Confessions of a benefits manager: Calculating commissions

Big Bad Boss asks me if I know anything about sales commission. He should know really; after all, he hired me. However, Big Bad Boss is as interested in people as he is in pot-holing, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised he doesn’t remember much about a long-ago interview.

As it happens, I tell him, I do have sales comp experience on my CV. I send it over; it doesn’t do any harm to let your manager know your updated CV is at your fingertips.

Big Bad Boss is pleased to see there are two sales compensation projects that I carried out for my last company. Reading on, it would appear I ran the projects single-handedly, and am a world-renowned expert in sales. The fact is, I helped fill out a couple of templates, but who will ever know?

The reason for the sudden interest in my non-benefits history is that yet another drone in the HR team has dropped dead from exhaustion and they are looking for someone to complete their work. Well, I don’t mind taking a look; it could help to round out my fictional experience, after all.

I get hold of the plans from last year. It doesn’t look too complicated, but it is spread over a number of documents and not even on a spreadsheet. I will need to spend some time compiling the figures. It seems only the late sales comp analyst knew anything about the scheme, so I will have to put my questions to the sales team.

I meet the head of sales first. He is a charmer. I feel that if I talk to him any longer, I will end up buying one of our products under a three-year contract.

For a Higher Being, he has a good understanding of the details of the scheme, and he does answer many questions. What a lovely man.

Self-serving and tricky

However, he tells me to work with the two regional managers in his team. Be careful of the manager for the south, he warns; the man can be self-serving and tricky. Well, I don’t think I’ve met anyone around here who isn’t self-serving, especially in sales, but I take note.

I feel oddly sad to leave his warm presence. Still, I will be back with the project finished, and I feel sure his thanks will be warmer still.

First, I meet the guy from the north. Apart from being a bit brusque, he is very helpful, and I soon have a list of people in his team and an understanding of their roles and the nuances of their individual plans. I spend a happy couple of hours putting it all in a spreadsheet, and send it off for his review. That’s that, I think.

Next is the southern area manager. Like the head of sales, he is very charming. He smiles at me, his little pointy teeth glinting. I am reminded of a shark.

He asks me a number of questions about my background. If I let slip that I am no expert, he will have me. I sense he is sniffing for blood.

Bluffing, I elaborate on schemes I designed for my last company, a household name. I think he is taken in, for now. He then asks me what ‘over-allocation’ I recommend.

Quota and plan

Yikes, I am not sure what he means. I think he means the difference between quota and plan, but several other terms have been used for this already. Even if it is what I think it is, how do I reply? Surely that depends on the organisation. Luckily, at that moment his mobile rings, and when he is done, I distract him with some other questions.

We look at the southern area individual plans together. I soon realise why I was warned. Within five minutes, he has increased all their sales percentages and assumed two pay rises. I point out that pay changes are outside my remit for this project.

He waves my objection away with a muscular fin. These guys all have new roles and their base and target variable should be reassessed accordingly. I’m not taking his word for it, so I park that for now.

He then wants to look at the plan. He starts quoting figures, calculations and percentages that I am unable to follow, and I feel completely bamboozled. I am sure that is his intention. I try to reflect his proposals in my spreadsheet, but I become ham-fisted and keep messing up the formulas. I can see his teeth glinting again.  He smells blood.

Hours on the spreadsheet

By comparison, Mr North is sweetness itself. Only he gives me a whole new set of quotas from the ones I have been working on. Oh, and there is a new product, too. I will have to spend more hours on the spreadsheet, rather less happily this time.

I manage to get another appointment with the head of sales to verify the southern guy’s proposals. As I thought, he has over-egged everything, and we scale it all back to roughly what it was last year. I could have worked that out for myself. Luckily, I don’t have to meet the shark again, just send the figures by email. Phew.

I follow up with the northern regional manager again. He seems such a nice guy, but he gives me yet another iteration of quotas, and another new product. More hours are spent recalculating. My fantasy of being thanked by the head for doing such a great job in a short time is fading rapidly.

Big Bad Boss starts hassling me if I am done with sales yet, as he wants me to work on something else. This isn’t feeling like such a great idea any more. Why didn’t I just say I know nothing about sales comp?

Next time…Candid gathers some data.