Technology: Drive Balanced Seller Performance to Grow Profitably

Companies measure balanced seller performance for management practice.

Sales leaders must focus on both growth and profitability in today’s macroeconomic environment. Both “the street” and private equity firms are focusing on specific goals that include maximizing seller productivity and managing sales compensation costs. However, many technology companies have deficient seller performance distributions that inhibit productivity and drive higher sales compensation costs.

Deficient Performance Distributions

Many technology companies have deficient seller performance distributions. Depending on the cohort, only 37% – 41% of technology sellers are achieving their quota. In addition, many technology companies have more expensive bi-modal or flat performance distributions as opposed to a healthy bell curve distribution. Bi-model and flat performance distribution curves are more expensive because some sellers are blowing out their sales compensation costs whereas other sellers aren’t covering their base salaries. Why do companies have bi-model or flat performance distributions? The root causes vary, however typical suspects include poor or inadequate territory design practices, quota setting practices, sales compensation plans, performance management practices and/or talent profiles.

Balanced Seller Performance Metric

A key metric to evaluate healthy sales management practices is to assess each manager’s seller performance distribution. In other words, measure the manager on how many of their sellers are achieving quota or “balanced seller performance.” Driving balanced performance is particularly important for first-line sales managers whose job is to hire, train, develop, manage, promote and exit a team of sellers.

Done effectively, balanced seller performance measure should drive managers to accomplish the following goals:

  • Coach and develop the entire team so that the manager achieves their goal via multiple sellers, not just their stars
  • Develop fair and equitable territories and quotas based on sales potential
  • Manage poor talent out of the organization
  • Maintain a bench of new hires and efficiently hire new talent (this goal is more relevant when using territories vs. sellers in the balanced performance metric)

Balanced Seller Performance Metric Options

There are two typical methods to measure balanced seller performance:

  1. % of Territories Achieving Quota: Use a fixed denominator set at the beginning of the period based on a predefined number of territories per manager that only changes if a hiring freeze, layoffs or major territory changes. This method is appropriate for organizations that define fixed territories at beginning of the fiscal year or period.
  2. % of Sellers Achieving Quota: Vary the denominator based on number of active sellers. This method requires ongoing calculations to accommodate terminations, transfers, leave-of-absence and new hires. It may or may not include new hires and ramping sellers. Some companies may adjust this number based on full time equivalent sellers. This is appropriate for growing organizations that do not define fixed territories at beginning of the period.

Two Balanced Performance Goals and Mechanics

When setting up a balanced performance measure, companies must define two different types of goals:

  1. % of Territories/Sellers Achieving Goal: This goal describes what percent or how many territories/sellers are expected to achieve their goal; typically set at 50-60% of territories/sellers achieve their quota, but this varies based on philosophy, past results, expectations and mechanic.
  2. Quota Achievement Goal: This goal describes what percent of quota is expected; usually set at 100%, but some companies may set a lower goal to accommodate quota setting accuracy concerns (e.g., territories/sellers must achieve 80% of their quota).

Mechanic options can vary from a step bonus table, a bonus amount per territory/seller or even as a hurdle that drives different accelerator rates.

Sales Compensation or Performance Management Measure

Within Alexander Group’s technology sales compensation database, 5-10% of companies use balanced performance in their manager’s sales compensation plan. However, many clients have expressed concerns with this measure. Companies that use percent of sellers/FTEs achieving quota must outline how to accommodate new hires, ramping reps, terminations, promotions and leave of absence in their denominator. To simplify the calculation, many of them only use tenured employees and assess the metric on a quarterly basis, though that may inadvertently encourage managers to engage in aberrant behaviors. For example, a manager may inappropriately promote, transfer or fire a seller to hit their goal.

Some companies use percent of territories achieving quota to reduce all the denominator complexities and, more importantly, to focus managers on ongoing talent recruiting so they can quickly fill open positions when needed. However, this metric requires companies to set static territories at the beginning of the year or fiscal period.

Using balanced seller performance metrics in the field organization is difficult as it can lead to inequities when there are span of control variations. For example, if a company sets a goal that 50% of sellers must achieve their quota, a manager with five sellers and a manager with six sellers both need three sellers to achieve their quotas (which represents 60% of their sales team for the manager with five sellers and 50% of their sales team for the manager with six sellers). To reduce any inequities, some companies only use balanced seller performance in their inside sales organization where there is a higher span of control of 10-12 sellers per manager.

Given all the complications with balanced performance measure, most companies use it as part of their performance management program, and not in their sales compensation plan. In other words, they set a goal, track it, share it on a leader board and manage to it.

If you or your team are interested in learning more about how to set up and implement a balanced performance metric in your organization, contact one of our technology practice leaders.

Learn more about Alexander Group’s Technology practices.

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