Selling Microsoft

Compensation in the Clouds

Once you're clear on strategic objectives, you can begin to build a sales compensation plan for your BPOS practice.

It's a game-changer. As my client base considers moving into cloud applications either in Microsoft CRM or with the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), the questions regarding changing business planning, the impact on marketing considerations and differing sales strategies always come up in our discussions.

For partners attending this year's Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., the good news is I will be leading three sessions based on our successful "Business Builder" series where we cover these topics in great detail. However, one topic not covered is sales compensation.

Strategic Objectives
First, compensation is strategic, not tactical. You must define the strategic objectives for your organization or the practice. Once you're clear on strategic objectives, you can begin to build a sales compensation plan for your BPOS practice.

The next question would be: "Should you have differing compensation plans for different practices?" The obvious answer is: It depends. Many partners have moved to a managed services component along with their past services; many of our clients might offer platform services and may also be selling Microsoft CRM. Each product or service may offer differing margins and have differing objectives and therefore compensation plans need to take all of these variables into consideration. It's our opinion that compensation plans should be simple in design but complete enough to be aligned to achieve your goals and reward performance.

Sample Compensation Plan
Specifically, when it comes to cloud compensation, let's look at a few factors. If you were selling BPOS you receive 12 percent the first year and 6 percent residuals for all ongoing years, plus any migration or professional services. This changes the compensation planning from a cash-flow perspective but not from a goal perspective. In effect, if the salesperson sold 3,000 seats per year of BPOS, after only three years there would be a total of $259,000 of cumulative revenue. As in a managed services environment, this continuing revenue becomes a valuable asset. Our recommendations would be to validate your objectives and build a compensation plan that's not only cost-effective, but also rewards success.

Assuming a new practice and considering these examples we would create a plan based on BPOS only with three variables: first, a commission percentage based on net new monthly revenue that combines seats and professional services and a second monthly commission percentage that is one-fourth of the net new revenue commission percentage for all "residual" revenues that renew. These residual commissions are paid for only two years. This keeps the salesperson focused on a short-term goal with a reward for a continuing relationship with existing clients (getting the renewals), maintaining a healthy cost of sales and not building a long-term annuity for the salesperson.

Second, a commission percentage based on attaining certain quarterly revenue objectives. This would include a ramped up or accelerated revenue plan and commission percentages with three break points, keeping the salesperson working toward a larger goal even if one month fell below expectations. This includes all net new sales and residuals.

Third, a quarterly bonus of fixed dollar value that's paid if a certain percentage of the total revenue achieved included a predefined professional services revenue objective. This will keep the salesperson focused on including the proper levels of professional services. The reason you might consider a bonus/fixed value payment is limiting your cost of sales.

Certainly every partner may have different situations: maturity or size of the organization, geographic opportunity and mix of current services or product offerings. Thinking through all the variables for compensating your sales team will help keep sales efforts aligned with your firm's strategic goals for the cloud.

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at ken@acumenmgmt.com.