Outstanding in the Field: ICM Self-Service Enablement for Field Reps

January 12, 2017

We live in the user experience economy. One-click shopping, visual emails, and ordering lunch delivery through a mobile app with your favorite menu items bookmarked. Likewise, it’s no surprise that more companies are adopting that same mantra with employee self-service in regards to their field sales force.

As mentioned in my previous blog, Incentive Compensation Management (ICM) solutions have moved far beyond being an automated compensation calculator for determining commission and bonus incentives. Instead, they now embed key features such as workflow functionality, which allows compensation teams to enable more field driven self-service and further reduce risk by taking multiple manual steps out of their hands.

Through the improvement of workflow capabilities within ICM solutions, two major benefits change the game for field sales reps:

1. Self-service empowerment through streamlined processes
Initial use cases for ICM workflow functionality commonly started out as online submission of payment disputes or acceptance of compensation plans. Over time, they have morphed as admin teams saw increasing value in covering other manual processes including handling adjustments from the field, such as splitting credits between reps and requests for quota adjustments.

Depending on the functionality provided with the respective ICM solution, the field can have robust entry capabilities allowing the request to flow through to the system without further manual intervention, which results in more timely outcomes. Beyond basic transaction or credit disputes, the functionality can entail having logic to retrieve transactions, credits or quota results from the live production instance. This frees field personnel to take the desired actions and have the information needed, even with routing completely controlled by the current management hierarchy in place for initial field management approvals.

Additionally, these workflow solutions not only allow a field resource to control the submission of their requests through a controlled and auditable process, but it also allows them to see the status of any open request in the queue, at any given time, for review and resolution. This cuts down on the time field reps spend following up with management on the status of requests. This, in turn, frees field reps to have more time for selling.

Finally, it can’t be ignored that the compensation administrator is also a key beneficiary as it allows them to be focused on more strategic efforts as they spend less time reviewing emails with attachments and processing those manual updates into the ICM system. Since all requests are visually in one place, processes can be more streamlined and manageable, especially as every field rep will always consider their request as the “top priority” and will otherwise try to push their agenda to the front of the queue.

2. Reducing risk through reduced manual processes
In the arena of sales compensation administration, the cumbersome nature of tracking and approving critical requests is a frighteningly common concern. The manual “handshakes” from field resources to sales management to the internal compensation administration team create many more potential points of failure. Currently, the most common workflow solution in place is the company’s email server, with the best case scenario of having group email accounts so requests don’t get dropped if an individual is out of the office.

From a compensation administrator’s standpoint, the constant influx of disputes and adjustment requests in their email inboxes can be overwhelming. It often involves the manual juggling and tracking of what has and has not been addressed, who else the email should be forwarded to for the final review, and whether or not they have received needed approvals before making the change to live production data. Even the most masterful compensation administrators are only human, and there is a high risk of requests falling through the cracks.

Because these requests pass from the field to the frontline admins for review, then potentially to other resources for final assessment to determine necessary manual updates, the risk of inadvertent data entry mistakes is quite high, which could further result in time-consuming adjustments and frustrated field sales reps.

Additionally, for companies that withhold compensation payout until plan acknowledgement is received, the embedded functionality of streamlining field requests can allow the workflow process to automatically update fields within the ICM solution. Having that information tracked as values within the system would allow configured rules to only release payment if the field resource has acted on the request in their queue. This use case is rare but on the rise, and it is one that can be very beneficial for those organizations with that requirement.

Reaping the field benefits
At the end of the day, automated workflow solutions can meet a variety of acknowledgement, approval or adjustment use cases from the field in relation to the ongoing calculation and payments of incentive compensation. The flexibility of determining various routing hierarchies depending on input factors can take the guessing game out of who should review and approve the request.

Instead, automated ICM solutions include detailed audit tracking abilities to record every action, comment, or attachment related to an initiated request. So how do you assess the return on investment for automating these requests and adjustments in a non-standard environment where exceptions are the norm? The key is to evaluate the areas with the greatest level of occurrence and associated risk for “getting it wrong” to truly identify those more critical use cases for automation.

Evaluate your current system for incentive compensation management. If your comp admins are struggling to manage a never-ending influx of emails from the field or contending with downstream issues from manual data entry due to multiple transition points, consider reviewing your current overall processes and challenges before researching options for a roadmap to improvement.

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