Every sales organization has gone through it – the commission plan change that mixes up what the reps are expected to do, and changes the way they’re paid to do it. Some plan changes are simply misunderstood and/or not launched well, but others are pure takeaways – same or more sales required for same or less pay.
These roll-outs are never easy, but here are eight tips to make them as seamless and successful as possible.
1. Plan some wins for the days & weeks beforehand
Make sure that the environment in which you introduce the plan change is already positive. This can mean timing it after a big company announcement or event, after a new marketing campaign has launched, after an annual sales awards banquet, etc.
2. Get your managers involved early for feedback and launch planning
Your managers spend more time with the reps than anyone, and should be seasoned & mature enough to give you honest feedback about the how the commission plan changes will affect rep behavior and morale, short-term and long-term. Get their advice and input in planning the full launch – before, day-of and after.
3. Tell your top reps early to get their feedback & help with managing reaction, buzz
Find the veteran reps on the floor who everyone else looks up to, and whom you can also trust with information before others. Get their honest feedback about how it will be translated, and get their help day-of and immediately after with managing the reaction and buzz across the floor.
4. Be honest & forthright
On the day you make the plan change announcement, don’t spin. Be upfront and honest with your reps. If the economics of their previous plan doesn’t hold up as the company grows, tell them so. They may not like the story, but they’ll like it less if they feel like you’re trying to put a positive or indirect spin on a straightforward story.
5. Put it in context (won’t work for all, but still worth doing)
Include the broader business, industry and economic reasons for making the change. This won’t work for everyone, but your best reps care about both their commission checks as well as the health and growth of the organization. They may not like the change, but they’ll appreciate having the broader context for why it’s necessary. This also makes it harder for reps to go down the “they’re doing this to keep more money for themselves” road.
6. Bring other executives to answer questions
If your CEO and/or CFO can attend the meeting as well, to address questions directly both in front of the group and individually, it further demonstrates transparency of the news and respect for the sales team. Ideally, your non-sales execs have a regular presence with the sales team already, so their place at the plan change announcement already comes with positive perception and mutual respect.
7. Jointly announce a handful of “wins” to make their jobs easier
Try to time other sales support initiatives with the plan change. This can include new sales tools, marketing campaigns, sales operations and support staff, and other initiatives that show the team this isn’t about making their job harder. In fact, you’re investing in other resources to help them absorb the plan change and sell more.
8. Give them tools to do the math on required work/activity/closed deals to make money
Your reps know, today, how much money they want to make and need to make, and they already know how many sales they need to earn that commission check. If you’re changing that system, give them explicit tools to re-calculate what activity and sales volume is required to maintain their income and standard of living. This may also demonstrate that your plan change either isn’t as big of a deal as it sounds, or (with the new tools and naturally higher conversion rates) the new activity required isn’t too onerous.
For those of you who have been through successful and unsuccessful commission plan change announcements, what would you add to this list? Any “worst” practices worth sharing to make sure others avoid them?