Rewarding the Modern Sales Organization

Rewarding the Modern Sales Organization

As sales roles change, so must total rewards.

The modern sales organization is a hybrid one. Roles and responsibilities continue to evolve as sales professionals work and engage with customers in new ways. Sales aren’t conducted solely virtually or face-to-face anymore. It’s become a blend of both.

Meeting buyers where they are is a three-way street that includes where they work, how they want to engage and what mode of constantly changing technology they use to make purchase decisions. These factors are making a hybrid sales organization ubiquitous. What does that really mean? What is really changing with the modern sales organization, and ultimately, how does this impact total rewards?

What we know is that today’s buyer has become more sophisticated in what they’re asking for from a salesperson. The omnichannel challenge is no longer a problem to solve. It’s already here.
In-person interaction, video, voice, and email, as well as online and self-service channels, have now become mainstream in B2C sales. B2B sales are quickly gaining traction as companies selling and buying products and services were forced to adapt to this change quickly during the global pandemic of 2020.

What we also know is it’s widely acknowledged that a significant percentage of buyers, which we’ll define as greater than 50%, already know what they’re looking for when they engage with a salesperson. They’re also vetting about five options by the time they engage, and 35% of buyers with large purchase decisions ($500,000 or more) will consider a virtual option, reported McKinsey & Co.’s B2B Pulse Survey. At the same time, LinkedIn’s Global State of Sales research shows that 88% of buyers say they will only purchase from a sales rep they consider as a trusted advisor! That’s a lot of change.

“For the sales organization, the biggest challenge is upward mobility. This classic problem is one of the most untapped areas of rewards that will address attrition and help leaders attract and retain top talent.”

Essential Sales Skills and Roles Are Shifting

We are way past product features, attributes and demos. We are now solving problems for clients and directing them to the right solutions to meet their needs. And this is being done all while competing with the information they’ve already gathered about our competitors, navigating biases they may have formed from social and online resources, and working with fewer opportunities for direct engagement than we may have had in the past.

There are new skills — hard and soft — that need to be learned. Conversations must change from discussing products and services to learning how to have a discovery conversation and understanding the biggest challenges your customer is aiming to solve. On top of that, learning how to communicate virtually and face-to-face in a way that’s effective and engaging is a must. Becoming a trusted advisor and understanding how to win more deals in this new landscape all become a critical part of the sales role.

A sales incentive plan, the most important component of rewards for a salesperson, is a communication tool. The best ones are those that align the role with the behaviors and outcomes that you expect. As the sales role changes, so must rewards. For the sales organization, the biggest challenge is upward mobility. Sales leaders struggle with retaining the best people where there may not be a desired level of upward mobility within the sales organization. This classic problem is notably one of the most untapped areas of rewards that will address attrition and help leaders to continue to attract and retain top talent, all while aligning with your cost-of-sales budget.

Take a Fresh Look at Career Progression

In sales, career progression is different from that of other business functions within a company.

Since the primary responsibility is selling, outside of managing a team there can seem to be little upward mobility opportunities for a salesperson in a key sales role. And many times, your best salesperson isn’t the best manager or just may not have the desire to manage a team. This prompts the questions:

  • Does that mean there are little to no upward-mobility opportunities within the sales organization?
  • Does it mean that long-tenure employees who may have established themselves as experts and advisors within your industry may “hit a wall” in terms of career progression and further opportunities to increase their pay and other rewards?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, it’s time for you to look at your career progression in sales. Rather than create new roles, think about creating new levels within your roles that have their own set of criteria for advancement to the next level.

Many times, there are levels within jobs that have been defined by HR based on criteria such as tenure, experience, skills and education. But it takes the different type of insight that sales leaders possess to fully understand the value that can differentiate one person from another in a way that justifies and aligns to a greater pay band than roles outside of sales.

Here’s an example. A global client of mine was facing this situation with their U.S.-based sales team. With more than 1,000 sales reps across the country, the attrition rate of top performers with the longest tenure was higher than desired. The complaint for years had been that there was “just no place to grow.”

Through an initiative that included HR, sales and finance, along with many workshops, data analytics and meetings, a solution was discovered and implemented that addressed the unwanted attrition, helped them to attract high-performing talent and reward long-tenure employees who produced results and built trusted-advisor status across their base of assigned customers.

“Rather than create new roles, think about creating new levels within your roles that have their own set of criteria for advancement to the next level.”

How did they do it? In this situation, we identified four attributes with different expectations across five progression tiers — meaning that we created five levels of career progression within the role of account manager. The attributes included:

  • A revenue component. Based on the customer support segment to which an individual was assigned, this attribute grew across a higher-tiered structure. Higher pay would be assigned for more complex clients that required a trusted advisor, had multiple buying points within the organization and needed products, services and long-term contracts, for example.

Additional attributes followed the progression and focused on:

  • Knowledge of basic products and services.
  • Ability to craft custom solutions.
  • Mastery of deep technical capabilities.

The wider macroeconomic environment, continued evolution of technology, products and services, plus transformed trends in how we all work, live and interact in business — all of these things are changing how salespeople fit within the broader organization and the role they now play to impact the bottom line.

Partner with your sales leader to understand what you can do to create effective levels within roles with key attributes and meaningful criteria that are critical to the modern sales role. Adjusting and adapting professional growth and advancement potential will support the success of your sales team reaching their goals, as well as ensure that you’re doing all you can to reward and retain top talent.