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You are so right. Sales does not want us and we run in fear. My experience has been that many sales compensation programs suffer from a long term perspective and run as year to year programs. This often makes them suffer in credibility with the people they are designed to incent. HR could bring that longer term perspective and ask the "what if" questions, such as "what if some one is a 1000% over quota.. are we willing to pay a huge commission?" I have seen situations in the software business where a program was designed to pay a certain amount, someone hit a major sale and now was owed $8 million in commission. Company cam back and said "we cannot pay out $8 million in commission." It got very nasty after that with lawsuits for breach of contract.

So HR can ask the hard questions and bring the longer term perspective.


Thanks for the thoughts, and I agree. Pressing for a longer-term - versus a transactional - point of view in designing sales compensation plans is just one of the benefits that I think we can bring to the table.

There are probably a few other empty seats at that table, too. I remember asking (in a job interview) whether the theater marketing person (= me) would get to sit in on planning sessions for the upcoming play season? Because I'd be in charge of *selling* it for them? DUH. But they looked at me like I'd just asked for a plate of cheese. (I didn't get THAT job, either ;)

You are absolutely right that in order to get a seat at the table we first have to be sure we're ready for one, and that doesn't means doing the right homework. I also think that we should cultivate an expectation for that seat, too (both individually, and as a profession -- e.g., THIS sort of post!) No one else will assume you have a right to something unless you first assume you have a right to it, yourself.

Sales Compensation design requires understanding of business profitability and what motivates sales people. Most sales incentive designs either focus too much on motivation (rewarding the sales without real thoughts of the consequences of cost) or too business focus thinking that sales professionals are easily replaceable. I was a HR Business Partner who eventually head the HR function, although I wasnt very welcome at the Chief Executives meeting, my HR suggestions are always welcome because I took a business perspective when presenting my proposals.


Your example makes me smile. Imagine, having the person responsible for selling the theatre experience to the public at the table when the theatre experience is being planned. Radical! And I like your suggested sequence - make sure you are ready/positioned to contribute in that seat ... and then assume you have a right to be where you can add value!


You're right - making sure we develop and present our people ideas through the lens of a business perspective will help assure that we are a welcome addition to any discussion. Thanks for the comment!


I couldn't agree with you more and appreciate your writing on this. I've been a sales comp consultant for over 18 years and the norm in my experience is that when HR is at the design table, they too often add little value. I concur that it is because they don't do the work required to understand their internal client - the sales force. No, the head of sales won't initiate the task of educating the HR team. It's up to the HR team to take the initiative and insert itself into the sales org. I've written and spoken on this subject in the past, always to a lot of head-nodding, but I wonder if enough are really getting the message.

I'll also say that on those few occasions where HR was well represented at the table, it made my job easier. The design process went more smoothly and the ultimate sales comp design solution was better for the company. However, I believe that HR's influence can't stop at the conclusion of the design effort. HR also should play a meaningful role in the implementation effort and, possibly, in the ongoing administration of the sales compensation plan.


Thanks for sharing your experience here. And, unfortunately, you're correct - an unprepared, uninformed HR person at the table will not add value to the process. Sales is a fascinating area - hopefully we can encourage my HR colleagues to take the steps necessary to develop more expertise and understanding of this critical function.

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About The Author

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    Compensation consultant Ann Bares is the Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group. Ann has more than 20 years of experience consulting with organizations in the areas of compensation and performance management.

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