Should You Adjust Sales Compensation in a Declining Revenue Environment?

How one adjusts the compensation of their sales force is something many people have been talking about recently, both on business oriented discussion boards online and in person, privately as well as at well attended events.

On the surface, these are simple questions with several variables. In general, I have always been a supporter of lower salaries with the majority of the upside in total compensation coming from commission, especially when the salesperson controls the sale from start to finish. However, if the product or service being sold has quite a long sales cycle, 9-18+ months perhaps, and is a pretty high ticket item, I would usually say a larger base salary is needed because people do need to eat while they are developing a long term relationship.

The deeper question though is why so many companies are considering changing their compensation. Are they paying their sales people too much up front to begin with? Has the sales cycle just gotten too long? Has their sales team started to buy into the “bad economy” excuse and lost their focus on developing new relationships and growing the ones they have? What exactly is making it a “declining revenue environment?”

In over 20 years of selling and managing salespeople, my response to a change in compensation either by the company or by the salesperson is simply “SELL MORE!” While it isn’t nearly that simple, I would look at all factors of the “declining revenue environment” before making any strong consideration on changes. Plus, we have not even begun to discuss the potential for negative reaction from the salespeople. What would they do if there was a change? Would such a change cause you to risk losing too many of the right people and put you in a steeper declining revenue environment?

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