Archive for the ‘Incentive Strategy’ Category

Makana Motivator for Free!

July 29, 2008

I talked about Makana Solutions’ product – Motivator – before. Makana offers a solution to build really good compensation plans and help you out in the process every step of the way.

The usual cost for Makana Motivator is $49 per month for up to 20 participants, $69 for 21 to 100 participants, and $149 for more than 100 participants. A yearly subscription will even cut that cost by 2 months.

Game Plan
Makana just launched a new program called “Game Plan”. Game Plan is a free program to help out with your 2009 Sales Compensation planning. It offers a free year’s subscription to Makana Motivator and strategic advice with sales compensation experts.

The catch? You have to take a training in July or August to receive your free one year subscription. That probably doesn’t sound too bad, so there is no reason why you shouldn’t check it out.

Note: Makana didn’t ask me to promote this “deal”. I don’t usually promote any Sales Performance solution, but… it’s free!

Offshoring Sales Performance Management Implementation Components

July 16, 2008

Based on my experience and on common sense, there are some project components which are easier to offshore than others.

Requirements and Functional Design
Early phases of a project are more challenging to offshore; these phases include the requirement gathering and the functional planning of the project. Offshoring these activities can be difficult because they require a lot of interaction with stakeholders, users and subject matter experts. This type of interaction usually works much better face-to-face than over the phone.

Technical Design, Implementation and Testing
Once the architecture of the project is established, components of the technical design, implementation and testing phases are good candidates to be offshored. Interaction with project stakeholders will obviously be necessary, but the “what” of what needs to be done should be obvious.

Sales Performance Management Implementation
There are many strategies to leverage an offshore team to implement a sales performance management application. Compensation plans can be divided between on-shore and offshore teams, or both teams can collaborate on all the plans. I prefer the collaboration approach; coordination will be a bit more complicated, but many of the risks will be mitigated. As a result, the onshore team will have a clear idea on the status of the offshore team at all time, and there will be less communication issues such as misunderstandings of the requirement and functional design documents.

Here is a list of several common SPM activities which in my experience are good candidates to be offshored. If the design documents are detailed enough, there is no reason why an offshore team could not work on everything. However, there is probably less risk in offshoring well defined activities.
  1. ETL: A large project will use an Extract, Transfer and Load (ETL) tool to move data where it can be used by the SPM solution. With proper access, an offshore team can make a significant contribution to this process.
  2. Configuration Management: An implementation is usually carried in different environments; development, various testing envionments, and production. Moving the latest files from one environment to the next can be very time consuming, and often can’t be performed while a team works in the environment.
  3. Reference Data: Loading all the reference data including participants, titles, positions, relationships, territories, etc are activities which will not impact the building of plans, until required for testing.
  4. Quotas, rate tables and lookup tables: Creating and updating these objects can be a very time consuming activity.
  5. Formulas and rules: Sometimes, several formulas and rules which are almost identical to each other are required. Not all SPM solutions have an easy “clone” feature, making this activity very tedious.
  6. Processing: Also called pipeline in Callidus TrueComp, with a large number of participants and of transaction (in late testing phases), processing can take up to several hours. It can be very nice for the onshore team to work on the implementation during the day and come back the next morning to find the results ready and analysis of issues that occured.
  7. Testing: Testing can be a tedious job. As I discussed before, test scripts should exist which will be executed again and again… and again. Some of the first testing phases such as unit testing and system testing can be almost entirely offshored, but later phases such as integration testing and user acceptance testing are often kept onshore to be able to better monitor quality.
Note: Offshoring all the boring and repetitive activities could have negative impacts on the moral and efficiency of the offshore team, just as it would on any team.

Does anyone have other examples of SPM components which can be offshored easily?

Tweak your Sales Compensation Plan – A Tale of Diverging Opinions

June 2, 2008

In case you are not familiar with it, the Canadian Professional Sales Association (CPSA) has an excellent magazine called “Contact”. The best part is that this magazine is entirely available online, for free, and without any registration. Today I wanted to bring your attention to an article by Jay Somerset called “The Compensation Challenge” which appeared in the Contact Spring 2008 edition.

