Sales compensation trends for 2017 and beyond

By David Loia,

Last year flew by, and here we are in 2017. You're probably finalizing this year's compensation plans for sales teams. As you do so, it's important to keep up with current compensation trends. While sales incentive programs generally don't change radically from year to year, there are many small tweaks you can make to ensure your sales team hits quota consistently. 

The U.S. economy was on the incline during 2016, and that fiscal momentum means 2017 may be an even bigger year for the nation's economic performance. Make sure your organization can reap the benefits by creating the best incentive plan possible. 

Here are some trends to watch for in the new year:

An expanding workforce
In 2016, many sales organizations increased head count. Those expansion efforts are largely the result of improved economic conditions that have enhanced buying power. In many businesses, sales are up and the economic picture is improving. These factors make further expansion in the near future likely. 

"An improving economy encourages expansion."

As a result, organizations will need to create improved compensation plans that accommodate people at every level of tenure within the organization. This can be difficult using older systems that are based around a single spreadsheet. Companies may want to invest in an updated compensation management platform that makes it easy to manage complex incentive structures that incorporate several different metrics.

More ways to compensate
Employers have traditionally awarded employees' compensation bonuses based on sales alone, but that approach is falling out of favor. Today's compensation plans incorporate more elements of an individual's performance and accurate forecasting into their eventual pay. 

This manifests in a variety of ways, and can extend to departments outside of sales. Manufacturing teams are rewarding employees who make substantial contributions to the company's overall safety record and managers may be better rewarded for overall team performance with additional bonuses.

Within the sales force, the use of compensation has become smarter but also more complex. Companies now use incentives to reward sales employees for accurately forecasting their eventual sales, according to Harvard Business Review. This has huge benefits when companies estimate their annual performance, and ensures employees have reachable sales goals. 

The need to control costs
Many sales groups came in above or below budget as a result of paying out more or less than anticipated in incentives. This reflects the difficulty involved in accurately anticipating sales performance. To combat this issue, companies can integrate more advanced compensation tracking and management software that allows them to collect and analyze historical data on employee sales. 

This will provide greater insight into how individual employees work and help a company better distribute the workload across a sales force. Once these programs are implemented, sales people will have a better understanding of their standing relative to team sales goals.

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David Loia