Tag Archives: Bonus

What is an Effective Sales Compensation Plan? Seven Thoughts

Situation: The CEO of a software company pays a high base and incentives for their key sales person. While this is in line with the company’s industry, the CEO wants the opinions of others as to the comp packages they offer and any controls that they put in place. What is an effective sales compensation plan?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • While the paid seems high, your industry may be different from other industries. Most see a 50/50 split between base and incentive as the norm.
  • Consider a draw system so that if the individual falls behind you have the option to reduce future draws.
  • Look at both the compensation formulas, and at the individuals’ predilections and the behaviors that you want to generate. Compensation should align with desired behavior and results.
  • Do you have bonus incentive plans in place for your sales support people? Consider these, and check whether the goals and objectives for your sales and support people complement each other. They should.
  • Consider a discretionary bonus pot that you can use to reward specific achievements at your discretion.
  • What will you do if your sales person performs significantly below target – for example, this person is only hitting 40% of the objective after 2-3 quarters?
    • Consequences for non-performance should be clearly understood by both you and the employee before you launch any new plan with the individual.
  • Whatever you decide for this person, you may well be setting a standard that you will have to live with as you hire additional sales personnel.

How Do You Recruit a VP of Sales & Marketing? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A company has grown to five times the size that that were when they hired their last Vice President of Sales & Marketing, and are looking for a new VP of Sales & Marketing. What is your advice as they embark on this search? How do you recruit a VP of Sales & Marketing?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Think coach as opposed to star player. You are a much larger company, and at this phase of growth you need an individual with good marketing skills combined with sales management skills. You need a brand builder.
  • Recently, another CEO went through a similar process. His mistake was hiring a person with deep domain experience, when what they really needed was a person with process/methodology experience in complex sales. In your case, consider an individual from a larger company in your industry, or an allied industry. Somebody with knowledge of similar technical sales processes to your company with similar complexity and similar lead flows.
  • Skip head hunters. Based on your knowledge of good companies in your industry use LinkedIn to find who’s who. You can look at three pools of candidates – those that you can hire away from these companies, those who have worked there but are out of work, and early retirees who have found that they now need to go back to work.
  • Research current salary ranges in your industry and plan to be competitive, both base and bonus target.
    • As this individual will be a doer-manager make bonus qualification a combination of personal quota and team performance (overall new sales growth vs. existing projects).
  • While another CEO agrees that you don’t need a head hunter, find someone who can organize the process – review resumes, perform screening interviews, schedule higher level interviews, follow-ups, etc. – and who will work on an hourly basis.
  • Have a job application and be sure to ask for the following:
    • Criminal records,
    • Copies of last W-2s.
    • State on the application: falsehood is grounds for immediate termination.
    • Do or outsource formal background checks including verification of education and degrees.
  • Personally call references for your finalists. Ask these references who else knows this person and speak to them, as well.

How Do You Establish Accountability for Results? Four Ideas

Situation: A CEO has difficulty gaining realistic projections from sales – projections for which they will be accountable. For example, the VP of Sales promises X but delivers Y – a result substantially below X. What methods have you have used to get realistic assessments and commitments from sales executives? How do you establish accountability for results?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Shift the issue from their accountability to your own accountability to the company.
    • In order to ship to the projected sales targets, we will need to scale up production to X level, hire Y personnel, and invest in Z inventory. If we miss the target by 20% here’s the impact on our financial performance for the next period. Are we comfortable, as a company, with this exposure, or should we adjust our plan to reduce the exposure.
    • This makes it easier for the sales executive, for the good of the company, to reduce the projection if they are not confident that they will make it.
  • Do you need to examine your commission structure as well as bonuses for sales executives? Consider scaling commissions to make sure that the sales team hits their targets. Make them hungry by offering lower commissions for lower targets, but increasing total commissions for meeting and exceeding targets.
    • Have the sales team project their sales. If the projected level meets company objectives and they meet them they make X%. However, if they fall short they make successively smaller fractions of X% depending upon how much they fall short.
  • Currently, the ratio between new and repeat sales is 20% / 80%.
    • To focus the sales team on new sales, reduce commissions on repeat sales, and increase commissions on new or increased sales and/or accounts.
  • Good sales people are competitive and often respond to pride. Give them in incentive – hit the sales target and get trip to Las Vegas with your spouse or guest.

