Getting the Word Out: Selling the New Sales Plan to the Sales Force
For several months we have focused on how to redesign and change an under-performing (and generally costly) sales-compensation plan.
Let’s say that you have followed our prescription, did the hard work and analysis, and gained the needed consensus to proceed. You now should find yourself with a new and better sales pay plan for your sales force—at least on paper. Now for the tricky part: selling it to your sales force.
This is the point where most clients and designers are tempted to relax because they believe the precise logic, wisdom, principles and analysis they have applied to redesigning the pay plan will be readily accepted and obvious to the sales force. And, participants will welcome such changes with open arms.
Not true! Why? “You are about to change my paycheck and our deal.” Any type of change is difficult to accept, but changes to the paycheck are at the top of the list. What to do?
We recommend that following a simple, multi-step communication plan will greatly improve your success at implementing the new pay plan.
- Tell the sales force why you are making this change. This is a good time for the CEO to call the sales force together and discuss performance expectations, talk about why the old pay plan needed to be changed and outline how the new pay plan will drive both future success and pay opportunity. It is always best to keep the CEO’s talk strategic. To accomplish this, we recommend that both the CEO and top sales executive participate in the briefing. The CEO should leave the details to the VP. Then, answer any and all questions from the floor. In closing, assure the sales force they will be given the details of their individual pay plan by day’s end.
- Engage each sales representative individually that very day. Have each representative meet with their manager after the CEO/VP meeting. The sales representative should be given a one-page plan description and a series of examples that will show how their plan will work in the coming year under various performance conditions. [We like using customized spreadsheets.] Also, show them how their new plan compares to the “old” plan. This document package is for their review, but it also gives them materials that they can share with a spouse or other family member. And, do not be afraid to address the question—”Do you mean I could make less under this plan?” Some people always will and you must be prepared to explain. Finish by scheduling a follow-up meeting in a month, or less.
- Keep those doors open. The CEO, top-sales executive and sales managers should take every opportunity to reach out to the sales force and ask how the new pay plan is working. Is it fair? Does it get in your way? Does it encourage you to do the wrong things? We have found that these impromptu discussions often provide the data and information needed to fine-tune or “calibrate” the new plan.
- Be willing to calibrate and adapt the new plan during Year One. Why is this a communications step? It tells the sales force that you are listening to them and are interested in what is good for the company and the sales force. Plan calibration can be a good thing, as long as you do not forget why you are putting in the new plan in the first place.
Do not forget to leave money in the budget for communicating your compensation plan changes. Not investing time and dollars at the end of the process can negate everything you have already spent, and create a storm that may not pass over for a year or three.