Scott Barton, Varicent’s VP of Incentives & 20-year sales compensation industry pro, attended WorldatWork’s 2022 Sales Compensation Conference. The following are his takeaways:
- Sales compensation as a field is resilient: David Cichelli’s Compensating the Sales Force has maintained a steady sales volume since its release 20 years ago.
- Advances in tech are changing the field, including virtual selling and AI.
- Despite these advances, few industry pros currently use predictive or prescriptive analytics for determining sales compensation plan effectiveness.
- The field is growing: 40% of conference attendees were first-timers.
- Is change in the air? Controversial panel titles included “Making the Case for 100% Base Salary in Sales” and “Comp Plan Documents Released in the First Month of the Fiscal Year?”
- Two truths remain unchanged: Comp is just one tool for motivating salespeople, and upstream planning is still key.
Having attended this year’s WorldatWork Sales Compensation conference in Chicago, I’m struck by two things: the resiliency of sales compensation as a relevant topic, and all that is new in the field.
WorldatWork’s sales comp conference is the premier event for sales compensation professionals. The conference provides education and certification, networking, and in-depth sessions focused on sales compensation, sales operations effectiveness, and sales analytics.
For those like myself who have practiced sales compensation for over 20 years and attended this event nearly as long, the WorldatWork conference is filled with familiar faces and themes.
Members of the Varicent team.
One of those faces belongs to David Cichelli, consultant, educator, and author of multiple books, including Compensating the Sales Force. David shared with me that his seminal text on sales comp maintains a steady sales volume since it was first released nearly 20 years ago. Clearly, the topic remains relevant today.
A more contemporary theme, familiar by now but perhaps foreign prior to the 2020 conference, centered on empowerment and the changing attitudes towards work. Speaker Brian Solis, author, and VP of global innovation at Salesforce, encouraged the audience to challenge business as usual.
Conference attendees had plenty of opportunity to see innovation in action through multiple tech demonstrations, such as (forgive me as I take a moment to recognize my team) Varicent’s Sales Planning solution.
(Sales compensation, of course, relies heavily on the sales planning process. Upstream deficiencies in sales planning impact sales comp plan effectiveness. It’s a timely topic for those practitioners who are in the thick of their annual planning cycle, and one that resonated with many of the conference attendees.)
Varicent’s tech demonstration.
For example, artificial intelligence enables the efficient and practical application of unstructured data for sales performance management and incentive plan design.
This includes capture and analysis of emails and recorded conversations between salespeople and customers to prescribe best practices. Cool stuff!
Varicent hosted a panel discussion on the career of a sales compensation professional, from the perspective of three different career stages: early, mid, and advanced. The advanced view, as represented by Dell Technology’s Keith Briscoe, emphasized the growing importance of analytics and technology – key ingredients to informing strategic decisions and enabling operational efficiency.
Careers in sales compensation planning panel.
ZS’s Chad Albrecht led one of many sessions focused on data and analytics. Based on a show of hands and my observations from subsequent table discussions, few people use predictive or prescriptive analytics for determining sales compensation plan effectiveness.
This, combined with an estimated 40% of conference attendees who were first-timers, suggests there’s plenty of opportunity for adopting new practices and tools in the effort to optimize sales comp.
One of the more attention-grabbing session titles was “Making the Case for 100% Base Salary in Sales.” I envisioned a room full of angry practitioners, armed with torches and pitchforks. How dare someone question the legitimacy of my trade!
Luckily, nobody got hurt, or even offended. Rather, the sessions emphasized a few long-standing principles — centrally, that sales comp is but one of multiple management practices for motivating and recognizing salespeople.
If anything, many of the attendees appeared energized by the prospect of trying new and creative incentive pay practices. Staying innovative and competitive in the war for sales talent depends on it.
Another such provocative title was “Comp Plan Documents Released in the First Month of the Fiscal Year?” Most sales planning teams aspire to reach this goal. In my experience, few do.
The topic and moribund situation for many companies speaks to the importance of upstream planning. Budgets, territories, and quotas are opportune moments in the sales planning cycle. Much of the plan documentation phase is contingent on these upstream sales planning disciplines. While relatively administrative, the timely delivery of new plan documents says a lot to the sales team about incentive program integrity.
The conference wrapped with a panel discussion titled “Insights and Lessons Learned from more than 100 Years in the Profession!” This featured three well-seasoned consultants, with a cumulative number of billing hours that’s in the millions. They are also members of the WorldatWork faculty and have dedicated a portion of their careers to helping grow the careers of others.
Certainly, this inspires the next generation of professionals to give back as well. Said Rae Johannessen, the early-in-career panelist in Varicent’s careers session, she’s excited, through her work as compensation analyst, to “positively influence our salespeople’s experience with the company and our programs.” It’s a refreshing view on a timeless truth: happy salespeople produce happy customers.
To learn more about the important role compensation plays in motivating sales teams and best practices, I invite you to read my blog, What I Wish I Knew About Incentive Compensation Plan Assessment Best Practices.
Want more time in Scott Barton’s brain? Check out his vision for sales compensation structuring in episode 219 of the Sales Hacker Podcast.
Edited by Kendra Fortmeyer @ Sales Hacker 2022