The How, What and Why of Incentive Compensation
Emily Walker is a Customer Success Manager at Ambition. She recently spoke at a panel event hosted by Concert Finance. Read her takeaways below on how to build a great comp plan — and why it's critical if you want to attract and retain top talent.
Incentives and compensation. You’ve analyzed, researched, and (hopefully) prioritized, but what about the reps' perspectives? Funny you ask. As someone with experience as a BDR, Account Executive and now a Customer Success Manager, I've got a few passionate opinions on the matter.
Recently, the folks at Concert Finance held a panel for sales managers and reps to have a candid conversation about compensation, incentives, and how to fine tune a great comp plan. The discussion focused on a lot of topics, like motivating reps and keeping them challenged; building attainable goals; and — perhaps most importantly — attracting the right kind of people.
Everyone at the panel asked thoughtful, insightful questions. It showed how much each person in the room cared about a better compensation plan for their reps — and I'm sure all of you sales managers out there feel the same way. So: below are my candid, unfiltered answers to the top questions our panel was asked. Hopefully, these will spark an important and productive conversation with your reps!
What KPI matters most to you? Is that the one that you are incentivized on?
Short answer: there’s not one single KPI that matters most to me — and there shouldn’t be just one for you, either. The KPIs that matter most to me depend on the job. I look for the comp plan that has a customized, creative plan that focuses on both short- and long-term goals. Do they measure me on short-term activities only? Not my favorite. I want to make money for the company I represent. Do they only focus long-term on the revenue, regardless of my input? Sounds stressful. I want to work hard, strive for consistency, and be successful. Every company is different, so when I look at my plan, I hope to find one that allows me to feel motivated and get rewarded for doing my day-to-day with integrity.
Regarding me being incentivized on the KPI that matters most to me at my current job, yes: there is so much importance placed on aligning the metrics that move the needle with incentives and competitions. I need to have KPIs that are within my control — an activity, an objective, an efficiency metric. Yes, we all know revenue is the goal, but give me KPIs that are leading indicators to the end game. I do not want to wake up at 2 a.m. on a Friday stressed about what I didn’t do. I do want to know the behavior that is expected of me. I want to make the place I work as successful as possible. I want to contribute because my job contributes back to me. How can I do that? Those are the KPIs that matter most to me.
What's an example of an incentive that changed your own behavior?
My favorite part about incentives is the opportunity to see a manager being intentional about knowing their reps. At the beginning of this year, my manager announced our Q1 incentive. (Some background: Q1 is our busiest quarter. We are onboarding and training new customers, working on our highest volume of renewals, and grinding to get it all done in a way that makes every customer feel valued and prioritized.) Our manager knows we can feel burned-out after this quarter and overwhelmed with a full year ahead of us. So this year, he came up with an incentive for a three-night paid trip to Napa.
Yeah, Napa. Wine Country. The happiest place on earth. Disney who?
With every stressful call, email, late night of note-taking, I thought about Napa and sitting on top of a mountain sipping wine.
Guess what? I won. I told my husband and his jaw dropped. (...And guess who is in sales now? No, I’m not kidding.) I hopped on the plane, had the most restoring vacation and came back ready to hit the rest of the year hard.
Why did I like this? Because my boss was intentional. (And also: wine.)
He knew our team liked experiences. We really felt like he paid attention to us talking about our family vacations for the year that we often plan around our busy season, and it was really special. *clinks wine glass*
Tell me about team versus individual incentives — pros and cons.
Obviously, this depends on who you're talking to, but personally, I don’t thrive in an aggressively competitive, cut-throat environment. I want my competition to be fun, encouraging, smack-talk filled and rewarding.
Team incentives are a great addition to individual ones because they help some of the middle players — who might never get on a leaderboard otherwise — make it to the top and win something.
They also facilitate collaboration. Real talk: Our days are jam-packed, and we don't always give ourselves time to share lessons learned on a day-to-day basis. But if I have an individual number and a team number that I'm working toward? That's one more reason to hustle together. Which is a win for me, for my team, and for my company — and let's be honest, team celebrations are always more fun.
The cons here: I like to make money. I don’t want a low performer to bring me down — remember that frustration you had in school when some kid goes MIA during your group project? Thankfully, my current team is a good, hardworking team, so we haven’t run into situations where someone has brought us down.
But in general, I enjoy my compensation being individually-based with a team bonus when x% of us reach x percent-to-target. For example, I get my commission on my individual performance — but for my team, if we all hit our 2019 goal, we get to go on a trip together. (CC: my boss).
Want to hear about some of our crazy creative incentives? Read about our Q3 billboard challenge here.