“It may be time to change – or tweak – your sales compensation plan to better compete in today’s employee-driven market, but if it is done incorrectly you could send your sales team packing. “

Indeed, tweaking a sales plan is tricky business. Stats mentioned in the article back this up: Less than 10% of North American sales organizations redesign their comp plans in a given year, while the other 90 percent only perform minor tweaks. I think ideally, closer to 100% organizations should only perform minor tweaks. Redesigning a plan could be a sign that it had not been planned out properly, and sometimes organizations are compulsive about trying new plans rather than improving their existing plans by tweaking them.

Diverging Opinions
Greg Blysniuk, president of TopLine Sales Compensation Solutions in Toronto advocates simplicity. He says that sales managers often believe their compensation plans must be sophisticated and complex to compete; Greg believes one or two quantitative measures is all what is required to incent people and to ensure the plans are easy to understand.

David Johnston, president of Sales Resource Group Inc in Oakville, Ontario believes compensation plans should factor in qualitative metrics. “Qualitative metrics can be measured according to milestones or key events”.

ICM Applications:
Greg says the main barrier to adopt an ICM application is their cost. He is in favor of using Excel spreadsheets for compensation data collection and analysis. He says that “Spreadsheets are simple to use, inexpensive and they do the basic job”.

David does not agree; he says that spreadsheets are “too basic and error-prone”. He also says that “sales is much too complex for a spreadsheet”. He concludes that there is a middle ground with smaller-scale on-demand ICM applications such as PlanIt (which I reviewed previously), that do not require a large upfront cost.

The Bottom Line:

No matter which approach is used, I’m sure we can all agree that the goal is to make the compensation plans as straightforward as possible. If there is a valid reason for a plan to use some “complex” measurement, fine… as long as it’s easy to understand and clearly communicated to the payees.

As for the need for an ICM application; if an organization is small enough with a low enough order volume and is happy with their current spreadsheet, and if they don’t see any benefits in real-time analytics and dashboards, auditability, modeling, forecasting, and all the other benefits provided by an ICM solution, then there probably no incentive to replace the spreadsheet by such an application.

I agree with Greg that spreadsheets do the “basic job”, but in my experience it does not take very long even for small organizations to realize that the “basic job” is not enough anymore to keep a competitive advantage.

Common Pitfalls in Sales Compensation Design

May 13, 2008

Today I attended the “Common Pitfalls in Sales Compensation Design” webinar, hosted by Makana Solutions, featuring guest speaker Donya Rose, Founding Partner of the Cygnal Group, a sales compensation consulting company.

I did not manage to get the audio working (the toll-free number was only for Americans and the International number was out-of-service). However I will quickly recap the major pitfalls identified, based on the presentation deck.

Pitfall 1: Sales Credit Wars
Symptom: Time is spent fighting over who is supposed to get credit
Cause: Lack of documentation, rules not formalized
Cost: Lost sales, management distraction, potentially double crediting, morale issues
Solution: Document the policies and credit-sharing criteria

My comment: Another cost which must be considered is the waste of time for the comp team trying to resolve issues and conflicts. In large organizations this can be a huge time burden. However it is generally fairly easy to minimize this situation by having well established rules.

Pitfall 2: Too many Measures
Symptom: Sales people ignore some of the required results and only focus on what makes them earn the biggest commission
Cause: Too many measures…
Cost: Lack of focus, compensation hard relate to actual results
Solution: Only use a few measures.

