Tag Archives: Compensation

How Do You Develop a Sales Organization? Four Points

Situation: A small company’s business is increasing and they need to build a sales organization. To date all sales have been conducted by the founder CEO and a single employee salesperson. Should they build inside or outside sales first? Are there trigger points at which one or both should be increased? How do you develop a sales organization?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Right now you have first mover advantage in your market space. You have a unique offering and no existing competition. The immediate objective is to maximize early market share. Borrow if necessary to ramp sales. There is no trigger point.
  • Hire an outside salesperson now. You want an individual who is knowledgeable about your market and who has a large set of contacts. Make at least 50% of this individual’s compensation variable (commissions) to start and escalate the percentage of variable compensation as sales grow. Hire at current market rates.
  • Supplement your existing marketing with an investment in social media marketing and SEO (search engine optimization). Don’t try to do this yourself on the cheap – hire a pro. Invest in Pay-Per-Click to push your visibility.
  • To sell this plan to your existing salesperson and the rest of the team, it’s time for a Come to Jesus talk.
    • Make a strong business case for your program.
    • The trade-off is either invest now to rapidly build sales or become insignificant.
    • Once you’ve made your pitch and received consent, let the plan work before you ask for more.

Do You Focus on Taxes or Investment? Eight Considerations

Situation: A company’s accountants advise them to make distributions for tax purposes. Simultaneously, the company’s future is based on technology and staying ahead of the competition. This requires ongoing investment. Do you focus on taxes or investment?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The focus of the answer is distributions and company morale, not tax planning. Think about the impact on the team. Are there considerable differentials in compensation within the company? If so, this may be impacting morale.
  • Differentiate bonuses from variable compensation. Make bonuses special. This starts at the top. The attitude should be that if someone works hard, they will be compensated. Once bonuses become assumed, they are just regarded as part of the overall compensation package.
  • Smaller geographical units can help retain a small company atmosphere and drive. As a company grows, similar results can be achieved with Tiger Team projects.
  • If the organizational structure enables this, foster friendly competition metrics between offices – and publish the results.
  • One company distributes performance data to top staff – with color-color coded red/yellow/green metrics based on performance. All red and yellow numbers require an explanation. The company has seen a significant reduction in red and yellow metrics since they started this.
  • At company meetings – publicize and recognize top 10 performers in various areas. Recognition boosts morale.
  • Company events boost teamwork and morale. These may include company barbeques, in-house cooking shows created and run by staff, and quarterly outings – bocce ball, tubing, sailing on the Bay.
  • Growth is accompanied by change. When a company starts it’s a mission. After 15 years it’s a job. This is a function of growth, and it takes ongoing creativity to keep individual employees excited about their job and role.

How Do You Sell Both Standard and Custom Products? Six Ideas

Situation: A company is rapidly ramping sales of standard products. However, the rep network that sells the company’s products has had more difficulty selling higher dollar / higher margin custom products. How do you sell both standard and custom products?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Make the custom products look more like spec products with adaptability. Create a grid that allows the customer to easily spec the specific product that they need and quickly determine the price of the product. This price can be overestimated at first blush, or scaled depending on the number of units wanted. Consider using a laptop or PDA spreadsheet.
  • Consider the combination specialist / generalist approach that companies have used successfully for highly technical sales. Put a significantly higher commission on the higher price / margin custom product, and have your own “specialist” reps do joint calls with the distributor reps who have relationships with the customer. With the incentive of higher commissions, a percentage of the distributor reps will take the initiative to learn from your inside reps how to sell the custom product to boost their sales and commission income.
  • For your distributor reps, separate and optimize lead generation and deal closing from a compensation standpoint to encourage both.
  • Reps with consultative sales experience, for example selling intangibles such as insurance, may be the best candidates to sell your custom offering.
  • Offer quarterly training of your reps and distributors to encourage them to sell the custom products.
  • Consider telemarketing. Support your telemarketers with a well-prepared script to assist them in qualifying prospects and setting appointments for your own reps.

