huge people impact.

Get a readout

When I consult, I always ask the design team the following question: “How do people FEEL about your current state?”

Your reality doesn’t matter; you need to know what the perception is. If they love how it is right now, then it doesn’t matter if the current plan doesn’t work or if the new plan guarantees ROI. They’re not going to like the change, and you’ll have a huge undertaking in implementing the system because you need to first win over the sales team.

Start by scheduling focus groups with sales teams. If focus groups aren’t an option, send out surveys. Ask them to tell you about the comp plan—how they access it, how they feel about it overall, and what they would change. Do they like the current plan? Do they even understand the current plan? This is going to drive how you will communicate the comp plan changes. In a best-case scenario, they may hate the old system and be ready for something new. Play to the strengths during the rollout, and communicate that their concerns have been heard and addressed.

One key to anticipating the aftermath of a sales comp plan rollout is building up relational credit with the sales force. As you get your readout, make the sales team feel like they’re part of the process. Ask questions so you can build the relationships that will buy you a listening ear later on. Even if you ultimately don’t act on all the input they provide, it will make it more probably that they’ll want to like the new plan. Keep in mind that trust is the best buffer to fall back on when you fumble.

Plan what to do when you know they’re going to hate it

You took the readout, and it’s bad news: everyone loves the current plan. It’s costing the company millions. What do you do now?

Be proactive at the rollout. Start by addressing the emotions: “Hey everyone, you may be hesitant to accept this plan, and maybe you’re even a little angry, but let me explain WHY we’re doing this. We need your help to make this successful.” Gain that trust by showing you understand what the sales force is going through, and be sure to ask for their cooperation. From my experience, I find that even if individuals don’t necessarily like a sales plan, they’re still willing to be helpful to make the plan work.

Be proactive about the salespeople’s reactions

Though your comp team may have already spent hours poring over the details of designing a foolproof sales comp plan that is aligned with the business needs for the year, be sure to put in the time to think through a plan for addressing the projected human response to the plan. Don’t think sales won’t care because it’s just a small change, even if it’s just a change in the way reps log into their weekly reports. Instead, be proactive about anticipating their reaction by getting a readout of the perceptions about the current comp plan, building trust with the sales force, and thinking about how you will address pushback to the plan.

Already rolled out your 2017 sales comp plan, and it was a disaster? Next Tuesday, check back in for my next post that will address the best practices for disaster recovery when sales comp plan rollouts don’t go as expected. Subscribe to the blog to have it delivered straight to your inbox, so you don’t miss a thing!



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