Are You Planning Salary Increases This Year? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company’s staff is highly paid. Historically, annual raises have been 4-5%; however some individuals are above industry salary ranges. The CEO doesn’t want to lose key individuals who would be expensive to replace. The company is planning salary increases for the end of this year. If the level is lower than historic averages they are concerned about the impact. Are planning for salary increases this year? How will you communicate your decision to employees?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • What’s the problem? Even in an improving economy your employees are lucky to be making what they do! On top of this, you need to consider profitability compared to last year as well as historic levels. Selectively share financial data with your employees as well as financial realities – your and their top priority are to keep the company healthy.
  • Gather data on salary ranges for roles in your industry. Good sources are Salary.com for national data (it may be dated) or Assets Unlimited’s Silicon Valley Survey for up-to-date salary information by industry and position. This will help you to prepare for conversations with employees who are currently paid above the range for their positions.
  • If you have employees above the range and do not want to give them raises, give them bonuses or spot bonuses for work well done.
  • Formalize your bonus system – base bonuses on performance metrics. Consider tying bonuses to net margin performance for the company or for departments that can impact new margin.
  • Whatever you decide, make announcements about salary levels a positive event.

How Do You Set Appropriate Expectations? Four Suggestions

Situation: A CEO asks: How do you help people appreciate the difference between where they want to be verses where you need them to be? How do you help them understand the realities of career and financial potential that have been set for your company? What do you do to help your employees understand what has to happen before they get to the next step? How do you set appropriate expectations?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The current labor market has yielded a different employment environment compared with 20 years ago. Many new hires are either:
    • Young – without long term expectations or perspective;
    • Possess an entitlement mentality;
    • More seasoned and possibly looking toward retirement; or
    • Have personality challenges.

 This is just current reality and will last until the next contraction.

  • If you have a clear policy on compensation and promotion you are way ahead of the game because you can communicate this clearly at onset of employment. If you don’t have this, create it and make sure that it is communicated consistently to new employees and during all employee reviews.
  • Once you have established and communicated a clear policy on compensation and promotion the question becomes, on an individual basis, whether an employee “gets it” or not. If they don’t, perhaps your company is not for them.
  • Is there value to stock options as a bonus?
    • If you are a public company, they have value because stock options are tradable within legal guidelines.
    • If you are a private company it’s a different matter. Other than as an emotional boost, without a liquidity event the stock has no value except for possible periodic distributions against shares held.

Can Bonus Plans Differ Between Departments? Four Thoughts

Situation: A CEO wants to build a new bonus program for the company’s professional services team. He wants to include a customer satisfaction component, because the group is historically weak in this area. Does it make sense to have a different bonus plan for professional services personnel and managers than for product development personnel and managers? Can bonus plans differ between departments?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Many companies have different bonus structures for different departments. This is natural because different departments have different functions. For example, Sales may evaluated for bonuses based on a combination of revenue and gross margin achievement, while Finance is evaluated on profitability and Product Development is evaluated on hitting product launch schedules and new product sales.
  • Changing bonus structures can be a sensitive matter. If the team impacted is not included in the process of drafting the new plan, changes may be perceived as negative. If this is the case, it’s better to frame the new program so that you limit your commitment to it to just one year, and let the team know that this may change this next year.
  • How do you go about including customer satisfaction surveys as a component of bonus calculation?
    • If you want to use customer satisfaction as part of the plan, benchmark customer service satisfaction before you launch the plan. If you don’t benchmark, how do you know whether performance improves?
    • Survey response rates will be an issue – you won’t get 100% and may get a survey response rate of 10% or worse. Be prepared for this and make sure that data with a low response rate will support your objectives.
    • A survey is a lagging metric. If you can find a measurable leading metric to use as well this is better.
    • Be careful of how the survey is drafted and who conducts it. Both can bias results.
  • As an alternative to making customer satisfaction part of a bonus plan, consider starting a customer satisfaction or loyalty program. The most important question to ask will be: would you recommend us to your peers?  Any low response guarantees a follow-up call from the company.

How Can You Best Use Excess Profits? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company, an S Corporation, produced substantial profits during the first 6 months of their fiscal year. This becomes taxable personal income to the owners if it remains profits. How would you advise the CEO and owners to make best use of these excess profits?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Use some of the funds to invest in new opportunities for the future growth of the company.
  • Prepay significant costs like software licenses multiple years in advance. Make sure that you attend to your accounting so that you properly reflect the ongoing profitability of the business. Otherwise, what you may believe is profitable in future years will not reflect true profitability because you will not be accounting for all of your true expenses.
  • Is anyone in the company deserving of a one-time special bonus for performance or a salary increase?
  • It may make sense to take dollars out of the company and to diversify owners’ investments by investing in real estate, stocks, etc.
    • Check out the current rules around 401K programs that may allow you to invest increased amounts per year per person. Talk to your financial advisor about the details and regulations surrounding these programs.
  • List your alternatives and compare the anticipated ROI, on an after-tax basis, of the various options. This will help you to evaluation options including:
    • Reinvesting in the business – various options.
    • Investing outside of the business – various options.
    • Talk to your financial planner about the choices.

