Research indicates that job clarity is one of the most important elements of employee engagement, driving both job satisfaction and high performance. Thus, logic would indicate that organizations would invest significant time to carefully design and maintain clear roles. My experience with sales organizations would indicate otherwise.

Here is how the story typically unfolds. It’s the middle of the fourth fiscal quarter. The VP of Sales must ensure a strong finish to the year. Meanwhile, the planning efforts for the new fiscal year are well under way. The VP of Sales must devote planning time to determine next year’s sales strategy. Oh, and did I mention she must ensure strong results for Q4? With next year’s sales growth targets and budget decisions quickly coming down from above, the VP of Sales often finds little time to carefully plan next year’s strategy beyond making some fundamental decisions on coverage model changes – what roles are needed, how many and where? A plan is put together in PowerPoint over the weekend in the 11th month of the year (the VP of Sales knows better than to leave it until the 12th month when they will have zero time). Meanwhile, it’s back to the field to rally the troops and help close deals. If the VP of Sales is lucky, she has a solid sales planning/operations team that can devote time and attention to the details. Sadly, most VPs of Sales have sales operations teams that are overworked, under-resourced, and barely able to react to the constant demands for performance data, and territory, quota or compensation adjustments. In other cases, HR may come to the rescue and help document job roles. However, HR’s ability to effectively help is directly related to how well the sales strategy has been thought through for next year and how well HR understands it. Let’s just say, there is room for error in this approach.

To make matters worse, the compensation committee is deciding on new plans for next fiscal year. Compensation design decisions are being made based on an over-simplified sales strategy and last year’s roles.

A better approach. Given the importance of role clarity, sales leaders must either invest the time or get the help they need to design selling roles appropriately. Don’t let the important work of job design get “crowded out” by the seemingly more important discussions on strategy or compensation. Jobs are actually the critical “fulcrum” helping ensure alignment between strategy and comp.

Sales Strategy-Role Design-Quotas&Compensation

Here are a few tips for how to do this well:

1. Define sales roles in three ways: customer, product and process. Clearly articulate which customers they should call on, which products they should sell and what process they should follow (and their role in the process); and you will be 70% or more complete.

2. Be specific, but be concise. Avoid multi-page MS Word documents that will not be read. Put it on one page, or one slide. Summarize four things: 1) key accountabilities, 2) key responsibilities, 3) key activities and 4) suggested time allocation.

3. Use pictures, graphs and colors. This sounds juvenile, but it’s not. Make the job profile attractive. Display a chart to indicate the customers, products or sales process steps reps are involved in.

4. Communicate roles and compensation simultaneously. Sales compensation plans are designed around roles. Communicating the roles, in some detail, together with the sales compensation program will help ensure alignment and clarity.

5. Conduct a sales force engagement survey. Conduct a survey each year that asks reps to score their job clarity on a scale of 1 to 5. Ask several other questions related to their engagement and their understanding of the sales strategy, their compensation plan, the support available to them, etc. Any score below a 4 indicates room for improvement.

There are many other factors to ensure role clarity, including the use of sales playbooks to reinforce roles and train first line sales managers to help model and coach desired behaviors. Your top performers, as you might guess, need the least help. It’s the middle of the pack that will benefit the most from this investment. And that’s the same population of reps that represents the biggest productivity gains for your sales force over the coming year. For more information on designing effective sales roles, please visit AGI’s website.

Contact an Alexander Group Sales Compensation practice leader.

Original author: Paul Vinogradov