This is the second in a series. Click here to read Communicating The New Sales Comp Plan: Key Steps Part I
Craft the Change Story
When your sales compensation design process began, you (hopefully) spent time considering the sales strategy and C-level goals. Looking back to those now can help the management team explain why it decided to change the sales compensation plan this year. Usually, the organization will make a plan adjustment if there is a change in sales strategy, a change in how the organization goes to market with its sales resources and sales process, a need to respond to a competitive situation, or if the plan simply isn’t doing what the organization intended and needs some adjustment or redesign.
The change story can be told in a variety of forms, including planned messages from leadership and informal hallway conversations. In any situation, the story should be concise, consistent, and positive. The story tellers, from CEO to first line sales managers, should be well-versed in the key messages and the range of possible questions. The components of the story include:
To craft the change story, go back to the C-Level Goal areas of Customer, Product, Coverage, Financial, and Talent. Draw out the messages from each area that should be communicated to the sales organization and use them as the elements of the change story.
It’s human nature to resist change, so positioning your change story is key to moving the organization in the right direction. Think about how you might tell the story in one of four ways. Each method can be described by its timeframe and orientation toward pain or gain (as shown below). Many organizations want to communicate an aspirational story that excites the team about changing to capture future opportunities (quadrant one). A sales manager or sales rep hearing this message might find it worthwhile to be part of the dream as long as it’s within the not-too-distant-future and doesn’t require too much near-term sacrifice to her lifestyle.
If a rep hears a story about avoiding risk or great pain in the future (quadrant two), that may capture a little more of her attention. For example, an executive a few years ago described her company’s situation to me, saying, “It’s all comfortable now, but our competitors are encroaching on us. We’re like the big ship in the harbor having a party, and all the little speed boats are coming in around us, and they’re going to eventually overtake and board us. People need to clearly understand where we’re heading on our current track.” Future risk can be more motivational than future vision alone if the organization can understand the eventual threat.
Gaining some benefit in a shorter timeframe (quadrant three) can be a positive motivator to make a change, especially if it’s tangible and achievable. If a rep can picture her family in a better position as her kids get to college age, she’s likely to be fully on board and put in the hard work necessary to support the plan.
The greatest motivator for change, of course, is alleviating near-term pain (quadrant four). If the company has attempted to tell a quadrant two, risk reduction story and the organization hasn’t listened, events may have transpired and the message now may be, “If we don’t make this happen by next year, this organization may have to downsize half of our people.” To a member of the sales organization, change doesn’t look quite as scary at that point because the alternatives are worse. In this case, the rep may not be fully on board but she’s also proactively looking for ways to help.
Next week I’ll write about how to see the organization’s view. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
See the Organization’s View
Company culture plays a huge role in making change. Some cultures operate on stability and are naturally change averse, while others are change tolerant and even change seeking. It’s important to know the organization’s and individuals’ comfort level with change in order to message and manage well.
Assume that most people will see any change as potentially negative. This is particularly true when it comes to compensation. From a sales organization view, unless the current compensation plan is a complete disaster, they often assume the only reason to change the plan is to manage pay or improve the company’s financial position. “If you have a sales program that allows people to make money, and you want to make a change to compensation plan, you have to be crisp and clear about what those changes mean. Otherwise, the immediate thought process of a salesperson is, ‘They’re trying to figure out how to take money out of my family’s life,’” says Jeff Schmidt, global head of business continuity, security, and governance for BT Global Services.
Beyond risk, resistance also comes from reluctance to alter routines. If the new incentive plan steers the organization toward new products or perhaps selling to new customers beyond their current accounts, that can be plain uncomfortable.
In our work, we see that about 20 percent of an organization are acceptors and embrace the new plan without argument. Another 50 percent are observers who will wait and see. If the plan is designed, communicated, and managed well, this group will usually join the first group of acceptors. But as much as 30 percent of the organization may resist the new plan. The resistors range from passive resistors to active resistors.
You may recognize some of the passive resistance behaviors, which include apparent confusion, hesitancy to act, and lack of urgency. On the aggressive side, behaviors might include outright opposition and involvement in trying to change the course of the implementation by demonstrating why the program will not work. The good news is that most resistors tend to be on the passive side, although they are not always easy to identify and engage. The key to working with passive resistors is to connect, sense, and communicate at the field level to understand their resistance points before the implementation. If ignored, their resistance can become contagious. As for active resistors, they’ll test leadership’s resolve for change, as we’ll describe shortly.