What’s the Best Way to Allocate a Bonus Pool? Three Points

Situation: A company allocates 10% of pre-tax profit to a Bonus Pool. Employees qualify for quarterly bonuses based on company and group performance, and for semiannual bonuses based on individual performance. Last year not all funds were paid out of the pool because some employees failed to hit performance targets. What’s the best and fairest way to allocate the excess funds in the pool?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Why not let the pool be the pool? Employees will or will not qualify for bonus participation based on individual and group performance. The company determines who qualifies at each level and these individuals become the pool participants, splitting the full pool in proportion to their level of qualification and their salary.
  • Not all companies will do this based on pay and bonus level policies. For these companies there are options on what to do with unpaid bonus funds in the pool:
    • Leave the funds in the pool for future distribution;
    • Shift unpaid bonus to Retained Earnings; or
    • Retain a percent of the funds in the pool and shift the rest Retained Earnings.
  • Another consideration is whether to use discretionary or metric criteria to determine bonuses. Some companies use only or primarily metric criteria, others use discretionary criteria, and some use a blend of metrics for one portion of the bonus with the remaining portion discretionary. The rationale behind discretionary criteria is to give managers the opportunity to recognize extraordinary contributions that fall outside the normal metrics.

What are Your Plans for 2011 Bonuses? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A company has historically given Christmas bonuses at the rate of 10-20% of salary in a good year. The CEO is concerned that employees may stay until their bonus is received, and then leave for another job. What are your plans for 2011 bonuses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, what is your objective in granting bonuses? Which among the following are you trying to achieve?
    • Showing appreciation.
    • Acknowledgement of effort.
    • Effort above and beyond the norm.
    • Once you determine your goal, design a structure that will effect this goal.
  • What practices are typical for your industry – your competitors, vendors and clients?
    • Background research on industry practices provides a basis for your own practice. You can then evaluate whether varying from industry practice can give you an advantage.
  • Company performance should be a factor in determining bonus payment. So should performance against individual employee goals and objectives.
  • How much discretion should be given to managers for setting bonuses for their direct reports?
    • Talk to your managers and get their input on how they would handle bonus evaluation.
    • A number of companies give managers a pool guideline, and have them produce a spreadsheet of recommended bonus distribution for executive review and approval.
    • Individuals should not decide their own bonuses. Bonuses for all employees/managers should be decided by their direct supervisors.
  • Should the CEO be concerned if an employee takes their bonus and then leaves?
    • If an employee has earned their bonus, then you are granting them an earned reward. Their departure likely has much less to do with whether or not they receive a bonus than other factors.
    • Human resource research consistently demonstrates that compensation is at the bottom of the ladder of reasons that workers remain or leave – particularly workers who exercise critical thinking and judgment in their jobs.

Key Words: Strategy, Team, Bonus, Annual, Christmas, Incentive, Objective, Industry, Reward, Performance, Measurement, Discretionary

How do you Create Performance Incentives? Four Approaches

Situation: The Company is considering options for both team and individual recognition. What have other companies found to be effective?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • One company has foremen compete on project quality, cost containment, and other measures. Bonuses are based on a mix of team performance, project difficulty and individual initiative.
  • One company uses year-end bonuses, but places more emphasis on frequent small recognitions: pedicure, manicure, going out for a meal on the company – things that let the employees know that they are appreciated on a regular basis. Any incentives paid are based on a mix of individual and team performance.
  • One company has completely eliminated bonuses. Salaries were raised to make up the difference, and individual incentives are created and paid during the year. Incentives reward specific accomplishments which are highlighted when the incentive is paid. Incentives are a mix of team and individual performance.
  • One company is very generous with bonuses – $5K to $10K at a time at the discretion of the CEO. These are paid face to face by the CEO and the individual is congratulated on their performance. However, the bonus recipient also signs a paper pledging not to talk about the bonus. If they tell others about their bonus, they are eliminated from the bonus pool. The company also uses publicly announced annual awards, performance-based monthly awards, shirts, etc. that are presented at company meetings. Interestingly, the smaller rewards and public recognition appear to have the most impact.

Key Words: Recognition, Bonus, Reward, Public Recognition, Effectiveness. Competition, Incentive