How Important Is It to Protect Your IP? Five Points

Situation: A company sells specialized components to a large manufacturer. The manufacturer is building a new product and, for this product, is requiring that all suppliers be approved suppliers. The company sells other products to this manufacturer and is in process of becoming an approved supplier, but the manufacturer wants to start using the company’s components for their new product now. As a work-around, they have asked the company to teach someone else their IP until they are approved. Would you share your IP with another company? How important is it to protect your IP?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a creative request from a large company to a smaller supplier. Absent a legal requirement that suppliers must be approved – not the case here – they are simply trying a bureaucratic ploy to get you to release your IP. Your component is necessary to them and they can’t get an equivalent component from anyone else. If they want your component for their new product, and want to release the new product on their internal timeline, insist on a waiver for the new policy until you have become an approved supplier.
  • Stand on principal. This is your IP and it is proprietary. If another supplier, a potential competitor, has the IP to do what you do, you don’t need to train them. If they need your IP to make the components you need to protect it.
  • Ask the manufacturer to put you on the fast track to approval supplier status. This is faster than teaching someone else your process.
  • Escalate this within the customer company until you find an audience.
  • Bottom Line – don’t give away your secret sauce. This request is unreasonable. Unless, of course, the other company is willing to give you satisfactory compensation for your IP.

How Do You Get New Employees Up to Speed? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A company has a new set of employees coming up to speed, but this is happening slowly. The work environment is semi-skilled, with learning curves for new office employees and apprentices. How do you get new employees up to speed?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Provide a competitive level of compensation to journeymen and higher level office employees. Make these levels of skill to which office employees and apprentices aspire.
  • Develop a mentor program. Provide chits (company currency) to both the mentor and the mentee for learning each new processes. Make awarding these chits a big deal. For example, the mentor and mentee collect their chits from the CEO who then takes them down to the treasurer to collect on the chits.
  • As appropriate, create a team learning environment. Game theory has demonstrated that both basic and more advanced skills can be successfully taught in a team game environment where there is both competition and rewards for attainment.
  • Set up a system where successful training is demonstrated bench performance.
  • Establish Operator 1, 2 and 3 levels to qualify for graduated levels of jobs or responsibilities. This creates a career track and an incentive to go for the next level. Celebrate employees as they move from level to level.
  • Company celebrations are important. Celebrate birthdays, tenure anniversaries, skill level attainment, career track attainment, and so on at monthly meetings or events.
  • Hire slow/fire fast. Give new employees a fair shake, but if their mentor doesn’t see promise in them, let them go.

How Do You Structure a Transition Proposal? Three Insights

Situation: A CEO is transitioning her role in a company that she founded to new ventures, while maintaining a part-time commitment to the company. The company seeks a proposal as to how she will split her time and what compensation she wants during the transition. The CEO seeks guidance on the focus and content of the proposal. How do you structure a transition proposal?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This sounds like a set of half-decisions.
    • The CEO envisions a transition from the current position to a transition position to a new position. The more likely scenario is that the CEO will go straight to the new position. As soon as one new venture starts to solidify, this will demand 100% of the CEO’s time.
    • Given that this is most likely the CEO’s priority, the important question is what the company wants and needs from the CEO. Deliverables, time commitment and compensation should follow these needs.
  • Another approach is to look at an exit package, including a long-term consulting retainer. For example, full salary for 6 months with a retainer for another 6 months. This will allow the CEO more freedom and flexibility to pursue the new ventures.
  • The current negotiation is just a starting point. Here are the things to consider in the proposal to the company:
    • Does the CEO need income from the current company during your transition? Will a new venture benefit from financial or professional assistance from the company?
    • If the CEO is not fully engaged with the company, leadership will likely want the CEO out sooner than later.
    • The company mostly will want a non-compete and the ability to use the CEO as a resource as needed.

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.