My Comment: This is a topic I addressed a few times on this blog. Consultants generally agree that there should be no more than 3 independent measures.
Pitfall 3: Commissions Rates only go up
Symptom: Sales people can earn too much money compared to the value they bring
Cause: Commission rates are related to the level of sales even if those sales are attributable to windfalls.
Cost: Comp cost is not in line with sales contribution
Solution: The commission rate should diminish passed a certain performance level

My Comment: A “regressive” commission can protect against an unexpected windfall, but can also avoid an excessive payout caused by a quota set too low.
I often see different rules, formulas and quotas used for orders exceeding a certain mount to avoid a windfall scenario.
Pitfall 4: Extraordinary Performance is Over-Rewarded
Symptom: Dependence on over-achiever sales people
Cause: Over-performance is too attractive to sales people
Cost: Sales people developed entitlement and demanding attitude, more risks
Solution: Use appropriate deceleration in commission rates

My Comment: Deceleration does not necessarily needs to be applied as soon as the initial target is reached. I have often seen cases where the rate increased once the target was reached, and decelerated after another performance level was attained.
Pitfall 5: Unattainable Goals
Symptom: Sales people give-up because goals are too high
Cause: Goal setting issue
Cost: Lack of motivation and engagement, results below expectations
Solution: Set goals appropriately

My Comment: Goal setting should be based on historical data if possible to be “just right”. Making goals too easy to attain can lead to other problems such as a lack of motivation to exceed goals if rate decreases after, or an excessive commission payout.
Pitfall 6: “Phantom Base”
Symptom: Sales People whose salary largely depends on commissions act like they are salaried and under-achieve.
Cause: Compensation plans that pay too much for prior-year sales
Cost: Sub-optimal level of performance, losing account acquisition and penetration skills
Solution: Pay more for new business and less for prior-year sales
Pitfall 7: First Dollar Commission + Base
Symptom: Sales people are too comfortable with below-target earnings
Cause: Sales people are paid a significant base salary and earn commission on sales from first dollar
Cost: Income+Commission too high for actual productivity
Solution: Only pay commission after a threshold level of sales is achieved

My Comment: Other alternatives are possible to fix this situation. The entire compensation mix could be re-evaluated and the base salary could be lowered. It would also be possible to adjust the commission rate before a threshold to minimize the impact of removing commission completely before a certain threshold.

Measuring Sales Force Performance (KPI)

May 12, 2008

Google “Key Performance Indicator” and you will find enough KPI information to feel dizzy. It is important to know the difference between a performance indicator – some metric that we want to track – and the “key Performance Indicators” – or the most crucial performance indicators, those on which people are generally compensated on.

A recent article “Measuring Sales Force Performance” at gives a few examples of performance indicators.

Customer and product related Measures:
– Number of new customers acquired
– Sales by product
– Sales by customer segment
– New product sales

Process Measures:
– Productivity
– Channel mix
– Turn-around time
– Number of calls made
– Number of prospects generated

Financial Measures:
– Sales value by geography
– Profitability
– Cost of acquisition
– Attrition
– Book growth
– Fee Income

Measuring metrics is one thing, but interpreting all the data collected is essential and usually the biggest challenge. There are a lot of industry benchmarks that can be used as indicators of how the company is performing compared to their competitors. Measures can also be compared against some framework, analyst point of view or analytics.

However I think the author of the article is entirely correct when he says that internal benchmarks are better because “they tell you what the best team can do in the same situation”. I think that performance indicator’s most valuable insight comes from comparing the metrics against historical data.

Sales Compensation Best Practices in the Banking Industry

April 29, 2008

Last week I attended the Accenture/Callidus Webinar “Industry Banking Best Practices for Maximizing Your Customer Value and Sales Behavior“. Below is a summary of some of the information that was discussed. I will leave out Callidus Wachovia’s case study for another post and focus on Accenture’s point of view.

Kirk Coleman, senior executive at Accenture discussed how the Banking industry was facing many issues and challenges. Regardless of the current market situation, customer expectations keep rising. Those who can exceed these expectations will have an opportunity to distinguish themselves from the competition.

