(This was a question from an IT services company, but the ideas apply to other industries as well.)
When you think about it, it’s true in just about any sale that the sales person must be part of a team that has:
- the right offering (services staff, right skills, right organizational capacity, …),
- the right delivery system (tools, processes, methodologies, management structure, …), and
- the right business model (pricing, contracting/terms, contractors vs. employees, …)
to create perceivable value for both the customer and the company. So why do the sales people earn variable pay while the others vital to closing the sale (and delivering the value) not earn variable pay?
The answer may be that some of the others do earn variable pay. But more often the answer is that the sales person’s own individual value creation is reliably measured in terms of sales closed (order value, margin value, hours booked, etc.) than that of others on the team, AND the sales person is interested in placing a meaningful portion of their at-market compensation at risk (20% to 50% is typical) in exchange for the opportunity to double or triple the amount risked if they are able to put together a banner year. That’s the basis for much of “sales compensation” as we see it today.
So, even if “it takes a village” to make the sale, the hunter who finds the opportunities, identifies the decision makers, puts together a strategy to win the business, and coordinates the internal team often has both risk and upside in their compensation plan tied to the results they manage to produce in order to encourage and reward their success.
Many of the other vital technical or industry expert contributors may also see the value they help create and express an interest in sharing in the upside – but they often are not interested in putting a meaningful amount of their compensation at risk.So while you may choose to offer spot awards and/or recognition to those non-sales associates who make a great contribution to closing an important deal, that’s not the same as pay at risk, a structured incentive plan, and exciting upside for the “stars.”
Donya Rose, CSCP, is Managing Principal of The Cygnal Group. She is a recognized expert in sales compensation plan design, regularly speaking at conferences and writing published articles. She serves clients from F500 to growth-stage businesses, and advises WorldatWork on sales compensation hot topics and best practices.