Many of the sales compensation models and structures we use today have not changed much over the past few decades. In this time, however, consumer behavior has been transformed by technology - and the sales process has in turn changed significantly across industries. The linear sales funnel of the past has been replaced by a dynamic sales process. The time cost of gathering information about multiple vendors has been reduced exponentially. Prospective customers tend to conduct extensive research before ever talking to a salesperson, and often come to meetings ready to dive deep into the details of a product or service. Rather than a straight path of research, information gathering, and consideration, buyers today jump back and forth across the funnel stages as they speak with different stakeholders and vendors and gather new information.
With this context in mind, it may be worth examining what types of pre-sales activities your top performers are conducting, and determining whether it makes sense to incentivize some of these behaviors across a larger team. For example, are some of your reps making better use of thought leadership and other marketing materials available to them? Are some of your reps quicker to involve a sales engineer or product expert, even casually getting their ideas on creative ways how the product might help a prospective customer?
For companies with longer sales cycles, particularly those longer than a year, it may be helpful to commission key milestones which signal progress with the deal. This can help keep the rep motivated throughout a longer period, especially if there is a lull in activity on the customer side. For example, offering a commission for being part of a short list of vendors in a highly competitive deal, or getting verbal agreement from a key decision maker before a laborious procurement process begins.
When designing commission plans, we often tend to focus on the end results. Understanding differentiating behavior your high performers exhibit earlier in the sales cycle may help drive better performance across your sales team.