How Do You Tell Hunter from Farmer Sales People? Four Tips

Situation: A company hired a sales person who looked during the interview process like a hunter, but turned out to be a farmer. The company’s product-service mix is new to the market and requires a sales person who excels at landing new accounts. How do you tell hunter from farmer sales candidates?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The hunter sales person is naturally more aggressive and loves the thrill of landing new accounts. The farmer excels at follow-up sales and cultivating existing accounts for new purchasing potential. Neither is particularly good at the others’ job, and it is rare to find individuals who excel in both roles.
  • To differentiate between these two personalities, behavioral interviewing is better than tests.
    • Screen resumes for past sales success in companies in a similar size range as yours to select a group for further evaluation.
    • Behavioral interviews are very different from traditional interviews. They the focus on specific skills and requirements associated with the job and require candidates to give concrete examples of when and how they have demonstrated the skills needed for the job. The interviewer then follows up with probing questions to elicit more details. Responses can be verified in follow-up with references provided by the candidate.
    • During the questioning process, the interviewer may interrupt the candidate with a question like “what are you thinking right now?” These questions provide more insight into the interviewee’s personality and also help to filter out B.S.
    • You are seeking someone who’s “been there done that” in a company which resembles yours and who can convincingly demonstrate what they’ve done.
  • Thoroughly check references – not just those provided by the candidate, but dig and talk to others in the same companies.
  • Strongly align the pay and incentives for a hunter. Hunters prefer a comp package that is heavily commission-based and this will scare away farmers. If they don’t sell, they get paid little.
  • Offer an extended trial period with burden of proof on performance by the sales person.

How Do You Set End of Year Owners’ Comp? Three Thoughts

Situation: A company is a C Corp with several owners. As it is the end of the year, there is an active debate on owners’ compensation. The CEO has looked at a number of options, but would like the advice of others in a similar situation before making a decision. What do you see as the pros and cons of various options for end of year owners’ compensation?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In one company, profits are split among owners according to stock ownership. This is similar to a public corporation where dividends accrue according to stock ownership. The pro is that it is equitable; the con is that smaller owners who may have made significant contributions during the year don’t necessarily receive the recognition that they may believe they deserve.
  • Another CEO varies owners’ compensation according to company performance. In good years, there is the option to be generous through enhanced bonuses, etc. In slim years it is more important to conserve cash, and quite frankly company performance didn’t justify significant bonuses. The pro is that this offers the CEO more flexibility than the first option to recognize significant contributions; the con is that the recognition of some may seem arbitrary to others.
    • In response to the latter observation, a third CEO sees this as acting like a good father – sometimes you just have to declare your prerogative if employees squabble about your decisions or push too hard for unreasonable requests.
  • The CEO who originally asked the question followed with an additional question – how do you present your compensation decisions to owners or staff who may think that they deserve more than their stock position or company performance over the year allows?
    • This is a facts of life situation – once the final determination is made it is not negotiable.

How Do You Manage Cash Flow and Growth? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company faces dual challenges – assuring that payments are collected for work done and developing a business model that facilitates growth. How do assure that payments are collected to support your cash flow needs and that employees are focused on growth?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It may be that the two problems are closely related. Ask whether your compensation and incentive system is focused on cash flow and growth. If not, you need to change it.
    • Restructure your compensation and incentive systems to create a direct link between profitability and compensation. Augment this with training. For example, if your engineering team isn’t good at assuring that change order costs are paid by their clients, teach them how to write statements of work to anticipate change requests and to include charges in the SOW. Then tie the team’s compensation to how well team members follow though in assuring that work is properly accounted for, billed, and payment collected.
  • Create simple procedures that are innate and complementary to team members’ natural behavior. The best way to do this is to involve them in the writing of the procedures.
  • Give them easy tools that take the guesswork out of negotiating change orders with clients. For example, if a client asks for faster delivery, give them a formula that ties delivery to cost::
    • Standard Delivery = 8 weeks at Price X
    • 4 Week Delivery = Standard delivery price times Y
    • 2 Week Delivery = Standard delivery price times Z

This turns client demands into a simple economic question – what is expedited delivery worth to you?

  • Hire a contracts manager to track contracts and change orders with authority to assure that change order costs are being billed.
  • Create “learning” teams to develop solutions. Allow the teams to speak to each other and to learn each other’s best practices. Supplement this with regular tutorial sessions to bring the whole group up to speed on new technologies.