1. They always want to start running before the race has officially started Sales people are eager and enthusiastic to get started with a new plan, new sales cycle, new anything. This can be tough on the people who are trying to enhance or create sales plans. You want them to be engaged. Once this goal is achieved, your sales people are ready to sprint. It can be a challenge when every project begins with: On your marks! Get set! (The 5 year-old next to you starts running.) GO! And once again you are playing catch up. Prepare well before you start explaining your approach because you won't get much time once everyone is involved.
2. The route of the race varies based on their needs
5 year-olds and sales people are some of the most innovative and creative people you will ever meet. No matter how well you define the route, from the starting line to the finish, it will only ever be a “suggestion”. If another path looks faster, easier or more effective they will take it. Their goal is to win the race. They will crawl under that coffee table that you wanted them to go around. They will leap over the gating mechanism that was meant to ensure a safe process, but really only slowed them down. They will often takes chances that a more conservative adult would consider perilous. If you are going to make the race competitive you have to think like them, instead of asking them to think like you.
3. The race MUST allow them a good chance of winning
Like any kid, a good sales person will instinctively figure out when they have no chance of winning the race. As a competitor, they will ask themselves several questions. Are there too many rules? If so, they’ll guess it’s impossible for them to win. Is there too much talking and explaining before the race starts? When this occurs they think you are trying to distract them while you figure out how to keep them from winning. What if they feel that the final goal is obviously out of their reach? They will decide not to race at all. They usually don’t mind if they have to run fast. They usually don't mind if the race will be close at the finish. But they can always tell if they haven't got a chance of winning. Make sure you communicate, and they understand, how they can win. Without this you might as well not even start.
4. Penalties are OK, but the race must still be fun
Both kids and sales people are driven more by the intent and spirit of the rules rather than by the code and verse. Is there a small penalty for getting really close to the flag without actually touching it? Fine. Getting disqualified for the same thing? NOT FAIR. Getting passed while being distracted by the family dog in the middle of the race? Fine. Not allowing them a small opportunity to make up the lost time? NOT FAIR. There must always be a balance between potential downsides and the ability to recover from them.
5. It is exhausting, exhilarating and never the same twice
If you have ever raced against a five year-old you know that the race really doesn't ever end. As long as they can remember the race exists, the race will continue. As long as the race continues so will their new paths, rules and recoveries. In short, you will be tired. If you embrace that process you will also be energized. Because, just like the joy of a laughing 5 year-old, the passion and energy from a vibrant and engaged sales force provides a source of energy that is difficult to match.
Dan Walter is the President and CEO of Performensation. He is passionately committed to aligning pay with company strategy and culture. Grab a copy of Dan’s new comprehensive issue brief, Performance-Based Equity Compensation. Dan also cowrote “Everything You Do in COMPENSATION IS COMMUNICATION”, with Comp Café writers, Ann Bares and Margaret O’Hanlon. And believe it or not, he has co-authored “The Decision Makers Guide to Equity Compensation”and “Equity Alternatives.” Connect with Dan on LinkedIn. Or, follow him on Twitter at @Performensation and @SayOnPay.