Disaster Recovery for Sales Comp Plan Rollouts

January 31, 2017

Last week, I addressed how to anticipate and prepare for the aftermath of a sales comp plan rollout – especially when you know the sales team is going to be angry. However, maybe your comp team thought that there was already a good rollout communication plan in place, but the response was an unanticipated disaster. I wrote about my own disastrous sales comp plan rollout in the January issue of WorldatWork’s newsletter and the lessons we learned about how to properly roll out a sales comp plan, but sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.

In my own experience with one sales comp rollout, the comp team experienced unexpected pushback to what seemed like an inconsequential change to the plan, and in effect, it looked like the reps were ready to dig in their heels and stop selling. The plan design was solid. I had done proper readouts before rolling out the plan, and had gotten executive buy-in before releasing the plan to the reps. What did we miss?

We found that a key piece of feedback the sales reps were unwilling to divulge during our focus groups was that there was fear among the sales team to transition to a completely new technology. We were working with an older team of experienced reps on a plan very similar to their current plan, except that the new technology would require a new way of pulling reports. Rather than going through the familiar steps of exporting an Excel sheet, they would now pull reports through an easily accessible portal. The design team was excited that this would reduce the number of steps it took to pull reports, streamlining the process for a quicker payout turnaround time. But the sales team was less than happy, because it meant a technology learning curve. In order to alleviate this, we had to reassure the sales team that there would be a specific focus on the training resources and time as part of the new process so that reps would be up to speed on the new technology quickly and painlessly.

So what are the critical steps when responding to such a disaster situation? The key, again, is good communication.

  1. Assess the response. Right when you do a rollout, immediately start asking questions. How are people feeling? What triggered this response? Which groups are affected? Maybe your external salespeople get it and love it, but telesales is confused and up in arms. The negative response may be localized to certain zones, or it could be global and everyone hates it. Listen to the pulse of the team before moving onto the next phase.
  2. Start early. Don’t wait for the storm to pass. The worst thing to do is sit on it for a long time while the storm happens. People will create their own stories. Even if it’s just an email, address the response immediately and communicate the real story.
  3. Be honest. When I was a director of comp admin, there were times I’ve had to say, “Hey everyone, the rollout didn’t go as well as planned, and people don’t like it. This is what we’re going to do now.” Owning up to it is the best approach, because it allows you to better prepare for the next compensation system change rollout.
  4. Answer questions. If you have known questions, answer them right away. Don’t know the answers yet? Tell them when you’ll get them answered by, and stick to that date–even if it’s months away. Be realistic about when you can have those answers. Ultimately, even if reps don’t like the final answers they receive, they’ll think, “At least you told me.”
  5. Get to the root of the problem. One essential aspect of effective communication is to put yourself in the reps’ shoes. You may see the external reactions, but ask the questions that will help you address the core problems creating these reactions. Then, address the root issues comprehensively.

No sales comp plan rollout will go exactly according to plan–as I mentioned in the previous article, we are dealing with people, so the emergency response plan must be very human. By understanding the root of the sales team’s response to the comp plan and communicating early and honestly, chaos can be held at bay so that selling doesn’t stop and trust is not broken. Every comp plan rollout comes with its own unique challenges, so start by anticipating each possible response and have a plan to recover.

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