The overwhelming majority of companies use individual, revenue-based incentive plans as part of their compensation package for front-line sales staff. For as long as there have been salespeople, commission served as the perfect motivational lever which kept them productive and happy—it could even make them quite rich if they got good enough at it. But now it’s time to re-evaluate this strategy given the recent changes in business-to-business buying behavior.
Strategic buyers are no longer dependent on salespeople for information on product and service offerings. In the information age, business leaders can consult review sites, online forums, social media, and professional networks to discover solutions for their needs. In fact, at CEB (now Gartner), our Sales and Marketing practice found that the typical B2B buyer is 57 percent of the way through their decision-making process before engaging with a supplier. The cold call isn’t dead, but it is no longer the most prudent way to introduce your product to potential customers.
As such, it has become harder to measure the value a salesperson has provided after a purchase is made. Previously, companies would arm their field teams with standard marketing materials and wait for the money to come in. Sales reps would cultivate leads, provide potential customers with all of the relevant information, and convert some of those opportunities into deals. The salesperson’s contribution was very clear: They were revenue generators. Today, now that customers wait until they know exactly what they want and how much they want to pay for it before reaching out to salespeople, B2B providers are getting their name out through some combination of PR, content marketing, social media, white papers, and the like. The best companies are doing it in a way that draws prospective customers into the funnel, recognizing the need for more institutional support in the sales and lead generation process.