“A La Carte” Comp Plans


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Every once in a while, some of us go to a 5-star restaurant. Rather than ordering off the menu, choosing appetizers, soups, entrees, sides, desserts, wines, piecemeal; we ask the chef to prepare a complete meal. The chef makes the choices for everything from soup to nuts (literally), making sure we get a complete meal (where we might skip things ordering from the menu). The chef makes choices such that each dish complements and works with the other, even making the wine choices. The focus is on a once in a lifetime dining experience, skipping nothing.

While these experiences are very expensive, the few times I’ve had the opportunity, the investment has been well worth it. Every time, the experience is far better than what I might have chosen myself.

But most of the time, I order from the menu, sometimes skipping certain things, maybe the appetizer, often skipping the soup, and increasingly (as I watch my weight) dessert. And I pay for each dish, but am not getting the total dining experience.

I’m noticing something similar in selling. Traditionally, we have comp plans where commissions are paid for getting the order, generating revenue. That’s kind of like the pris fixe dining experience. We get compensated based on doing the complete job.

But selling is different from a dining experience–even the a la carte choices I normally make. While in dining, I can skip courses, in selling, we can’t skip anything. We can’t choose to do only one part of our job and not do another part of our job. We have to do the whole job.

But it’s interesting, increasingly, I’m seeing “a la carte” comp plans. Prospecting seems to be the driving issue right now. I’ve seen numerous discussions around, “our people aren’t doing the prospecting needed to fill their pipelines, but if we compensate them on their prospecting efforts, we can incent them to do the work….”


Isn’t that part of the job? How do they achieve their quotas, max out their comp plan, if they don’t do the whole job? How do they, and we, succeed if they only pick and choose the parts of the job they like–or get paid to do?

I’m imagining an a la carte version of comp plans, you get paid for these prospecting results, you get paid for keeping CRM updated, for discovery calls, for presenting a proposal, for giving us a forecast, for closing. How do we count the number of objections they get, so we can comp them on objection handling? As a salesperson on this plan, I would provoke as many objections as I could.

Maybe, I’ve become a dinosaur, I’ve now been in selling for 40 years. But I’ve always thought hitting my goals, maxing my quota attainment, maxing my comp/bonus plan is a result of doing the whole job, not just the pieces I like.

Maybe I lack imagination, I could earn a lot of money if all I did was just prospect (I actually enjoy prospecting). I could forget all the other tedious and boring stuff.

My old school responses to sales people complaining about prospecting is, “It’s part of the job, do you want to keep your job? Do you want to get paid the commissions and bonuses that caused you to accept this job?” (Of course I would be more sensitive in explaining this.)

It is unimaginable to me that we entertain people choosing which parts of the job they want to do and those they don’t like to do. It’s unimaginable that we are considering incentives for those pieces of the job they must do but don’t like doing.

But I start doubting myself. Many of the people participating in these conversations around a la carte comp, are really outstanding sales leaders, wickedly smart people. What’s causing them to think this way?

I start thinking about tenure, average tenure for sales roles is about 11 months. Perhaps people are accepting jobs, doing the parts they like, earning what they can, then moving onto the next role picking and choosing to do the parts of the job they like.

Perhaps this is what’s happening, people are closing deals that are in the pipeline, knowing they don’t have to worry about generating new pipeline because they will move on……

Perhaps that explains the focus and desperation we see around prospecting. Pipelines are getting drained and no one wants to fill them. Perhaps we “pay for performance,” and if we want prospecting we have to pay for it.

This starts to explain some of the other discussions I’ve been seeing. I’ve seen discussions around getting VAs to do research, because people just want to make calls, they don’t want to take the time to learn about the customer. And some are considering comp to do the research. AAs unbelievable as this seems, these are really outstanding leaders thinking about these alternatives.

This all seems broken! I acknowledge these discussions are being conducted by serious people, but I continue to wonder, “Are we really understanding the problem? Are we addressing the real issues, are are we putting band aids on a serious wound?

There can be great value in “segmenting” parts of the job, as long as the whole job is being done as impactfully as possible. There are things that distract people from selling time, we need to minimize these, finding ways to handle them more effectively and efficiently. But when we define “the job,” people must commit to doing the whole job, not just those parts they like. And creating “incentives,” that drive them to do what they should be doing, anyway, just seem crazy.

Or I think, maybe I’ll become an appetizer and dessert sales person. I love prospecting, I love closing deals. All the stuff in between is tedious.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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