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Is Sales Compensation Coming From The Battery Drawer?

Is Sales Compensation Coming From The Battery Drawer?

My mouse started acting up the other day. That usually means the batteries are wearing out, so I headed over to the battery drawer for new batteries.

What a mess. Lots of batteries, finding a fit wasn’t the problem. I just had no idea if any of them were any good. So I did what was necessary, which was try all the various combinations of those batteries until I got something like the performance I needed to make the mouse run again. But at this rate I have no idea how long it’ll work because I somewhat randomized my chances for success by just taking what I could find. (If your battery drawer is better organized than mine, I salute you!)

“…and I thought I was Eveready…”

When you start “going through the battery drawer” to design a sales compensation plan, you have just about as much chance to get it right as I did with my mouse. Problem is, the stakes are a lot higher for your company and the sales force. You might find a great combination that results in a super-charged field sales team, producing at unheard of performance levels. Winner winner, chicken dinner!! On the other hand, think of all the other possibilities, like great payouts but not so great results, or any combination that results in detrimental effects on the sales force or the company..

So randomizing the inputs probably isn’t how you’ll be successful in this particular compensation expertise. You need to be thoughtful with sales compensation plan design so unlike my experience with the battery drawer, you’ll produce the kind of excellence you can rely on. For example:

What Else Other Than the Batteries?

Batteries might not be the problem. Sure, it’s easy to check the batteries first, but you should always start with the owner’s manual! Consider all the factors that influence the results your sales force are getting. Are they trained? What’s the status of your product or service, are you growing or falling behind the competition in features and benefits? Is marketing generating demand? Did the business strategy change and the sales plan didn’t? Are finance or other processes keeping the sales force from getting desired results?

Call MacGyver?

Use the right size batteries, put them in the right way and don’t mix sizes. I’ve opened up battery cases and found the wrong sized batteries even though almost every battery case made is pre-molded to the right size. But desperate times call for desperate measures, right? It can be so easy to just try something and hope it works and everyone can get back to work. But not having the right mix between base and incentive, unclear sales role definitions, having the wrong people on sales incentives or using any old performance measure mix may work for a while but will eventually short out.

How Old Are Those Batteries?

Some batteries aren’t accessible. Many newer electronic products use battery power, but you aren’t supposed to open the battery case. If you’re being told there’s nothing wrong with the sales plan, and you haven’t seen any supporting performance data, I’d suggest getting another opinion. Typically sales operations groups are rich with data, and with a little market data you can fairly quickly get an idea for just how effective your plans are, and whether getting at those batteries might just be a worthwhile project after all. For example, are top performers earning at the desired excellence levels? How much are underperforming reps earning? Did most of the sales force achieve quota last year? Were they supposed to?

“I sat next to this guy on the plane…”

Don’t use used batteries, and safely dispose of the old ones. Chances are your business isn’t really exactly like the one your new sales VP came from, or where your HR/compensation peer works. You have so many options and alternatives when it comes to designing sales incentives; don’t give away your creativity to others. And after you’ve tried something and it didn’t work, make sure you’ve documented what the issue was. Chances are you are probably doing something right but could just use a fresh set of eyes (or new batteries?).


Sometimes you have to go to Batteries+. Although batteries are available at most corner stores, sometimes you need an expert to help figure out what to do next. Over the years I’ve found that most people seem to think they are compensation experts. As a matter of fact, count the total employees in your company and subtract one and that is the number of people who seem to know as much (or more) about compensation as you do. And you probably don’t need an external consulting expert for every single thing every single year. But if it’s been a while and you’re not sure you’re still getting the most out of sales compensation, there are folks like me who do this work, and by the way really enjoy it. I’ve found few places in a company where you can learn more about a company and what it takes to make them successful than in the process it takes to design sales compensation plans.

Problem solved? Not so much!

Last night we were going to sit down and binge on a show on one of the streaming services. I went to turn on the TV and a message came up, “No Source Identified” so I take the remote and start pushing buttons, nothing happens. I shout downstairs, “Bring up 2 AAA batteries for the remote!” One, I hadn’t opened the remote fully other than to see it had AAA batteries, and two, I hadn’t thought what else might be wrong. Turns out I was wrong on two counts (the wi-fi needed to be reset, and the remote required 4 AAA batteries). After I reset the wi-fi, everything worked and we happily binged away.

I’m happy again, and continue to learn about batteries.


Jim Harvey is a Managing Partner with Alliance Compensation LLC ( , a team of seasoned experts and trusted solution for clients across the Western US in public and private companies. He has over 40 years of experience in corporate leadership roles and consulting, and lives with his wife and three dogs in Sherwood, OR.

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