Five Important Data-Based Predictions for 2021


Sales Roles and Compensation

By Mark Donnolo and Michelle Seger

Here are five data-based predictions to help sales organizations remain agile and seize opportunities in the months ahead, and into 2021. We covered these in detail on our recent Rethink Sales Round Table, “Part II: Five Sales Effectiveness Moves You Should Consider for 2021.”

Based on our survey conducted with WorldatWork earlier this year, as well as what we’ve been hearing at our weekly round tables and from our partners and clients, we predict — in the midst of precariousness — mostly good prospects for companies that are willing to make a few shifts in the way they sell, what they measure, and how they communicate.

Here’s a rundown to help you plan, organize, retool, and hopefully avoid unwanted surprises.

More reach, less collaboration

With fewer outside sales and more inside sales today, geographic boundaries matter less to sellers and customers alike. On the one hand, you may have observed that it’s easier to reach a customer or a prospect than it was before the pandemic. With more people working from home and available to take your call, expect contact to become more efficient, which could result in increased productivity. On the other hand, the sales terrain is never a bed of roses. Depending on your industry and your product or service, you may see productivity decrease in the coming months due to weakened collaboration among teams that are now working remotely. While coaching and communication can address this to a degree – and we’ll cover this below – it’s critical to know your sales capacity. If your industry has been affected by COVID-19 and you haven’t yet recalibrated your sales capacity model, what are you waiting for? Now is the time.

More goal risk

We’ve talked and written a lot about quotas, both before the pandemic and since it struck in March. This may seem counterintuitive, but we do not recommend reducing reps’ quotas. Instead, consider making them shorter-term to account for uncertainty. Look for quotas to be driven by account opportunity, not history. As we like to say, history is history (and the future hasn’t arrived yet). In times of uncertainty, sales organizations need better bottom-up estimators of sales potential. If your organization’s discussions around quotas aren’t both top-down and bottom-up, you’re missing an opportunity to grasp sales potential. In times like these, businesses should be looking at new sources of data on sales potential. For many companies, the old ways simply will not work in 2021.

All new business is good

Many companies are buying less than they did a year ago; some are buying more. An increased upside opportunity will attract top talent to your organization, and it can offset the increased goal risk. This must be handled with care. It’s key for sales organizations to listen to their customers. The pay mix for the coming months may become aggressive to emphasize performance with a lower fixed investment. This is a good opportunity for your company’s high performers, but be on guard. We recommend that sales organizations pay something upon bookings. Of course, you get to define what a booking is at your company; different organizations have different standards. What you pay (and how you define a booking) should depend on your industry and your customers. In the survey with WorldatWork conducted earlier this year, we learned that revenue will remain the primary metric for most companies.

Higher turnover

Among sales reps who are burning out on working from home and who sell for companies that don’t offer an attractive employee value proposition, expect turnover to climb. Look for compensation levels to recalibrate based on productivity and value to the company. As the playing field changes and competitors shift, rapid insight pay benchmarking will become increasingly important.

Another consideration that can impact turnover is how you handle timing of payments. With elongated sales cycles and reduced budgets, to help your team get “into the money” sooner, in addition to bookings there are certain key activities that you can pay a rep for through the sales cycle. Just be careful on paying for activities. We recommend that each activity requires a clear customer response and that it can be measured objectively. Otherwise you may be opening yourself up to unwanted disputes.

Communication challenges

This may be the area with the biggest potential downside — but it’s also where companies can have the most control. Arguably, there’s never been a time when coaching reps on new sales processes has been as important as it is today. We recommend that organizations increase their investment in sales performance management tools to improve communications and performance visibility. Interestingly, in our survey with WorldatWork, respondents rated SPM as both important and effective. And yet, only 32% report actually using one! If there ever was a time to invest in this technology, it is right now.

The bottom line

While the world’s economy is still being rattled by COVID-19, there are remarkable opportunities for sales organizations to recalibrate their opportunities, recruit high performers, identify risks, improve communications, and to take advantage of market opportunities. We won’t sugarcoat it: there is risk. But at the same time, there is an upside for companies that are committed to making changes, solving problems creatively, and investing in the right resources.


Want to better prepare your sales organization for what’s ahead? Join our Rethink Sales Round Table each Friday at 1 pm ET.