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Four Ways to Think outside the Sales-Compensation Box

ErikCharlesToday’s post is by Erik Charles, incentives strategist at Xactly Corporation. For more insight on compensation and sales leadership, listen to a recording of his recent Webinar, “How to Become a More Creative Sales Leader,” with Selling Power founder Gerhard Gschwandtner. 

When it comes to sales compensation, some sales managers play it safe because they don’t believe they can disrupt the status quo, but there’s innovative potential in all of us to make positive changes. Here are some ways sales managers can get creative about aligning, compensating, and motivating their teams. 

Tip #1: Differentiate by role. 

Many sales organizations don’t differentiate by role, but this is a mistake. People like to know where they fit in the team. Knowing how his or her specific role helps the company meet its goals can inspire each employee to perform better.

The varying positions in sales require people with very different skill sets and personalities. Having a “farmer” on your team who handles renewals and reaches out to existing clients lowers your churn rate and ensures that you keep existing customers while taking on new ones. Similarly, it works in your favor to have a “specialist” who speaks your customer’s language. This person likely has a strong background in customer support, understands every technicality of the product, and can provide support during demos.

Tip #2: Provide quota relief.

Two decades in the sales industry has taught me many things that often surprise sales leaders, one of those things being that quota relief, the act of lowering a rep’s quota due to extenuating circumstances, can be necessary and even result in higher performance. It’s all about market consideration. Let’s say there was a major natural disaster in a rep’s territory. It’s likely to legitimately affect his or her ability to close deals. Relief should be considered in this instance.

Tip #3: Promote cross-sellers.

If you want to promote a rep to a management position, don’t the common mistake of promoting your best hunter. Instead, look for ones who cross sell like champs. Why? Great cross-sellers are skilled at seeing things from different perspectives. That’s a trait that is more likely to help them succeed in a management role. 

Tip #4: Experiment with incentives.

Has it been a while since you used a SPIF? Maybe it’s time to put more than just cash on the table. Tap into your reps’ personal interests. We’ve seen World Series tickets work wonders as a sales incentive. My guess is that the status symbol of being at the game, your colleagues knowing you won, and the ability to publicize being at the game on social media outweighs a bonus check of equal value. 

To find out more ways you can innovate as a sales leader, listen to a recording of the recent Webinar “How to Become a More Creative Sales Leader.”


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As a CEO, I should admit that Tip #2 is the most normal and adequate behavior every manager would follow (especially in example with a major natural disaster as shown). It is fair for any employee, not just a sales person.

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