As the CEO or CFO of your organization, when was the last time you looked at the commission payout to your lead sales staff? While you were razor-focused on increasing sales, did you also consider the full impact of the commission dollar in developing and executing the company sales plan?
The difference between an accountant and the strategic CFO (Chief Future Officer) is the accountant will calculate and pay whatever commission they are given, whereas the strategic CFO will help their CEO understand the entire journey of the commission dollar and its impact on the organization.
Before a commission plan is implemented, consider these five impacts:
- Who will have plan accountability and oversight to avoid fraud, abuse and plan obsolescence?
- What metrics will be used to measure/monitor that the plan drives the desired short and long-term results?
- How complicated is the plan to administer? Calculate? Pay out?
- Should there be a commission clawback provision?
- How does the plan fit into the overall compensation structure of the organization
If the journey of the commission dollar begins with a few conjectural quantitative analyses, you may avoid implementing a plan that does not achieve the desired outcome or has unintended effects. You can create a system that is full of opportunities to take advantage of the system and in some cases create fraud. If your idea on how to calculate commission is not fully vetted with several “what if” quantitative analyses, you could find yourself in a situation where you are having to revisit and revise the plan continually until you hit on a formula that works.
Consider the following “real life” scenarios:
The Scenario: The accounting department found they were spending days calculating the commission. The decision-makers who developed the plan were not aware of the mountain of work they created by failing to test the end-to-end process to administer the plan. Get your financial strategist involved to help think through the commission calculation. Test that the calculation will not be unreasonably time-consuming while you are creating the plan and before you communicate it to the sales team.
The Scenario: The commission plan may incent the sales personnel to bring on unprofitable or uncollectible revenue dollars. A commission plan that includes a clawback provision builds in responsibility so the commissioned sales person is a participating party to the business. The clawback items should include account receivable write offs, returns and credits and any other reductions of revenue that may occur with the customer. Without this, the sales person is just interested in getting the business on the books. The recent mortgage crisis is a great example of this, as the mortgage brokers selling the mortgages received the initial commission on the mortgage and had no clawback if the mortgagee defaulted on the mortgage.
The Scenario: The commission amount is so low, not only does it not incent any increased sales, it also wastes accounting infrastructure to administer. I recently learned of a retail establishment that began an incentive program to provide each employee $20 per month if the store met its monthly goal of thousands of dollars of sales for the month. The manager would ask the employees who had worked a 12-hour shift if they would like to stay later so they could make the extra sales to receive their incentive for the month. The exhausted employees laughed about this behind the managers back – the low bonus and high hours to earn it served as a disincentive to meet the sales goals. The store manager and accounting department were exerting energy to calculate a program that was irritating the customer-facing employees. This is not a good investment.
Take the time to evaluate new or changing commission programs by considering the full journey of the commission dollar. Make sure you are actually providing a healthy incentive to your sales professionals without creating an expensive or inadequate process to administer the commission payment.