Resistance To Change
Communicating changing sales compensation plans is never easy. The salesforce will always start with the assumption that the new plan is going to take something away and will be skeptical of anything the company tries to push as a "positive change." It usually takes two payout cycles under a new plan for the reps to figure out what behaviors they need to change to maximize their pay under the plan, and this is the point at which your top performers will finally stop holding their breath about the new plan design (provided, of course, it is designed well and truly rewards top performance in a fair and equitable manner).
What You Can Do
There are several strategies that can be used to help ease the change process for the salesforce.
Include the reps in the assessment process by interviewing or surveying them before you begin the redesign effort. If you don’t have time to talk to every rep, be sure you select a few from each role who are new reps and a few who are tenured.
Be sure you include sales management on the design team. However, do not under any circumstances include anyone as part of the design team who will be paid under or as a direct roll-up of plans being designed. It is impossible for anyone to be objective when it comes to his/her own pay.
Once the plans are designed, hold a challenge team meeting with a few of the most vocal sales reps, team leaders and front-line managers who were not part of the design process. They should be told they are helping to craft the plan communications, which they are. However, they will also poke holes in the design (even if you tell them the design is set), and this may provide you with a chance to correct any problems you have missed. Also, your communication effort will be smoother because of this step.
After the plans have been rolled out, you want to check in with your sales reps frequently to be sure they have understood the plans. Using an earnings calculator is a common way to help reps internalize the designs and plan their year to maximize their pay. This can be a simple Excel-based tool, or it can be a more sophisticated software tool.
When selecting the reps to participate in the process, you want top performers who are vocal and considered leaders by others. Often, you may find you have your most "difficult" sales professional included in this group, and there is usually a reason. A good sales rep never stops negotiating, and will therefore push at every opportunity to get the best deal he/she possibly can — especially from their compensation plan. The only time I truly worry about a plan design is when there are no complaints from the reps.