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A Look Back at 2017: One Amazing Year, Seven Expert Lessons Learned

For many sales organizations, 2017 was a year of unprecedented successes, with U.S.-based tech companies leading the pack. According to Bloomberg, “almost 80 percent of the S&P 500 have topped earnings estimates.” And CNN Money stated that “corporate America caught fire in 2017, hauling in fatter profits than ever before.”

But the year didn’t pass without some dramatic blunders related to sales compensation. 2017 proved that sales comp processes aren’t only powerful; they can steer the ship.

Comp plans that are ineffectively designed, wildly unrealistic, or fail to support a culture of accountability often point to a significant lack of oversight. Put plans like these into action and you get messy and expensive results. Just ask the executive team at Wells Fargo.

So, what does a balanced approach to sales compensation look like?

We traveled long and far last year – from conferences to trade shows, from webinars to expert interviews, from client sites to customer events – and we spent a lot of time talking to industry luminaries about this burning question. Snippets of what we learned appear below.  Enjoy.

Lesson One: 

Design a sales compensation plan that benefits all parties involved.

How? According Dana Therrien, research director of sales operations strategies at Sirius Decisions, you need to get everyone at the table. Find out more in our recap of Therrien’s webinar on the topic.

Lesson Two:

Achieve sales success by becoming a force multiplier.

When sales leaders invest time in their people, their people come through. Bigtime. Start by clearly communicating your methodology; then, analyze the talents each rep brings to the selling process, and develop a plan for how those gifts can best be applied. You’re on your way to becoming a talent developer who inspires individual and team growth. Discover more details in our interview with Mike Kunkle, sales transformation strategist.

Lesson Three: 

Run toward the disruption.

Success is all about embracing change. And disruption is critical to prospering from that change. Without it, businesses can’t grow, says keynote speaker and thought leader Peter Sheahan, who kicked off last year’s 2017 WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference. For more, check out our blog post about the event.

Lesson Four:

AI, cognitive automation, and machine learning will impact sales…eventually.

“These are still early days for systems of intelligence…AI and its kin are nowhere near ready to play a front-line role,” says influencer Geoff Moore, author of the bestseller, Crossing the Chasm. For now, Sales Operations stands to gain the most from these advances, which Moore asserts will lead to “better forecasting, indeed much better forecasting—followed by better lead nurturing and other top-of-funnel efforts.” Find out more about this fascinating topic in our full interview.

Lesson Five:

Culture, technology, and physical space are vital to the employee experience.

And all three play an enormous role. Leaders who develop a deeper understanding of individual motivations – and tailor incentives accordingly – will capture the loyalty of a future workforce for which one size does not fit all. “This is where I think we’re going to see much more value from AI and data and analytics,” says futurist Jacob Morgan, bestselling author of The Future of Work. “For now…[we] need much more flexibility and agility when it comes to those incentive programs.” Read more about this topic in our full interview.

Lesson Six:

Cash is not the only way to keep sales engaged.

It’s not that traditional financial incentives have lost their appeal. But Millennials’ shared values are influencing forward-thinking organizations to add game-changing, non-cash incentives to the mix. Erich Sachse, vice president of professional services for Optymyze, and Jason Farley, director of sales operations at Kowa Pharmaceuticals, explore the benefits that non-cash incentives bring to sales in this webinar, first presented at 2017’s WorldatWork Spotlight on Sales Compensation.

Lesson Seven:

The main pitfall with data use is non-technical. It’s organizational.

“The way predictive analytics influence an organization, it’s no longer business as usual; you’re literally changing operations, the most wide-scale operations,” states Eric Siegel, author of the award-winning Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die. “While the technology is mature and valuable, there’s still a lot more potential than is being realized – even within the most advanced enterprises.” Enjoy an accessible and entertaining explanation of predictive analytics in the full interview.

We were fortunate to engage with these gurus in 2017, and to come away with a glimpse of their collective outlook and predictions for the future of business. And speaking of predictions, here’s one of our own: sales performance management will be on everyone’s lips in 2018.

Recent numbers show that 89 percent of employees think that their performance would improve if their company’s approach to performance management changed. But it’s not just employees who are starting to see the value of sales performance management. It’s also their leaders. SPM could be the crystal ball that enables executives to peer into the future and take the right steps to meet their goals. And avoid those costly blunders that misguided sales compensation processes create.

We’ll be on the road again this year, seeking out more insights and expert advice. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you. Comment on these tips or share some of your own.

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Michael Giordano

Director, Advocacy and Communications

Michael has over 15 years of experience building teams and transforming processes to produce highly-effective sales, marketing and technical functions. He excels in leveraging industry-best process and technology practices while implementing strategies to deliver continued growth and success. Follow him on Twitter @Optymike and @Optymyze.

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