Best Practices

  • Drive an incentive culture, not a bonus culture
  • Focus on the right employees
  • Timely delivery of rewards
  • Support capability development
  • Plan for a journey – not a “project”

Tests that banks should perform regularly to check and maintain their effectiveness:

  • Top performer’s pay relative to the market
  • Pay dispersion between top and average performers
  • Pay and performance correlation
  • Alignment of payouts with key financial/marketing objectives
  • Variability of incentive compensation year-over-year
  • Speads of quota attainment versus plan spread
  • Relevance and controllability of performance measures
  • Time spend correcting payouts

Kirk noted that behavior of customer facing employees is increasingly important in the banking industry. Developing capabilities across channels is important to avoid improving in one while losing in another.

Another point that Kirk stressed is the importance of timely delivery of rewards. Many banks have quarterly and annual bonus, but in these cases it is difficult for payees to see the relationship between their incentive pay and their behavior. In many cases a monthly incentive strategy would be more appropriate to be able to re-enforce the desired behaviour.

Kirk concluded by saying that Sales Compensation is essential for banks to effectively align sales force behavior with their goals.

I found an additional paper by Accenture “Sales Performance Management: Enterprise Incentive Management from Accenture” which adds some details to the topics covered by Kirk during the presentation.

Towers Perrin Announced the Launch of New Compensation Administration Tool

April 23, 2008

Towers Perrin today announced the launch of an industry-leading, next-generation compensation administration tool with built-in talent management capability, Comp Agility.

Towers Perrin is a global professional services firm that helps organizations improve their performance through effective people, risk and financial management.

Web-based Comp Agility is a complete solution and allows for users around the world to utilize and customize the tool’s content and applications to meet their needs. Job descriptions and competency models can be adjusted to address market and internal considerations, and compensation design can easily be analyzed with region specific data.

The Comp Agility Suite consists of two modules:

Market Analyzer: This Web-based compensation analysis module provides a range of solutions and capabilities, including data storage and review, online benchmarking, a survey data browser, a market-pricing function, a survey submission function and a reporting tool.

Role Analyzer: This Web-based module lets you design and manage information about jobs and job evaluation, manage employee competency assessments, manage your organizational and functional competency models, and produce various workforce distribution reports.

I haven’t seen Comp Agility in action nor have I heard feedback from any client yet, but I will provide more information as soon as I do.

Read the full Press Release.

More information about Comp Agility can be found here.

Sales Compensation Planning Made Easy – Interview with Makana Solutions

April 22, 2008

I recently had the opportunity to spend an hour with Liz Cobb, Founder and CEO of Makana Solutions, and with Arthur Gehring, Director of Marketing.

Makana is a relatively new company (founded in 2004) offering a very good on-demand application, called Makana Motivator, which helps build effective and clear compensation plans. Makana Motivator is very easy to use and allows its users to quickly create a plan either based on other sample plans, or from the ground up. It also has the capability to “test” your plan.

As I mentioned several times, one of the biggest challenges faced by sales management or consultants when implementing a sales compensation system is the “complexity” of the compensation plans. Sometimes compensation plans are quickly described in a e-mail or over the phone, or almost handed over written on a napkin. In other scenarios, they are can be well documented but may still lack clarity, key aspects, or examples, or may be lengthy. Finally, even if a compensation plan is well documented, it does not mean that the plan is effective and well aligned with the objectives and budget of the company.

The Makana Motivator application is very intuitive to use. Companies using the application typically receive a 1-hour live tutorial from Makana, after which they are able to model plans on their own. The main components of the application consist of the space in which the plans are built, where the organization is built with assignments and territories (participants can be imported from, a section for cost modeling the plans, and finally, a section that generates a plan and gives the option to save it as a PDF.

In my opinion, one of the most powerful aspects of Makana Motivator is that it allows users to choose templates from a best-practice library and to adapt them to meet individual circumstances. The application then guides the user following a “wizard” step-by-step approach to ensure nothing is overlooked. The application is very interactive; hovering over most of the application components provides additional feedback . “Blue-ribbon advice” offering expert tips and help is also available throughout the process.

Another important feature of this application is the ability to display and compare plans side by side. Such a graphical representation quickly helps identify the major differences between plans.

