How Do You Link Pay and Performance?

You have to start by rethinking your sales compensation. Want to learn more about it? Start from the beginning

This is the second part in a three part series. In part one, we discussed the first part of the Sales Compensation Diamond. Once you have set Target Pay, Pay Mix, Upside Potential, and Performance Thresholds (the framework of the plan), it’s time to link those pay mechanism to action.

Linking Pay and Performance

Sales Compensation Diamond5. Develop Measures and Priorities Performance measures define the focus areas that are most important for each role. Each measure should represent the most significant pieces of the sales strategy that the role can control. A challenge for many organizations is determining which few of many possible measures should be included in the sales compensation plan, which should be part of the performance management program, and which should simply be core expectations of that job. Do the measures represent the top two or three financial and strategic priorities for each job? Has the message of the plan been diluted with too many measures, creating a buffet plan from which reps can pick and choose? Do reps have significant control over each measure in their plans?

6. Set Levels and Timing For each measure, the organization must define the level at which that measure will be tracked for the plan. For example the organization may define a revenue measure for a sales rep at an individual level or a region level. Each measure will also be measured and paid on a certain timeframe, for example monthly or quarterly. The decisions around measurement levels and timing can have a direct impact on rep behavior. Measure too high and the rep may have little control. Measure too frequently and the cycle may be out of synch with a long sales process. Do our measurement levels match with reps’ ability to impact those measures? Does the frequency of our measurement and payment match the rhythm of the sales cycle or it unnaturally speeding or slowing the cycle?

7. Design Mechanics Mechanics create the connection between performance and pay. It’s the area most sales executives will jump to first rather than working through the previous steps. If your team is starting here, then they’ve missed half the process. While mechanics can seem complex with various rates, hurdles, gates, accelerators, and point systems, they can be divided into three types. A rate-based mechanic (also known as a commission) usually pays a certain percentage of revenue or gross profit, or a certain dollar amount per unit of sale. A quota-based mechanic typically pays a target incentive for reaching a specific quota or goal and may scale its payout above and below that performance level. A link creates a relationship and interdependency between two measures or mechanics. For example, attainment of a goal for a product mix measure may result in a multiplier that links and magnifies the payout of a total revenue commission. Are the plan mechanics easy to understand and calculate? Do they create an alignment to goal attainment or can a rep simply earn to a level where she’s comfortable? Are old commission rate structures causing the organization to work backwards by structuring territories (an upstream discipline) to manage pay levels (a downstream discipline)?

Next we’ll cover Aligning the Team and Financials, and Operating for Results.

And you can learn more by watching Five Imperatives for Designing a Strategic Sales Compensation Program.

This post was updated on 10/18/19.