How are sales and commissions going for you this year? It is likely that if you are anything other than a zoom rep or in the toilet paper industry, you are experiencing a pretty tough year. So how does this impact you from a commissions perspective? If you are a salesperson, you’re likely looking at your paycheck in utter disgust wondering if you will stay employed…join the rest of us. If you are in leadership or finance, you might be thinking about things a little differently. You could be looking at the opportunity to double down if you feel good about your product or service and industry, or you could be looking at how to keep the ship afloat. In either case, the question is: what information do you need to make the best decisions for you and your company?

If you are sales ops
In these unprecedented times, you are likely getting requests every minute from either management or finance. “We need these projections”, “we need to know our expenses”, “we need a miracle, can your system do that?” Conversely, perhaps some relative peace and quiet has allowed you to get through a lot of those pesky issues that have been lingering on or resolve some outstanding disputes. Most likely though, given the activity of the industry seen on Linkedin, you are trying to refashion your commission plans. Maybe you are trying to understand if you should change them, leave them, burn them. Management has to be looking at quotas at least and questioning whether to change them and how to project out for the upcoming years. So what do you do with the above problems?

1. Take inventory, provide finance and management with a year over year quota attainment report, more specifically how quota was trending towards Feb 2019 – Feb 2020.

2.  Look at items other than revenue. Sales rep pipeline, unless you were in the lucky group, was likely a complete reset. Then everyone freaked out for a couple of months. Now is the time to identify and move towards metrics that measure things that allow for revenue success and to ensure that salespeople are getting back to the basic activities that help fill their funnel such as CRM activity, initial call conversion, etc. This is a report that could provide actionable insight for Sales Managers.

3.  Forecasting is going to be key and those pesky finance people are going to want this information. How do you forecast and what data do you provide in such uncertain times? One suggestion is to include subsets of information into your forecast that aren’t trend analysis based on sales figures such as the sales behavior metrics mentioned above. Of course, the finance group will ask for what they want, but couldn’t we as sales operations recommend something? Why not look at activity in related industries, how are they faring? You could look at different countries. In this case, you could look at something completely unrelated but just check consumer sentiment.

4.  Changing commission plans to be more representative of the current global situation is likely a top priority. This goes back to understanding the metrics that will help your company survive and thrive in the future. This also means you will have to be nimble and flexible with what you create and change, because you may need to change it back or scrap it completely.

If you are a salesperson
Take a deep breath. If you have metrics not based on sales revenue then you should be looking to hit those. If you don’t have such metrics then set some targets for yourself and communicate with your manager and/or Sales Ops to suggest generating and distributing reports based on such metrics. For you, your focus may well shift from the reports or dashboards generated by your commissions system, but rather CRM activities and some of the blocking and tackling needed in order to grow the funnel again. You have likely experienced what a lot of us have, which is anything in the funnel pre-COVID is on ice if you are lucky. Take this time to understand the metrics put in your plan that are non-revenue based. Understand the latest corporate strategy of your organisation and how to best align your sales activities to ensure you are on message. Finally, gently nurture your existing relationships. Your customers or prospects will appreciate the human touch. We are all going through tough times, a simple “How are you doing?” can go a long way.

You may need to be ready for a change in your commission plan as it becomes clear you aren’t going to make your quota. Admit there is an elephant in the room and be constructive about how to handle it. The good news is that your competitors are likely in the same boat. If they aren’t doing the small things, like maintaining communication with potential customers even when knowing those customers won’t buy this minute, you will be able to beat them on deals when the purse strings start to open.

If you are a Sales manager
How do you drive your team? Do you have standing calls every day, twice a day?
It’s time to review how your team was doing before the disruption of COVID and use this time to provide coaching. Yes, we need to get back to closing deals and you will likely need to make decisions that aren’t easy. This is the time to revert to your reports, metrics and measures that people were hitting previously and where some needed help. Do you need to call out specific individuals for pay protection? How can you incentivise your sales team to restart the revenue engine that your leadership is begging for?

From a reporting and data analysis perspective, you need to gather information about historical top performers and understand the metrics that made them as successful as they were. What can you do to ensure they can get back to their winning wins. This may be difficult, given there are different activities involved in building a pipeline to those required to close deals. Many of your top performers may need to be retrained in prospect acquisition as their funnel may be entirely gone. This could require coaching on skills that perhaps those people don’t have. This specific information can be harvested from commission systems by looking at your junior reps. By looking at their success criteria and understanding what activities they perform to fulfil them. The metrics that were enabling your junior people to be successful could well be applied to you senior group. A good example would be joint marketing and sales efforts, call outreach and maybe even old school mailing letters.

Whether you’re in sales operations, a salesperson or a sales manager your world of commission will have changed with the fast-changing circumstances we all find ourselves in today. Those who can embrace change, see disruption as an opportunity and pivot quickly given new information will be the survivors. Understanding what information you need, where to retrieve it and how best to interpret and act on it will give you the edge you need.