I read “Sales Comp Demands a Deep Sales Dive, Not a Best Practices Quest” by Ann Bares on Compensation Force yesterday – the article really resonated with me.  The basic premise of the article is that companies should focus on understanding their sales force and not depend on best practices.  Ann states it best when she says, “the problem with the notion of best practices in HR is that it too often leads to a blind search-copy-cut-paste effort whereby we simply lift popular program elements (out of professional journals, books, studies, etc.) and implement them, without sufficient thought as to their fit and strategic applicability.”

It resonated because it is right-on but also because I just completed an assignment for a company where they were looking for “best practices.”

I didn’t give them any (we’ll not really – more on that later…).

Instead we conducted a ” performance blueprint.”  It is our way “going deep”.  The performance blueprint is an in-depth look at a performance issue.  We focus on the behavioral aspects of the performance issue – but ultimately, it is still focused on achieving some performance level.

In this instance, that performance issue was creating a compensation and training plan around a new product. The company had wanted to know what the best practices in compensating and training were for a new product launch?  How do you  compensate for work done prior to the actual launch?  What type of best practices are there for creating a launch training event?  How do other companies motivate sales to get a quick start?

Again, we didn’t answer those questions with a list of best practices of what other companies are doing.

What we did instead of providing a best practice list, we interviewed their sales force and key stakeholders.  We asked questions around what would be required to make this product a success?  What are the behaviors that a sales representative is going to have to exhibit?  What are the driving forces that will make motivate those behaviors?  What are the potential roadblocks to a successful launch?  This information was gathered from across the organization and was used to put a plan together.

The plan was based on the input and information that we gathered.  It focused on the particulars of this company, this product, in this market.  We highlighted key findings and the behavioral implications of those.  We made a number of recommendations on how this launch should be handled.

And then we brought in best practices.

We used them selectively to help “sell” the recommendations that we proposed. We weren’t able to highlight a best practice for each part of the plan, but in those areas where we could, we referenced that.

Basically, we knew that for our client to be able to sell this internally, this information would be beneficial (i.e., social proof).   So we did it backwards. We found the best practices that applied to our recommendations and highlighted those.

In the end, our recommendations were about what would drive the behavior of the sales team to meet the performance goals of the new product.

This is what mattered.

It was not about what other companies did or what was best in class or what an expert says.  It was about understanding the experience of the sales team on the ground.  What they face everyday and what they need to be successful.  What drives their behavior. We added to that other key stakeholders and their knowledge.  Understanding the goals that the product launch needs to achieve.   The aspects of the product that will make it stand out.

All of that information got mixed together to create this “performance blueprint.”