Plans are not only displayed side-by-side; they can also be designed and modified side-by-side. Plans consist of measures and formulas which can be edited by expanding their respective section.

The cost modeling section can show costs for the entire company or byany sub-set such as product group or geography. Projected attainment can be modified to gain an idea of the impact of those variables on the overall incentive costs. Many sales performance management applications offer modeling and analytics capabilities, but Makana Motivator allows its users to model the plans BEFORE they are implemented rather than after, which can save a lot of time, money and headaches.

Once the plans are fully designed, and since the application is on-demand; they can easily be circulated and feedback can be gathered directly in the application. Upon acceptance of the plans, plan documents can be individualized and generated. The resulting plans are very clear and easy to understand by consultants, comp teams and sales reps alike, and are visually pleasing.

Motivator adds a lot of value over the spreadsheets used for planning today by streamlining the process, providing best practice guidance, easy cost modeling, clear plans and an audit trail. Makana Motivator also provides users Apexchange certified integration.

Read more about what customers have to say about Makana Motivator.

After completing a form on the Makana website, you can access several free webinars and articles about Makana Motivator and compensation plan design best practices.

More on Incentive Unexpected Behaviors and Group Competition

February 9, 2008

Paul Hebert posted a great follow up post on his Incentive Intelligence blog regarding group competition. I contributed my own personal story:

Several years ago I was a programmer for a large telecom company. The project manager felt like the development team were not producing enough results and the project faced typical issues – deadlines were missed, the project was lagging, it was over budget… To fix the ‘problem’, a competition was organized. The ‘lines of code’, a typical software metric, were used to determine who was the ‘best’ programmer. This lead to big quality problems as employees were focusing on quantity instead of quality.

Realizing this, the manager decided to tweak the contest rules. The winner would have the best (lines of code) / defect ratio. This helped a bit with the quality, but employees were still focusing on writing code, disregarding some of their other tasks like documentation, mentoring junior employees, trying to fix existing defects, etc. Everyone was also trying to avoid any ‘difficult code’ to reduce the chances of creating defects.

The competition ended up being cancelled…

To this story, Paul answered with a very insightful comment:

… The solution for your project manager should have started with “root causes” not incentives. If he/she had gone through an analysis to find out “why” the problem existed the program could have been designed around that issue. Too often we measure results – not the steps to the results – which is where the issue lies.

Group Competition Incentive Pros and Cons

February 7, 2008

A recent post here highlighted some of the pros and cons of a group competition incentive program. The article pointed to an interesting study which tries to demonstrate how relative rewards play a role in economic motivation.

I responded to the post explaining my reasons for disliking internal competition as a mean to incent employees, including some of the major pitfalls to workforce segmentation for incentive purposes. I also included a reference to a good organizational behavior article from Stanford University, also describing some the risks associated to internal competition.

The pros and cons to internal competition listed by Paul Hebert in his blog were the following:


  • Fixed (closed budget) – can’t go over budget – the awards are fixed
  • Depending on industry and company culture highlighting standings reports on who’s in which place in each group can create a real up-tick in performance


  • Depending on performance distribution it could be difficult or impossible to create fair competitive groups
  • There will be losers – people could double their performance but not earn an award since the outcome is a stack ranking of each person’s performance.

To me, the biggest “Con” is that such contests go against the concept of developing the employee’s ability to work cooperatively to reach corporate goals. As a matter of fact, it encourages a culture where employees try to outwit each other and loose sight of who the competition really is.

If the goal is to offer an incentive program on a fixed budget, I suggested some alternatives including:

1) Reward all (or a large group) of employees equally, and/or

2) Use the money to purchase some desirable widgets for everyone, great door prizes for quarterly meetings, and to sponsor milestone team events.

Paul replied to my comment saying that there was still a place for internal competition as a short-term adjunct to an entire reward and recognition strategy. I somewhat agree with that statement, but I think that the potential negative outweighs the positive in most situations.